Sunday, 16 September 2007

Michel de Montaigne: How Wrong Can You Be?

The first thing I noticed about Rhona was her hair: rich chestnut brown and so shiny she appeared to have a halo. In an office full of black wool-mix and barely there make-up she wore brown slub-silk and La Dolce Vita eye-liner. As I walked through the office in which she occupied a small space from my own across the hall in order to use the shared kitchen, she was the only person to smile, to say hello. She didn't look me up and down and bristle. She didn't stare at her screen in studied silence. And when I actually took up a full time position in that very office and her colleagues became my own she was the only one who's eyelids remained unbatted as aspects of my core character leaked through the professional veneer. We got to know each other during our multiple fag-breaks on the corner of Cadogan Street, the heart of Glasgow's red-light district.

After I met her husband, Craig, he commented that in me she had met herself. She lent me Cinema Paradiso. I lent her The Life of Pi. She endeared herself to my son Bob by being the only adult never to ask him what he wants to do when he leaves school. Our sensibilities connected in a way I'd never experienced before.

After a couple of years of interviewing people for jobs they were too good for we abandoned our efforts to earn a living within months of each other. I went first having realised that I spent more in compensation for the horrors of work than I actually earned. She, a little later to have her first child. She moved out of Glasgow to the north. I lived (still do) about sixty miles south. Neither of us are very adept at picking up the phone either to make a call or answer one. We both have mobiles at the insistence of our husbands but mine lies festering in the bottom of a bag and hers lives in drawer. There is a fourteen year age-gap between us. We are both apt to get waylaid by our circumstances.

She had her second child, Edith, in January. I've had my dissertation to grapple with. Occasionally I would leave a message on her answering machine or find she'd left one on mine. Christmas, the season of our last meeting, began to feel like a very long time ago. Then two weeks ago a miracle happened: she phoned and I answered. We talked for about two hours until she had to go and pick Oscar up from nursery. We discussed getting together but left it vague. She would phone me back. Several missed calls later we alighted on yesterday as the date, but where? She would phone me back. On Friday night at about nine o'clock she did and it was settled. We would meet upstairs at the Ubiquitous Chip at two the next afternoon.

Some friendships are based on shared interests, others on mutual circumstances. I have my philosophy friends, my mother-too friends and my home-town friends. Most fit more than one category, flow in and out of the various boxes. This one defies all attempts of reasoned situationism. Rhona has a philosophical bent, an inquiring mind but hasn't studied the subject to any depth. She is my most willing and ardent editor and critic but doesn't, herself, write. There is an eighteen year age-gap between her motherhood and mine. The spiritual home of our friendship is Glasgow but neither of us lives there now. Our relation to one another appears quite unfathomable to some. Stevie, my husband, has admitted he doesn't understand it. I often fear analysis will undermine but to try and explain what keeps us connected I brainstormed:

Reservoir Dogs, green, enamel-ware, flasked tomato soup. Toast. Kate Moss for Top Shop, Kate Moss for anything, razor hip bones, old leather sofas. Big sunglasses, bobbed hair, teal patent shoes. Tapas. Cocktails. Fine bone-china cups. Edward Monkton, Julie Arkell, Cath Kidston, Johnny Depp. Cinema Paradiso, The Station Agent, Edward Scissorhands, anything with Kirsten Dunst. Kiera Knightley's not too thin. Buxom is admirable but we don't want to be it. Grey hair is cool. Kings of Leon, French Film Noir. Noir, French, passion, chic. Scuffing along the beach. Greenhouses, sheds, gift wrapping, ribbon.

If we were Siamese twins we'd be joined at the sense of admiration. She gives me permission to be shallow as she points out my depth. She has a way of highlighting the positives and disempowering the negatives by inviting them in. She can tell how I'm feeling by the tone of my voice, my gait, even my hair. She knows more about me than I do. She aids integration. She understands, she listens and she is genuinely interested. She facilitates compromise and makes it feel like victory.

As the kitchen of the Ubiquitous Chip closed before we got round to ordering we moved next door. There, in a bar that used to be a cinema, we constructed a make-shift tapas from the starter menu. And feasted. Four hours in uncritical company with spicy fries on the side: a veritable banquet.

Today I know more about myself and I like myself more. And in my diary the date for our next lunch has already been marked.


Mary Witzl said...

This is another great post, Eryl.

One of the fascinating things about friendship is that it can spring up between the most unlikely people, in the most unlikely circumstances, with no apparent basis. My friend Dina does not like to read, cannot for the life of her understand why I spend so much time writing (such a waste of time!), and is generally unmoved by the written word. She has practical skills that make me feel inept and clueless (she was aghast to find that I didn't know the difference between a metal and a wood screw). But she has such a sense of humor and such a generous spirit that our differences aren't an impediment to friendship at all -- quite the contrary.

I love the fact that both you and Rhona are reluctant mobile users! It makes me feel a little better for not having one...

PI said...

Kindred spirits are rare, hard to come by and can be fleeting. Cherish her as I'm sure you do.

Eryl Shields said...

Mary ~ Dina sounds great, I had no idea there was a difference in screws at all.

Mobile phones are completely overrated and in my opinion totally unnecessary. Mine is just another noise creator that has to be searched for when it goes off.

Pi ~ here, here!

Kim Ayres said...

The one quality that really makes a friendship is the feeling of not being judged, but just accepted. When you come across someone like that you don't let go easily

Eryl Shields said...

Kim ~ You have totally hit it on the head. Almost everyone judges everyone else but some people just let you 'be'. This is what Rhona does and she is the only person who I don't feel judged by. Of course, it may be that I feel judged due to my own interpretation/perception and because I am, myself, judging. Difficult. So, thinking about it now, perhaps what really makes a friendship is when one's own judgement is somehow suspended. Perhaps I don't feel judged by Rhona because I am not judging her but just enjoying her. Who really knows?

Dr Maroon said...

She's got a kid called Oscar?

One of the funniest things to ask for in the ubiquitous chip is Delia Smith's ice cream, you know the one she got from here?

IT'S OUR ICE CREAM. OUR RECIPE. they will shout at you. pompus oafs. And now you're telling us that the Grovsner cinema is shut? No more late night shennanigans?

Kanani said...

You've just won an award. Dress up --meaning put on your best t-shirt an pick it up!

Eryl Shields said...

Doc ~ You got a problem with the name Oscar?

I've never actually managed to eat in the ubiquitous chip, I've been trying for about twenty years but something always seems to go wrong.

The Grosvenor is a terrible loss for sure.

Kanani~ An award, me!

Dr Maroon said...

Not at all, I wondered for a second if she might have been a mutual friend, but upon checking I find no.
Oscar is a belter of a name.

Dr Maroon said...

Grosvenor, not Grovsner !

Eryl Shields said...

Don't let the establishment subdue your spelling creativity!