No, I don't mean the ghastly American show where six people sit on sofas, drink coffee and pretend not to fall in love with each other. The show where the director thinks you need to see a five second external shot of the building everyone's in every two minutes, and then plays a burst of saxophone music to give the canned laughter from the previous scene time to fade away. Sorry, but I don't do Friends.
And, to some extent, I don't do friends much either. Go back ten years, and I'd have been hard pushed to point at anybody and call them a really good friend. I've done a bit better recently, but you could still count the number of really good friends I've had in the last five years on the fingers of one hand. Even on the fingers of one hand if you're one of those pedants who insists that one finger is in fact a thumb so it doesn't count. I'm someone who's usually quite happy filling his own time, and doesn't need to be socially attached all the time to feel occupied, complete and worthwhile. Having said that, I've discovered in the last five years that having friends improves the quality of one's life no end, especially when you live near enough for them to make a regular contribution to your waking hours.
I met one of those good friends exactly five years ago today. Good friends always seem to come along when you least expect it, and standing in the middle of a field in a large tent was one such place. I'd been dragged along to an agricultural show, full of blacksmiths, prize cows and self-righteous foxhunting types. Stuck behind one particular table, surrounded by people old enough to be their grandparents, were a couple who were keen to sign up some new blood into their rural-pastime organisation. I can't quite remember why I agreed to sign up for a year's membership (I suspect I'd have been shouted at if I hadn't) but I got a whole lot more out of that meeting than a year's supply of newsletters. Not that I realised at the time. About a month later we were invited to a barbecue at this couple's house (Oh god, barbecue, it'll all be earnest pensioners and under-cooked chicken) and things sort of grew from there. Again, not that I realised at the time. I didn't realise properly until about a year later, when my relationship was quietly disintegrating around me, that there was actually someone else I could talk to who understood the situation and could offer the advice I needed to get me through. And get me out.
Good friends are always there for you. They're there to go to the pub with, to help you out with your gardening because you're rubbish at it, to ring you up and ask you how you are, to broaden your social horizons, to give you advice when you need it, to give them advice when they need it, to stand in the audience at gigs with, to share your sense of humour, to sit in cafés and restaurants and share experiences with, to keep in touch with even when they're many miles away, to burn you a CD and tell you they almost liked the last one you burnt for them, to indulge in deep meaningful email conversation with, to disappear off on holiday to America with, to help guide you through life without making any stupid mistakes, to pick you up out of deep dark holes should you fall into one, to buy the odd special present for, to ask you if you fancy a ride out on the back of their bike, to ask your advice and take it seriously, to know what you're going to tell them even before you say it, to accompany you to places you'd never dream of going to by yourself, to bring you a much-needed cup of tea at work, to listen to while they tell you how their life's going, to listen while you tell them how your life's going, and to introduce you to other people who are going to end up being good friends too.
Thanks to those special friends who've made my last five years a better place. You know who you are. And, thankfully, so do I.