Just got on the train from Bath to London, Paddington Station, once again watching the patchwork of green and golden hills flying by, interspersed with brick walled train stations, each with their own unique character, industrial lots and a hodgepodge of hedge and grass walled hills thrown in. Dotted along the countryside are centuries old farmhouses, power poles and in the distance a church steeple or castle rook draws my gaze when I break from typing to muse on the past couple of weeks in Somerset. We stayed in a lovely converted barn just off of Dark Lane, near Witham Friary, names that can’t help but send my writer’s imagination off on creative tangents every time they pass through my mind.
Why two weeks in the middle of the English countryside? Well to start with, I spent some time as a young adult tending bar in an English pub called the Queen Victoria, in a little town called Rottingdean, just outside of Brighton. My stepfather (I don’t like using that word…he was my Dad and that’s all there is to it, but somehow I have to differentiate between him and my birth-father) was a Brit through and through, and most of the time he spent as an ex-pat on Vancouver Island trying to recreate a little piece of Britain there, building a pub called the Crow and Gate, the first English Pub in Canada, and a few houses along the same theme. He always wanted to come back to England to retire, but wanting to be close to his sons and their families kept him on the Island, although he visited England often. I miss him so much and every time I come here, especially when sitting in a “Proper English Pub”, lifting a glass or two, I feel him with me, so that’s one of the reasons for sure. Like him I dream of spending more time here someday, as he would say, it just suits me.
Then there’s the fact that our son Austin has moved to London, and shows no signs of returning to Canada, so we’ve started coming here more often. But London is a crazy place to stay for long when you aren’t as young as he is, so a few days there is just fine by me, then I need a little quiet to hear the things that make stories and songs find their way through my heart. But he was close enough to be able to visit us in the country for a couple of days when he wasn’t working, so that was nice too.
Then there’s my friend, Mandy.
I met Mandy almost thirteen years ago, at the preschool our sons, Jesse and Arran went to. They both seemed to hit it off one day, out of the blue, and as we watched them playing on the little field outside the school one day, we started chatting. I started having kids late in the scheme of things, and Jesse was my second, so there’s ten years between us, me on the older end, but right away I liked her. She was well traveled, had street smarts, and a great sense of humour, having grown up just outside London…yes, another Brit had found her way into my life. She laughed at my jokes, loved dark chocolate, good food and red wine…what more could a gal ask for in a friend?
We arranged play dates for the boys, but of course we found excuses to have a glass of wine, then the play dates went a little longer. There were lunches, then dinners with our husbands, and the friendship grew as we added each other’s friends to the circle and the years went by.
Sometimes, very rarely, we took each other a little for granted, said the wrong thing…feelings got hurt and then healed, but always we made our way back to the circle, and continued where we had left off. Our boys seemed to be following the same path with their friendship. We used to marvel at the fact that years would go by without an argument between them, they would just run up to one another’s rooms or outside and play, invent and we could hear them laughing hysterically, or sometimes hours would go by where we would hear nothing. We’d get worried and go to check on them, but they would be playing with Lego or doing something creative in absolute silence, they were so comfortable in each other’s company.
Mandy and I were becoming the same way. If we didn’t see each other for a while, it wasn’t a big deal; we would pick up where we left off when we did get together. We were busy with our families, both of us had other friends and I had my hobbies. In those days I didn’t tell many people I was a musician, I had let that part of my life rest while I focused on the needs of my family, hoping that one day there would be a chance to find my way back to my music and art. When I did, I found out how much Mandy loved music, that her father was a musician. I knew she loved art, as she had lovely paintings all throughout her house, and when I started painting again, and writing, I couldn’t have had a better sounding board than her. She has been there to cheer me on, to listen to every new song, read every story and praise my art, being one of those rare souls that exists, it seems, to see other people happy.
Our trust grew and we started sharing the important things; stories, both happy and sad, sometimes just silly. Our boys were growing up and as is inevitable, in some ways after all those years of being so close, they grew apart a little. We talked about it, but we didn’t force it. No friendship should ever be forced, we understood that very well. But we did talk to them both about how rare and precious it is in this world to ever have a friendship like they had, and that they shouldn’t count it out just yet. Like two strong rivers, they would be sure to meet and then flow away from each other, but in the meeting there was a strength they would miss if they let it go.
During that time Mandy and I also were giving each other a little more space. I was moving towards my art again, which meant less time for friends, more time alone with instruments and paintbrushes; she was expanding her circle, had new friends, became an expert skier, while I prided myself on my après ski abilities and tennis. When we did get together we always picked up where we had left off, as if we had seen each other just the day before.
Then Austin grew up and moved away. We started thinking about crossing the bridge to live, which for people on either side of the bridge is akin to moving continents…lost a few people I thought were friends in that move. Live and learn. But Mandy kept coming over, glad for a change of scene and once again we resumed the closeness we’d known before, realizing that maybe we’d been taking our friendship a little for granted, we worked a little harder to find time for each other again.
Then came a spring break bombshell over a dinner at our new place. “We’re moving back to England…” she said nervously. I caught my breath, took a long drink of my wine, my mind racing, a thousand thoughts running back and forth. She told us why, and although I was shocked, I knew that a real friend understands that no one ever makes a decision like that flippantly. It was the right thing for her family, at the right time…for them. And although my heart was saying, “Nooooooo!!!!” out of my mouth came, “I totally understand…hey! I can come visit you!” I’m sure my eyes weren’t as convincing as I was trying to make my words, but after all the years of laughter, of her listening to my music and supporting me and me doing my best to support whatever she needed support in, of sharing our thoughts, our children, our love…surely a country the size of Canada and an ocean the size of the Atlantic wasn’t going to get in the way of that!! She needed my support then more than ever, and I knew there was no choice, so I said, “I think it’s going to be awesome! Good for you!!”
It’s been over a year since that night, they moved a few months later. She came back for a couple of crazy weeks to pack up her home, see all the friends she was going to miss, and she stopped at my place on the way to the airport. I didn’t get to see as much of her as I had hoped, but I was glad to be the last stop. Then when I came to London for Austin’s 21st birthday, we got together for a couple of wonderful days. And now we’ve just said goodbye after a wonderful couple of weeks in the English countryside that they’ve made their new home, going to “proper English pubs” and country houses, cooking together again and as far apart as we will be until the next time, I feel like we are closer than ever, and am so grateful we were able to have this time together.
It never gets easier saying goodbye though…so my dear Mandy, how about we call this farewell, until the next time? Thank you so much for your hospitality, your friendship. I wish you all the best on this new adventure, I know it will turn out great, no matter what:) Love you so much my friend, miss you already, but I know it won’t be long until we meet again. Cheers!