The Friends Connection

Just how long have we been going to Book Group? It’s got to be well over ten years.

Our children went to a village primary school, and pick up time in the afternoon gave us valuable social contact. Back then we’d become pretty isolated by the many months I’d spent in hospital and rehab, so the school run was a bit like being re-introduced to society. Sure, the parking was always tricky, but meeting the other mums and dads soon led to new invitations.

“Come to our Book Group, why don’t you?”

We soon get into the swing of it. Once a month, always on a Friday night, a small bunch of us convene at our host’s beautiful thatched cottage. We gather around the kitchen table, there’s tea, wine, cake. The atmosphere is cosy, by now we’re all close friends – hey, we’ve raised kids together in Rutland: we’re survivors!

Conversation is loose, anecdotal, random, staying firmly off the book until everyone’s arrived. There’s a knock at the door, a latecomer, then we get down to business. Or, we don’t, and sometimes we just gossip endlessly – and that’s OK. We’re grown ups, and we make the rules.

Tonight, the book we’re talking about is kind of familiar. It’s Starfish, the book my wife and I wrote to accompany the 2016 feature film about my sudden disability and rehabilitation. It feels strange that our own book is the focus, when we’re used to the group covering classics by authors like Dickens, James Joyce, Edith Wharton, Muriel Spark. And now us? All our personal secrets laid bare in prose, for the world to see. I feel nervous, proud, apprehensive all at the same time. What if they hate Starfish? Sitting there, this possibility suddenly makes me feel slightly queasy.

But it’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK – the response is genuinely positive. These people have known us for two decades, but one of their most interesting comments after reading the book is that they hadn’t realised that at the time it was all happening, we were going through such pain, such domestic chaos, so much grief. We must have done a great job of hiding all that, at the school gates.

The group speculate on how they might have coped in similar circumstances, sharing some of their own experiences of loss and adversity. They ask about how our kids reacted to it all, we talk about how children process grief.

What a huge privilege it is that the group took time to read our book – to feel it deep down, to let it influence their way of thinking. It’s a creative process that can only bring us closer.

This is what real friends do. By allowing us to share our experiences, simple or profound, they validate and in some senses restore the torn fabric of our soul, of our humanity. By accepting our written version of what happened, they affirm something important that can otherwise lie unacknowledged. Friends make us feel less lonely, playing a vital role in connecting us to society, giving us perspective. This is why today’s social networks matter. It’s why our little village book group matters. But more importantly, to ensure our continuing resilience, we should get out and see more of our friends face to face.

On a regular basis.