The Friend That Made Me Me – Joan Hunter Dunn

One of the things that I love the most about the Friend That Made Me series is how each person has such a different approach to it.  The lessons we’ve learnt from the people to whom we pay tribute are so varied, and the situations we met them in so profound, often entirely unintentionally.  I too had a summer that changed my life and can identify with what Rachel, aka Joan Hunter Dunn, the genius behind Flowers and Stripes has to say.  That period of Rachel’s life sounds glorious.  Carefree and glorious, and filled with cheese, wine and France.  Perfection.    

Over to you, Rachel:   

 

I didn’t really understand this series. I love my friends, have many from over the years, all connect to a different part of me, time of me and together they make me me, but the one who made me me? Nope. Then I had an epiphany. I do have the friends who made me me. It’s just that I don’t see or text them, we’re friends on Facebook but we haven’t seen each other for 10 years. They are the friends I made in the summer of 1995. It was through them, and our circumstances that encouraged me to become me.

I was 23 years old (please don’t say you were at primary school at this point) I’d back packed around the world, graduated from university wasn’t immature but hadn’t really grown up. I’d enjoyed these times but they weren’t the best of times.  Another gap year, this time before starting my P.G.C.E. I’d come through post university blues and through a whim of needing to fill the year, enjoying travelling and wanting to gain more experience with children ended up as a Canvas Holiday’s children’s courier on a Breton campsite.

A shy quiet Rachel boarded the ferry in Dover with a couple of hundred other couriers and rusty French and a more confident, very suntanned and a few pounds heavier (you try having an onsite boulangerie and cheap wine for six months), colloquially more fluent even if my grammar was still terrible, and the beginnings of adult Rachel returned. 

 I was placed on a small campsite, with five British couriers, somehow we made friends with four local French and so we nine spent from April to September together.

E our senior courier from Northern Ireland who’d been out last year. Was experienced but didn’t necessarily have the skills to lead a team. A lesson that experience doesn’t necessary mean right for the job. Good fun, loyal and hard working. Being the only British girls made us closer.

A having dropped out of his first year of architecture an 18 year old school boy having a gap year before returning to university. Obsessed with Blackadder and so would listen to it every night. I can still quote chunks. Smirked alot and would sneak into my tent to eat the sweets bought for prizes.

O from the top of Scotland the windsurf courier. He had the hardest job, that everyone thought was the easiest. Who fell madly in love with an Irish au pair, had his beloved moped driven from the top of Scotland to Brittany and in the end decided love was stronger than completing his time and receiving his financial bonus.

M who was not sure quite what he wanted to do with his life and so ended up here to try and make a fresh start with no connections to confusing friends back home. A complete flirt.

Melanie AKA Sweetie, I think she worked on the campsite and Mark took a shine to her and that’s how we met The French.

Jean Marie charming, who E took a shine to. Oh the night they finally kissed, or rather she kissed him. With an all important car to drive us around.

Anne Oh so cool Anne.

Sophie a little removed from everyone, we didn’t quite get to know her and M’s longest fling.

 

Yes this random group are the friends that made me me, and I’m not sure in part if all of us were part of making each other the person they are. I know that that summer definitely had a long, strong and magical impact on each of us.

Our common thread of wanting to spend six months living on a campsite, crossing fields for the loo, showering in communal shower blocks, wearing bright orange t-shirts bonded us. We slept with the sound of the waves crashing, we played drinking games with Pernod, had our favourite local bars and clubs, drinks, routines. Merquez and chips at 1am from a kiosk.  We discovered Desperados, drank tequila, cooked on a primus stove, knew every ferry crossing from England to France, dug tunnels around tents to stop them flooding, physically held tents down in a hurricane.  

After that summer our bonds of friendship were so strong that Melanie travelled to England to celebrate my 25th birthday, we all travelled up to St. Andrew’s for another birthday, if E was ever flying through London she would stop to meet up. M randomly popped into my halls of residence and left a note. We made mix tapes of the music of the summer. Wrote letters to each other. My room at university was a mass of photographs from this summer.

But more than that. On this small campsite with a small group of people I learnt how to let go, how to drink and get drunk, how to talk to strangers. That I did really like working with children, but never ever teach with a hangover. How to flirt, how to navigate relationships when two people don’t get on to stay friends with both but true to oneself. We had romances and flirtations amongst ourselves, amongst the other guests on the campsite. I learnt about good strong male/female  friendship.

Meeting new people without any connection to me or friends or family I was amazed to discover how people pick up on your traits. These friends, having never met or really heard me talk about my university friends, teased me about the same things. I realised that perhaps we don’t totally change, but develop we still remain  the core of who we are.

It also taught me that sometimes times are perfect because they don’t go on forever. Six months can be perfect any longer and there are going to be ups and downs. It also taught me that when times are hard it doesn’t necessarily mean they always will be. That in a year where I was at, for me, my lowest, I then had the most remarkable time and met the friends that made me me.

Categories: Friend That Made Me Me
17 interesting thoughts on this

16 Comments

  1. Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    This has made me want to run away to France and live on a campsite (a not uncommon fantasy if I’m honwst), sure beats trudging to work in the rain.

    Great writing Rachel! I could picture every bit vividly.

  2. Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    So evocative, I love it! Terrific writing Rachel. I also want to run away and work in France now. I remember the summer a big group of us went on holiday to Biscaraosse and discovered Desperados- what a hilarious drink. They never tasted as good when they launched them in the UK!

    Px

    • Posted April 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Yes Desperados do not taste as good in this country. I was most excited when I first saw them then disappointed.

  3. Zan
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Brilliantly written Rachel as always! I have similar feelings about 2 groups of my friends – that was everyone in the group and the particular circumstances that made me more of the me I am today.

    Great post :)

  4. Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Fantastic post Rachel, you write so evocatively, I too am now daydreaming about escaping to a sunny hazy campsite in France and discovering myself.

    I love this series, everyone has a different take on it, such a brilliant insight into how our friends shape us.

    K x

  5. Alex D
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Like the others have said – terrific piece & like Penny said, very evocative. I would also like to run away to France now please. AOW outing – who’s with me? x

    • Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Alex – let’s go! Baguettes and cheese and bottles of red oh my!

      • Posted April 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        *scours the interweb for cheap P&O offers*

  6. Peridot
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    That sounds amazing – what a fabuous experience.

  7. Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Sounds idyllic, especially on a rainy Thursday in Edinburgh. I never had a gap year but have a similar fondness for the summer between my degree and PhD, more for the experiences than the people themselves. The Summer That Made Me Me maybe??
    Lovely writing Rachel, must get back to work and stop daydreaming of France!

  8. Posted April 19, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I’m not usually a camping kind of girl, but bloomin’ heck I want to grab a tent and bugger off to France right now! Great piece that has cheered up my morning no end (I’m ignoring the Northern Irish rain and dreaming of sun…)

    xx

  9. Posted April 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for your lovely comments & tweets. I really enjoyed writing this, reliving the memories & yes felt like contacting these precious people.

  10. Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    It also taught me that sometimes times are perfect because they don’t go on forever.

    I’m stealing this line for any future book/text message I write.

  11. Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Great post!! I HATE camping but I still want to be you having this Summer.

    Love that it just clicked for you one day about what to write as well, there are people who made us us that we don’t even realise sometimes. Wonder what all of that group are doing now? It reminds me of that Vanessa something song about White Houses? she plays piano and dances in the video?? (I have awful taste in music and never remember names of musicians or songs- sorry!) x

  12. Jessica
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    This is just beautiful. It is the stuff of artsy films with an indie soundtrack and made me yearn for a life that I never knew actually could be lived until now.

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  • By Number 85 on August 2, 2012 at 7:01 am

    [...] writing always has a dreamy quality.  She’s captured it perfectly here. talking about her first year in her new home.  [...]

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