When I was about eleven or twelve my best friend moved away from my home village in the wilds of West Sussex to the heady northern town of Bedford.
Yes. I know. Bedford ain’t that far, cosmically speaking. What, about a hundred miles from where I lived, tops? But when you’re eleven or twelve, it may as well be the other side of the world. I visited once or twice, we wrote to each other for a few years and then we lost touch. It’s the way of the world. You meet people, you lose them again. Sometimes, they show up later in life. More than twenty years can pass in some cases, and you meet a person in the most unlikely of places. If your connection with them is real, you simply pick up where you left off.
That happened to me last year. I went to Salute in London. I was sitting behind the Black Library stand, signing books, when there he was. A friend I’d known back when I was eighteen. A friend and his wife who sat up all night with me when I’d had my heart broken and spoke great words of wisdom to me. Two people who gave me a few critical hours of love and affection with no conditions attached.
Time moved on. I moved away (further north than Bedford, but then I always was more adventurous than my friend). These two people and I lost touch, re-gaining one another later through a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook. That’s when I learned his wife was in the terminal stages of cancer. I was genuinely sad when she died and it wasn’t longer after that when we met up at Salute.
Many years may have passed. But right there, right then, the only thing between us was the signing table. I’d like to say I vaulted it in a single bound, but that would be a fib. No, I walked around it. Which is boring, certainly – but infinitely more practical. And we had a hug that dissolved every second of separation.
People come into our lives at a time they are needed the most. Sometimes, it’s for good reasons. Sometimes it’s so you make mistakes and learn from them. Some people stay. Others phase in and out as it suits them. Some – probably most – of the people who meander into your world leave again. You might remember them, you might not.
Sometimes, when I’m in one of Those Moods, I find myself thinking about my friend who moved to Bedford. Does she remember me, I wonder? Does she remember the significance of Thowra the horse? Or my obsession with the A Team? Or teaching me how to play Greensleeves (badly) on the piano? Anything at all for that matter?
Do you ever think about that? All the people that you meet in your life… particularly the ones you remember. Do you ever wonder if they remember you?
Goodness, this is all a bit oddly self reflective. I blame the sun; it’s adding my brain.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Bedford.
The weekend just past, I visited a fabulous place near Bedford with the lovely Nik Vincent-Abnett. She’s written a lovely entry that sums it up here. But the fact was, I got in the car and drove the three and a half hours to Bedford without so much as blinking an eye, when <redacted> years ago, going to Bedford would have been like an expedition to the other side of known space. When my friend moved there, I never imagined that so many years later I’d be back, with a different friend, with everything under my belt that’s happened to me since then. Think of it all:
Exams. College. My first job. Leaving home. Moving further north. Getting married. Having Jamie. Getting married again. In the time since my friend moved away from me, I’ve lived a whole life. A whole life that she knows nothing about. I don’t think of her every day, but sometimes, when the moment catches and the light of fond reminiscence glints off my memory, I remember how important it was to jump over the path in the playground, because that was the river. I remember how important it was to argue endlessly that Murdock was better than Hannibal. And I remember how important it was to go to the library, take the book on animals off the shelf, turn to the angora rabbit and laugh like a drain.
Some things, you don’t forget.