Sit back, make a brew and I will whisk you back to summer 1991 when I was 7 years old. I was on a family holiday to one of our favourite spots; Seahouses in Northumberland. I’ve only found out as an adult that on the fabled morning that I set this tale, my parents had an almighty row. I think maybe two weeks cooped up in a tiny self-catering holiday home with a scrapping sister & brother was taking it’s toll. So following the row my dad did the sensible thing; escaped the house with my brother and I. Seahouses is famous for it’s boat trips and despite the fact we’d done them so many times we headed out under a blackening sky for another, leaving my mum to have some much-needed alone time. As it was already a dank, drizzly day and hardly puffin-spotting weather, there was only us and another family on the boat and in that family was another 7 year old girl called Clare Foster. The boat trip turned into something more resembling white water rapids at a theme park. A storm rolled in and waves heaved over the boat as it was bashed around the sea. Obviously being kids we thought this was fantastic, but I’m sure my dad and her parents were more green and less happy about the situation. After a stomach-reeling hour the sailor took us back to shore and it was there that on the back of a receipt she wrote her address down for me. (And my parents? My mum had watched us out in the stormy sea and was so happy to have us all back in one piece that all was forgiven. We were the last boat trip to go out that day, all the rest were cancelled because of dangerous conditions!)
Clare & I were penpals from the age of 7 to 15. We wrote on a weekly basis, if not more. She lived in a little village in rural Cumbria, and I lived in a smoggy urban city. To each other, our lives seemed idyllic and exciting and as we got older we would also go to visit each other in the school holidays. Our relationship was far closer than perhaps some of our school-friends as we could be really honest about all the things that were happening to us as we negotiated those tough teenage years. The letters were more like diaries really, where we offloaded anything and everything that we felt, thought and bought (we shopped aLOT!) in intricate detail. On average each letter was 4 pages of doodled A4. We shared photos, stories and most details of our everyday school lives. I think we did a really good job of maintaining contact for such a long time, but the letters petered off around 15/16 when you discover boys, under age drinking and get a bit overwhelmed with life choices.
I was such a geek (I know Geek-branded tee’s and Star Trek re-boots have made saying that chic, but I really was and not in a cool way) that I filed tons of the letters Clare sent me, in a very dashing lime green Homer Simpsons folder. Somehow this collection of letters has survived every house move I’ve made; through living in 4 different cities and a whopping 11 different addresses. Mobile phones and the internet barely existed when we lost touch, so it was a pretty permanent thing. I had fleetingly thought about Clare many times; especially when I ended up at uni with two of her school friends who we later worked out I had met on my visits to see her, but I had never been able to find her amongst the many other people with similar names online. By this age I had really felt like if we were going to get back in touch it would have happened, but I must have had a small psychic inkling that our story wasn’t over as her letters remained in a box in my loft.
Then, two weeks ago I got a message on LinkedIn. When I saw Clare’s name pop up I nearly fell over! It was such a rush of emotions and questions and curiosities. Literally ANYTHING could have happened to her in the 14 years we’d been out of contact and sometimes I had wished I could somehow know she was okay. And here she was!
I hope she won’t mind me including a few snippets of our letters! I just think they are so 90′s and so amazing to read as adults, it’s such another world being that age. Anyway after a quick browse of the internet we discovered that we are both living in London and both bloggers (Clare wrote a really inspiring piece about us getting back in touch here) I guess a childhood of pen-palling conditioned us both into writers even now. Within days of her note on LinkedIn we were planning to meet up, and this morning we headed to Salvation Jane for a delicious brunch and 14 years worth of nattering. I was a bit nervous before she came in, but the second we got sat down the cappuccinos and chatter flowed and two hours zoomed by. To be honest it almost felt as easy as if we’d maintained our weekly penpal letters of news and gossip, it was so natural to just pick up where we left off. I’ve got no doubt that this is the start of a new chapter in our friendship, that started on a stormy day in 1991 and just took a bit of a breather.
I suppose the point of my writing this is to really encourage you to seek out friends you may have lost by the wayside. I know it’s impossible to stay connected to everyone and also you shouldn’t push where relationships have reached a natural end. But in those cases of treasures from your past, I definitely think if you find yourself pondering “I wonder whatever happened to so & so” it might be worth just tapping their name into Google and seeing what happens next.