Do I tell the friend I’ve not seen for 30 years that she’s muddled her memories
I am sat on a train to Sheffield. This is where my best friend from secondary school has landed. We were inseparable: both sporty, both hard working – she relatively quiet and good natured; me loud and ebullient and quick to choose the wrong rails when they appeared on the horizon. And that tendency of mine to just dive off the deep end probably marked the fading our intense friendship. We remained friends, but the bonds of shared love of dogs, netball, Ipswich Town Football Club (back in the glory days of Bobby Robson), and swimming and screaming in the cold North Sea were fractured by my desire to experience the sexier, more dangerous and wilder sides of life.
I last had contact with her 30 years ago. I don’t know how she tracked me down – that will no doubt become clear later today – but we have enjoyed a flurry of reminiscing emails. And this is a bit of a problem. Her memories are at variance with mine. She remembers joining my family for a holiday. She recalls the journey and the names of places – including a mound called Plum Pudding. I have no recollection of going on holiday with her. The area on Scotland’s west coast, yes. It was our family holiday destination for six or seven consecutive years. My father drove us through the night from Suffolk – first in a vomit-inducing Vauxhall Cresta and then a mustard Volvo estate – often with one of us in the back surrounded by luggage and food rations. My friend remembers this too. But in my memory she is not there. Never. This makes me nervous.
As we all know, memory is a funny old thing. I can’t be the only one who struggles to remember what shop was in the now boarded up premises on the high street? Even though I made purchases there and walked past it every day. That’s why archives and websites that enable us to share photos and memories are so compelling – such as the Facebook gem Forgotten Berwick. I could quite happily spend hours scrolling through that Facebook page, despite the fact that my own Berwick history goes back only six or so years (plus midnight drive-throughs on those long treks to Scotland). And there’s the thing. Should the topic of those much-loved Scottish caravanning holidays crop up during my Sheffield visit – which they surely will – what do I do? Do I confess that I can’t remember her ever coming with us, thereby suggesting she has perhaps converted my vivid holiday tales into a memory-by-proxy? Or shall I go along with her version, hoping it will trigger some remembrance of my own?
This conundrum aside, it is exciting to be dipping my toe back into such a formative relationship. I say dipping because, again, plunging might be risky. It’s no surprise to me to learn that all these years I’ve been careering head first into freezing swimming pools and seas to ‘get it over with’, I’ve been running huge risks. As any cold water swimmer worth their salt will tell you, the plunge comes with risk of hyperventilation, a racing heart, and even drowning and heart attack. On the plus side it can also deliver the endorphin high that sets you up for a zinging feeling all day. So, on one hand my experience tells me that diving in leads me into things I might otherwise shy away from – sometimes with good reason. On the other, simply dipping a toe in can often mean I’m heading home moments later with a slightly numb big toe and a lingering regret that I’ve not experienced the full plunge.
Thirty years is a long time. And now I am arriving at Sheffield station. Which, by the way, I don’t think I’ve been to before.
(A version of this article was printed in The Berwick Advertiser on 2nd July 2015)