3rd February 2022 …people. How many friends do you have? I mean real friends, not virtual Facebook or Instagram ‘friends’, though they too have their place. I mean flesh and blood, face-to-face friends that you know inside out and still love them, warts and all, and the feeling is reciprocated? I actually have few ‘real’ and true friends that I know I could count on if push came to shove. I can probably count them on the fingers of both hands. I do have lots of other friends that I care for a great deal and yet more acquaintances by the boatload. Is it the same for you?
In my lifetime I have lived in various locations in the UK. As you probably know by now, I’m Barrovian by birth, and proud of it! Barrow in Furness is an industrial town in the north-west of England. It was north Lancashire when I was born, but due to political and electoral changes is now South Cumbria (I still consider myself a Lancashire lass though). Barrow rests at the end of a peninsula; you cannot travel through Barrow to get to anywhere else, unless you want to end up in the Irish Sea at Morecambe Bay.
I left in 1980 when I was 22, and at that time I hated the town. My childhood was not particularly happy, and I’d had a disastrous marriage which left me emotionally scarred for life. I swore I would never go back there to live, and so far, I have not. I do visit though, as I have family and friends still there, so there will always be a connection. My perspective of Barrow has changed quite a lot though – I don’t hate it any longer; it will always be ‘home’. The people are friendly, warm and straight as a poker. Don’t ask a question of a Barrovian if you don’t want a straight answer! They are a basic ‘salt of the earth’ type of people who don’t stand on ceremony; if they like you, they’ll take you to their hearts, and if they don’t, you’ll soon know about it.
It’s the people that make Barrow what it is – the town itself has changed beyond belief. I hardly recognise it any more, and manage to get lost frequently. Many of the beautiful Victorian buildings, ornate and gothic, have been demolished and replaced by dreadful modern structures that have no personality, or worse still, are now car parks. Like many towns, in its heyday it had plenty of shops, small independent businesses on Dalton Road, Forshaw Street, Cavendish Street and surrounds. There was a large covered Market and an outdoor market where you could get the best bargains. On Saturdays you couldn’t move in the Town Centre for the number of people shopping. Very few department stores – there was Marks & Spencer and Woolworths, the Co-operative, but if you wanted the larger chain stores you had to go to Preston or Manchester. Which is what we used to do once or twice a year. It was a day out on the train (very few cars in those days – they were still luxury items!) and we enjoyed it, but Barrow was still the best place to live.
Then they closed the Old Market and demolished the building, replacing it with a new indoor market opposite the Town Hall, but it wasn’t the same though I’m told it’s still very good. Then the superstores started to appear, Tesco, Asda, B&Q and the rest, and they built Hollywood Park retail park and Portland Walk to cater for the ‘Mall’ type of modern shopping experience, though not making it a covered area, that hasn’t done too well. The Town Centre shopping area is like a ghost town, nowadays, mostly charity shops and pound shops. Gone now the the butchers shops, the shoe shops etc – it’s such a pity! The little quaint tobacconist’s that looked like a throwback to the Victorian era and was the only place to buy Sobranie cocktail cigarettes in bright colours or Gitanes. Can you tell I was pretentious in my efforts to appear sophisticated?
But I’m digressing yet again. What I started out to say is that most of my true friends are ladies that I met at Risedale School – way, way back in 1969. Two of them I’ve been in contact with ever since – a little sporadic, perhaps, but they are the type of friends that you might not see for a long time, then when you get together it’s as if you saw each other yesterday. The others, I probably never saw from leaving Barrow in 1980 until almost ten years ago, when someone said they were getting together for lunch and would I be able to join them. Since then, we’ve met regularly every couple of months or so and always some time in December for our Christmas get together, though the meetings-up have been somewhat askew in the last couple of years because of Covid-19. But when we DO meet up, we have the best of times. Lots of nostalgia, of course – our shared memories of schooldays can be hilarious – but we talk about anything and everything. We keep in touch between our rendezvous on Facebook and Messenger. These women are my roots, and whatever happens, I know I can rely on them for support. Those are my forever friends.
That’s not to denigrate my other good friends in any way. There are others that I know I can depend on in the same way as the Barrow ladies, but without the history behind us, and I love them all too – I wouldn’t want to do without any of them.
But probably my closest and bestest ever friend is my sister, Mel. She has known me longer than anyone else and she is my ‘go-to’ person for anything and everything. Whilst it’s true we did not get along at all when we were young, and our relationship bordered occasionally on actual hatred, we grew out of that a long time ago. When my first marriage failed and I moved back in with my family in Brighton Street, Mel, along with a crew of her schoolfriends, (they were only fifteen at the time) cheered me up every day when they came to our house for their lunch break. They were madcap, silly teenagers and they made me laugh until I thought I would burst! I can see them now teaching my two-year-old to sing and do the arm movements to ‘Greased Lightning’ from that year’s hit movie. They too are all scattered now to the four winds, but I’m glad my sister keeps in touch with some of her schoolfriends too.
When I left Barrow and went South, Mel visited, usually with a mate in tow, and we’d venture into London, shopping around Covent Garden and Oxford Street, taking silly photographs. When I left the Ostrich and went to work for DHL, Mel came to stay and ended up getting a job with DHL and sharing a house in Slough with me and my future 2nd husband, Trevor, with whom she got along very well. At weekends, the two of them would disappear to the video shop and be gone for hours selecting our movie entertainment, whilst I cooked our Sunday roast.
Then, when Trev and I moved to Derbyshire, ostensibly to be closer to his family and start having babies of our own (which unfortunately never happened), after a while Mel followed us there too, and we worked together for another courier company, me in the office and she as a messenger. It was there she met my good friend and work colleague who she ended up marrying and with whom she eventually had six children. I was there at the birth of the first – another new adventure! I managed to get through it, only suffering a crushed hand and a bruised hip where she’d used her foot on me for support whilst pushing. Oh, and the verbal abuse in the most painful moments of labour, ‘This is all your effing fault – you introduced me to him!’
They had moved to Scotland by that time, so we kept in touch mostly by phone for a long time, visiting each other on occasion, me to Dumfries and she and her family to wherever we might be living at the time. (Trev and I moved around quite a lot as pub managers, eventually settling in the village of Talsarnau in North Wales for about 8 years.)
We’re there for each other through good and bad times – I’m glad to say mostly good but there were dreadful times that each of us would not have survived without the support of the other. We’ve been through marriages, divorces, births and deaths, the best of times and the worst of times, to paraphrase a certain very famous author with whom our maternal grandfather shared a name, though unfortunately no DNA.
Now, very happily married for the second time, Mel lives in Fuerteventura with her husband and four dogs. This is after bringing up (mostly alone) six children, all of whom are upright, kind, and well-balanced people, against all odds. According to statistics among them should number junkies, alcoholics, criminals and reprobates, but I’m glad to report none of the two girls and four boys are any of these. I am widowed, living in West Yorkshire, as you probably know. But Mel is still going to come from the Canary Islands for a couple of weeks, to support me through my new venture as an author. She will be by my side, acting as driver, carer, sister, roadie and drinking buddy all through the publication and launch of my book. She has already read most of it, as I have depended on her to tell me, after each chapter, whether it’s good enough or absolute shite, because I know she’ll tell me the truth. She has a vested interest – since the family that I’m fictionalising is her family too!
I expect I’ve waffled on enough again for one week. Tell me about your friends, the people you depend on, in the box below – I’d love to hear your stories.
Till next week,