Thursday, January 7, 2010

Silver and Gold

Make new friends and keep the old,
One is silver and the other's gold.

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.

I have a friend. My oldest friend, in that she has been my friend longer than anyone else on earth, apart from my Mum and my sister.

This is my friend Janet.

This is me.
I have been working on this post in my head for a long time. I wanted to tell you about Janet. About how remarkable it is that, although we have only seen each other once in the last 42 years, we still call each other "friend."
But especially, about how remarkable I think she is as a person.
I have mentioned a couple of times that as a girl I really only wanted two things: to be a ballerina and to own a horse. I didn't get either, although Annie managed to "kind of" fulfill both aspirations. My friend Janet was an avid horse rider when she was young and I was ever-so-slightly jealous. We were pretty good friends at school, but didn't spend any time at each other's homes because we lived in different villages. We attended a little village school in Middle Littleton, which was where Janet lived. My family lived in North Littleton. There was also a South Littleton. You get the idea! I could spend pages telling you about that school and my teachers, but maybe some other time. This post is about my friend.
Janet used to call me occasionally from the phone box by her house. We got a phone, with the number Badsey 733, which I had to recite when I answered the phone because my Dad had his own plumbing business. It was an exciting event when Janet called me. No one else ever did, you see. Call me, I mean. I was sad to leave Janet when we moved to New Zealand, but we promised to write. I was eleven at the time. And write we did. For some reason, we started this thing where each time we wrote, we would beat the last letter's page total. I think we were up to over 30 pages by the time we got to be into our teens and, I assume, too busy for such time-consuming pastimes.
The years passed by and pretty soon we were all grown up. Jan went to university and graduated and got married. I notably DIDN'T go to university (sore point with my parents), although I did some traveling and served a mission and then got married shortly after Jan and Steve. We didn't see each other again until we were in our mid 30's. My sister and I had planned a trip to England with our daughters. Anne wasn't able to go in the end, so Bethany and I went alone. After spending a week with my aunties and uncles in Birmingham, we went to the Cotswolds to stay with Janet and her family. Jan was the proud Mum of a toddler and a baby when Bethany and I visited. I must admit, I was very surprised to discover that Jan was profoundly deaf. Not only had she shown no signs of it (that I knew) when we were children, but she had never mentioned it since. She was pretty awesome at coping with it, using a combination of hearing aids and lip reading. It was a bit nerve-wracking when she was driving though, because she would be looking in the rear-view mirror all the time to watch her son talking. I never told her that before, sorry Jan! We had a fun week and then went home. Since then, it has mostly been Christmas letters and the occasional email.
Several years ago, Jan got a cochlear implant. I was interested in this because I had done extensive research on the deaf community while studying for my music therapy degree. Jan's surgery was rather groundbreaking, something to do with new robotic techniques, and she was featured in a TV programme. Since then, she has become an advocate and support for potential and actual cochlear implant recipients. She also volunteers for a local charity teaching life skills to people who have mental illnesses or learning deficiencies. Not only that, but Jan is an avid biker. This girl thinks nothing of going out on a Saturday and churning out 100 miles. She rode Le Jog a few years ago, the ultimate act of hard-core biking. Well, maybe not THE ultimate, I suppose Lance might have something to say about that. But Le Jog is the route from Land's End to John O'Groats, the entire length of the British isles. It's rugged by any standard. I keep trying to talk her into coming and riding the Seattle-to-Portland, but only because I want to see her again. I suppose it might seem a bit tame after Le Jog. Jan is also a wife, Mum of two, and a businesswoman.
There, in a nutshell, is almost 50 years of a friendship.You may wonder, what makes two people hang on to a relationship where their paths cross so infrequently? Especially when, in retrospect, we only knew each other for four years and didn't ever play together outside of school. I think maybe it's because we are like-minded without even knowing it. Jan reads my blog faithfully; all of the UK entries in the sidebar are her. (Apparently her ISP wanders!) She wrote in her last email, in which she told me about her volunteer work, that a lot of the things I say and do echo her life and thoughts very accurately. So we are, as it turns out, and in the words of Anne Shirley, kindred spirits. Maybe that's the answer.
Oh, I'm sorry, did you forget the question?
P.S. I just added "visiting Jan" to my bucket list. I will take photos of us together, looking fierce on our bikes.


  1. My Goodness! And I thought Bethany took after her dad!

  2. Yeah, my aunties and uncles all thought she looked like me too.