Hey you! I remember you! Didn’t we used to hang out?

Gaz was away this weekend on his brother’s eighties-themed stag do in Bognor Regis, of all places. I was reluctant to spend the entire duration working on my book about WWII POWs, so I texted as many female friends as I could dredge up from my contact list, and invited them over for a girls’ night in*. I don’t consider myself lacking in the friendship department. If I’m honest I probably prefer to socialize in mixed groups – more banter, more booze – but I have enough wonderful, witty, gin-swilling girl mates for my liking, maybe not quite enough to form say, a netball team (certainly not a decent one), but enough. At least… that’s what I’ve always assumed.

Now, please don’t mistake this for a whinging post about how all my friends flaked out one night and sent me spiralling into an ever-deepening pit of self-loathing and despair. This is not that. They all had utterly valid reasons for not coming – one had fallen ill, another was at her mum’s 60th birthday party and another (my sister) was just really really tired after working for six days straight at a residential care home. All Totally Fair Enough. This was not about me (even if, for a minute or two, I sort of felt like it was), it’s just really bloody difficult to maintain proper grown-up IRL friendships these days.

It never used to be like this. Back in my early teens it was all about the pack mentality. We moved around in groups of 4, or 6 (never an odd number, as all teenage girls know, odd numbers spell disaster), like a finely tuned machine. It was like a polygamous marriage, only more intense, with a lot more crying and Torvill and Dean, and many more episodes of Fresh Prince of Bell Air. We knew all of each other’s intimate secrets and harmony parts to Eternal Flame. We shared homework, shopping trips, mix tapes, cigarettes, enemies and toilet cubicles. What’s more, we assumed we always would. I remember looking at my mum and thinking, ‘wow – she seems so me-against-the-world-y, what happened to all her besties?’ Well, now I know: This.

I know what I’m about to say is practically turgid with cliché, but these days, what with work, kids, family, commitments, commitments, commitments, I consider myself lucky if I manage to catch up with my closest mates once or twice a month. Some of my favourite out-of-town friends are so elusive that I actually see my dentist more often. This is all manner of wrong and must change, but how? The (non) events of this weekend have proven that it’s no longer enough just to text and say ‘hiya, want to come over to mine for a drink?’ We have to send over event invitations and compare dates on calendars on fridges for weeks on end before, finally, if we’re lucky, we stumble upon one precious clear-Friday-night-in- October-after-the-kids-have-gone-to-bed-but-before-News-Night-finishes-because-that’s-our-bedtime-because-we-have-to-get –up-at -6.30am-to-make-breakfast-and-put-the-bins-out. Hideous.

From now on, I am going to try and treat my friends like they are members of an ever-dwindling endangered species. I’m not sure exactly how, but I will make them more of a priority. Perhaps, if all else fails, I could take a few into captivity and start a breeding programme. Sure, it would be frowned upon at first, but eventually humanity would come to see the method behind my ‘madness’. After a decade or two, I could begin to release them back into the wild. Before long there would be little thriving colonies of My Friends all over the place, and at least two or three would always be available to drink gin with me, and I would never be lonely ever, ever again.

*I hate the term girls’ night in. It suggests facemasks, pillow fights and Dirty Dancing on DVD. This is unfortunate, because I have no interest in any of those activities. Facemasks are for benders.

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