“I’m sorry I missed your birthday. It was the Queen’s fault for dying.”
I am messaging Martin having realised my mistake through a fortuitous browse on Facebook.
On reflection, it was a poor excuse but at least it will be one I can use for all the years to come, what with September 19th now being synonymous with the funeral of our longest reigning monarch. No friend can compete with that.
A couple of days later I am browsing through the myriad email newsletters I subscribe to but read too rarely and I come across a piece about scholar and linguist Jane Ellen Harrison and a quote attributed to her catches my eye.
“Work and friendships come to be the whole of life.”
I’m not even sure if she meant what I took her to mean but it doesn’t matter because I’m immediately whisked away by this particular thought.
As I have grown older I have become more wreckless in the maintenance of my friendships, although they are no less valuable to me emotionally, but I have found myself much more easily focused on and enjoying all manner of things related to my work.
Just recently I had to research and write a talk on child and adolescent mental health, a topic that is not an area of expertise.
I listened to podcasts, gathered and read numerous articles, talked to all the young people I could muster and generally had a high old time.
“How did your talk go?” my daughter asks.
“It was great. I’m being paid to learn stuff. What’s not to like?”
“I wish I was paid to learn stuff,” she says, now entering the fourth year of her studies.
“You’ll probably become an academic, then you will get paid to learn stuff.”
“They don’t get paid very much.”
I don’t bother telling her that money becomes less important as you get older, assuming you have enough for your essential needs, because it’s exactly the sort of annoying thing parents say to their children.
I’d not thought of it before but one of the reasons I enjoy doing the podcast so much (it’s back on Thursday) is because it combines both the elements that Jane Ellen Harrison claims to be “the whole of life”.
When we started it back before the pandemic it had seemed like a bit of fun that would keep us amused for a few weeks and force us to get together for a cup of tea around my creaky dining room table.
Nearly 140 episodes and a pandemic later I’ve learned more than I can tell you about things I thought I already knew quite well, and I’ve done it with my friend.
We’ve told stories I’ve never heard in 50 years, and we must surely know one another now in a way that we would never have done without conceiving of the somewhat farcical idea that other people might be interested in listening to what we have to say.
I make amends for missing his birthday by inviting him round for dinner.
I make chocolate cupcakes for dessert and buy him a book about punk art that he seems pleased to receive.
I sometimes think about how we lost touch for a decade while he was in the madness of active addiction, and how it has been the enduring draw of work and friendship that has brought us back together.