I don’t live particularly close to my closest friend; we keep in touch via long, witty (her), whining (me) texts, and meet up maybe four times a year for a breathless jaunt around Hull’s finest gown emporiums (Zara and Oasis) and a long lunch at for wherever we have a voucher.
We share a lot – misery at our working lives, exasperation at the uselessness of everyone else in our lives; vicious jealousy at anyone who has more than one pair of nude heels.
One thing we have always shared is a lack of cash. First world problems, I know, as we both have (albeit draughty) roofs over our heads, healthy and exceptionally bright children and are both, of course, intelligent and devastatingly attractive.
But there is never enough money to be able to relax – to go to Waitrose and not Aldi, to not have a purse bulging with loyalty cards, to not feel sick when the credit card bills arrive with their hideous inevitability.
It is all down to choices, mine more than hers. She is a not-by-choice single mum (though I don’t think she’d have it any other way now) and has become a full-time carer.
I married a man with more children than you can shake a stick at and decided to work part-time in order to chase after said children. Doesn’t stop me yearning for a weekend in Center Parcs with all the other middle classes though.
Things got pretty rubbish five years ago. Pretty ‘I’ve had enough of this shit I’m out of here’ rubbish. She was there as I staggered through it, offering concern and advice (‘Have some vodka’). She couldn’t make it all alright – but she tried.
She bought me a book I had been wanting (one about being frugal, as it happened) and tucked inside was an envelope with £100 in it.
I was overwhelmed, touched and appalled. You can’t accept money off friends – it just messes up the balance of the relationship. She had always given me bags and bags of outgrown children’s clothes, which were always gratefully accepted, but five purple twenty pound notes in a creamy white envelope was a different thing. And she couldn’t afford it – how could she?
I put the envelope back in the book and resolved not to spend it – I would give it her back ‘when everything sorted itself out’.
I never forgot the envelope. Every now and then I would raid it – once to pay for a school trip, once to buy a pair of much needed boots, once just to fund an emergency trip to the Co-op when I knew we were on our overdraft limit. At first I replaced the twenties I took out. At first…
Last summer my daughter was studying for the 11+ exam, in the hope of getting in a nearby grammar school. The test papers I got off Amazon were so perplexing I got hold of a tutor to walk her through them. This teacher knew her stuff, but was terribly expensive. What price your children’s future though, eh?
At the last session before the bloody test I realised I didn’t have the money to pay for the tutor, so scrabbled through my book for The Envelope. Inside, along with my friend’s lovely note, was the last twenty pound note. I handed it over with a leaden heart, as if I had failed our friendship. The tutor took it without a second glance.
After much stress and a few tears, my daughter took the test. It all seemed a long time ago when we found out this week that she has got a place at the school of dreams. I feel as if we have done the best we could to ensure she has every chance for a shining future full of glittering prizes.
This means nothing to my daughter. All she is worried about is leaving her friends. It is impossible to tell an 11-year-old this, but she needn’t worry. Friends – the true, solid gold ones – don’t just disappear. You might not hear from them for weeks, but they are still there, still hanging on just as you are hanging on and they never forget you – just as you never forget them, and the good things they have done.