Before I introduce you to the Friends Who Made Me Me, I want to start with something quite the opposite. The Foe Who Made Me Me, if you like.
Throughout my secondary school years I was bullied quite mercilessly. After some time I managed to pluck up the courage to tell my parents. They were supportive but my school was next to useless in dealing with it. Sadly it went beyond a spot of teenage name calling and culminated in the police being involved after a series of events, including threatening messages left on our home answerphone machine . Children can be cruel but the girl in question, and it was always her, was a nasty piece of work. I went from being a spirited, enthusiastic, smily little girl into being withdrawn and quiet. I internalised a lot of what went on and silently began to build up a series of defences, barriers that severely hampered the relationships I made as I got older. I can recall very few happy days whilst at school and now, when I hear of others loving their school days, I realise just how much I missed out on.
I changed schools at the start of A Levels in order to put it all behind me. I really felt like I was the husk of the girl I had been shaping up to be years earlier. I drifted from one friendship group to another, never really feeling that I could open up to anyone. A combination of a fear of rejection or ridicule, I suppose. It was a very lonely place to be and my self confidence and feelings of self worth were low.
Throughout this time I was beginning to build a friendship with my siblings rather than just the sister/brother relationship we had by familial links alone. As the years went on, we all moved into adulthood, following our own paths. We each made mistakes but were clearly growing as people. Slowly, as we got older, our age gaps seemed not to matter as much as we began to socialise together more. Not only did we have the shared experience of our childhood to bond us, but we became friends in the knowledge that we enjoyed each other’s company. I know that in each of the three of them I have an ally. Unwavering, honest support at all times.
Each of my siblings are very different to the others, as I am from them, but our history and our hopes and dreams for the future are what unite us. I take my role as ‘Biggest Sister’ very seriously (in fact, it was one of the reasons my time at secondary school was so hard). After my parent’s divorce a few years ago, I learnt that I don’t always have to be the one in control or to shoulder all of the responsibility. That it’s ok for them to be my protectors when I’m at my weakest. I don’t always get it right but I do always try my best for them. Over the years we’ve become firm friends. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs (show me a family who haven’t!), but through it we’re stronger. They are hardworking, brave and generous people and I love them very much. They are:
Our Zogga. Most likely to come out with an absolute howler of a comment (see previous confusion between Nigel Mansell and Nelson Mandela) but, without a doubt, the owner of the most accurate judge-of-character-ometer I’ve ever seen. She’s hilariously funny and makes me giggle like no one else in the world. She never gives herself enough credit for what she has achieved and I wish she would start to believe just how proud of her we are. She also has perfect teeth which I’m incredibly jealous of.
My brother Norbert. Nope, it’s not his real name. He’s actually Nicholas-James-Maxwell-House-Coffee-Bean-Nescafe-Surname. Yes, he loved being the only boy amongst three horrid sisters. A self confessed sound geek (and master of wedding lighting), my brother has blossomed from a rocket-launching computer nerd into the coolest man I know. He has an incredible work ethic, spends his time making bands sound good at little gigs and festivals like, oh, Glastonbury, but is completely and utterly unfazed by the fame game. He’s an excellent lunch companion and I really look forward to the times we spend together, stealing a couple of hours when people with proper 9-5 jobs are out working.
My little, little sister, Sprog. Bright, bubbly and self confident. She’s achieved many of the things I wanted to but haven’t yet. At 7 years older than her I was able to play a part in many of her significant childhood milestones, and was fortunate enough to teach her how to swim and how to ride a bike. It seems I also taught her how to shop. Give each of us £50 and the run of a high street, the chances are we’ll buy exactly the same things, whether books, clothes or jewellery.
To my siblings, thank you so much. I’ve learnt more from you than you’ll ever know.
Throughout my adult life I’ve had friends and acquaintances, but every now and again you meet people who you know will always be part of your life. My friend Sarah is one of them. I met her on the first day of a new job. It happened to be her birthday and she invited me to join her and a few of our colleagues for a celebratory pizza. I got to know the people at work pretty well (we bonded over a particularly egotistical boss!) and she and I hit it off. We regularly spent more money than is sensible in a local bar in Mayfair. Each Friday (and most Thursdays…) spent drinking too much chenin blanc and eating baked Camembert in our aptly named ’5.01 Club’, the time we’d take our seats at the bar.
Both of us were unhappy in our respective relationships, though for very different reasons. After a lot of soul searching, often at the bottom of a bottle of wine and on the outside of a restorative cheeseburger, we came to realise things would need to change. Sarah split up with her boyfriend and even managed to give up smoking. Both were huge achievements and made me realise that it was about time I was as strong for me. I eventually plucked up the courage to end things with the man I was living with and spent some very uncomfortable times sharing the flat we rented together. One day things came to a head and I had to get out. I hastily packed a bag and fled to the bus stop in floods of tears. Sarah was the person I called.
I stayed with her for some time until I was able to rent somewhere else. She gave up her space and time, oh and most of her toiletries too. She handed me tissue after tissue and made endless cups of tea. She taught me just how far people are prepared to go for their friends and I’ll always be grateful for the support she gave me when I needed it so badly. She’s fiercely determined (she trained to be a special constable, then to run a Marathon and is half way through her Masters, all whilst holding down a full time job. Oh and she snowboards, power kites and plays hockey. Supergirl or what, eh?) and is very loyal. I’ll gloss over her dubious taste in late night Jägerbombs, mind.
Sarah really helped me to build my confidence back up once I’d extricated myself from the relationship which had compounded my previous gremlins. I re-found my desire to socialise (far easier without a difficult boyfriend!) and I began to embrace my 20s. Through a mutual friend I met a rather dapper chap who went by the name of AT. Our paths would cross every now and then, usually where there was some cricket involved. We bonded over our love of gin. Charismatic and erudite, he’s also an excellent cook. He’s rescued me from nightclub toilets and was the co-creator of the most epic 5 course Christmas Day breakfast the world has ever seen. It sounds rather dramatic but AT restored my faith in men. That they could be normal and nice, and without hidden agenda. I’ll be forever grateful to AT, not least because he introduced me to his best friend, the man I now call my husband!
What’s better than having two amazing friends? Having them realise just how wonderful the other one is and falling in love. A few months after Stew and I got together, we knew that we were in it for the long haul, and so began the ‘official meeting of friends’. We got some of our chums together and, naturally, both Sarah and AT were there. Between them much flirting, a flurry of emails exchanged in ensuing days, and before we knew it, they were completely smitten with each other. With much joy, we’ve watched their relationship go from strength to strength and we’re so excited that they’re about to complete on their first house together. We’ll be very sad to wave them off as, at the moment, they’re just round the corner and West London’s loss is definitely East London’s gain. I wish you every happiness in your new home. Bagsy the spare room.
Most recently I was lucky enough to make three new friends whilst planning our respective weddings. Although I’ve only known them for a couple of years, it feels like I’ve known them for a lifetime. Alex, Rachel and Emma have been incredible friends to me. They’re the sort of friends I wish I’d had at school. They’ve taught me that groups of girls don’t have to be bitchy when they’re together. They can just be kind. They’re honest and supportive. Teenage me would have killed for friends like them. We’ve each had some tough times and the support between us has been unwavering. Geographically the four of us are farther apart than we’d like to be, but I know I’m not the only one of us to get giddily excited at the prospect of our get togethers. It’s been with pride that I’ve seen these girls experience some great times in their lives.
Alex has just started an incredible job in a Domestic Abuse Investigation Unit for a police force. She’s exactly the sort of woman you’d want on your side – warm, tactile and funny. She’s worked so hard to get this job and I think they’re lucky to have her. Alex, I know it’s not been an easy path to get there but you’re a brilliant, beautiful woman and I’m so pleased things are working out. You’re far too hard on yourself sometimes, we love you just as you are.
Rachel is a no-nonesense, loyal, pretty slip of a thing, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of early naughties hip hop and boy band lyrics. She’s also responsible for introducing me to Southend’s finest nightspots. She’s recently become a mum to beautiful Madison (you saw her here) and I am completely in awe of how well she’s coped with the huge change in her life. She’s shown an amazing strength of character and is an absolute natural.
The there’s Emma, a lawyer and very talented photographer. She and her new husband (3 weeks ago, so very new!) look like Abercrombie & Fitch models. Seriously. It’s sickening. She’s very measured but with a wickedly funny sense of humour. I’ve been amazed at the grace she has shown when dealing with a close family member’s terminal illness. Nothing is ever too much trouble for our Em and she’s incredibly generous with her time. She’s responsible for the images of Rachel’s daughter and I’m so excited to be watching her photography business flourish. You’ve worked so hard, Emma, it’s great to see it paying off.
My girls, thank you for being you.
Last, but not least, my best friend, my husband. He brightens every day of my life. His philosophy on life is simple. Work hard. Be the best you can be. Be kind and be honest, especially with yourself. He’s a wise man, my Stew. He’s not a huge talker, cannot understand my desire to blog, but he knows what to say when it matters, even if that’s “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here”. Every day he comes home from work with a huge smile on his face and his arms open for a hug. Why? Because whatever sort of day he’s had, he always wants our home to be happy. He’s never been anything other than supportive when it comes to my work or my hopes for the future. He’s embraced having loud and boisterous siblings, no mean feat for a pretty quiet only child. He makes me laugh until my sides hurt and he makes me feel beautiful.
Together with my parents, and the amazing friends above, my husband has given me a great gift. They’ve enabled me to accept who I am and be happy. They’ve given me the confidence to to live my life in the way that I want to and to finally push aside the long lasting effects of my teenage years that haunted me for so long. Without them I wouldn’t have the confidence to laugh at myself or to have the belief that I can achieve what I set my mind to. Chums, thank you. You’ve given me my freedom, my future. You’re the friends who make me me.