The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Elbear the Wise

on August 7, 2014

Over twenty years ago I was sat outside Maxwell Building, free for the day whilst everyone else from my landing in our Halls of Residence were off registering for their course.

A girl a few feet away looked like she was saying something. To me it seems but I had headphones in (like what Students do) and couldn’t hear a word. It’s quite brave making the first conversational move. It’s not an easy thing to do when you’re a teenager. In fact some adults still haven’t quite honed down this skill.

So what are the odds of finding yourself sat next to someone who lives in your Halls of Residence AND also happens to be studying the exact same subject as you? We arranged to meet up the next day to go register for our course and that was the start of that.

I spent the next six years with Elbear at University, as housemates and as colleagues. Outside of Husband and family, she’s the one I’ve spent the most time with before I moved to London. I imagine she’s one of the few people who can see traces of the me in my twenties in the me I am now.

I think it would be quite fair to say that I ‘grew up’ with Elbear. For what can be more life changing than being away from home for the first time and staying away from home thereafter. In those few years at University you’re still cocooned against the reality of being a grown up. Though I imagine we all thought we were quite grown up then.

The transition following University can be quite tough. Going from being surrounded by a ready made social life, discounts at nearly every store, travelling at reduced fares, overdrafts that don’t seem like real debt. Quickly followed by the sombre reality of finding a job, paying rent, taxes, multiple bills, change of identity from Student that masks all manner of behaviours to becoming responsible like everyone else and finding your feet amongst it all.

There was no Big Plan when we decided to find jobs and stay in Manchester. We got temping jobs together which all seemed a bit of a laugh at first. I can just see us now! Fresh graduates, just starting our first full time jobs and working with people who seemed….who seemed…well so old! We were never going to turn into them naturally. They don’t even know how to laugh. But then you realise that work is no laughing matter, especially if you want to get anywhere.

But I’ve had plenty of laughs with Elbear because she is mischievous, indulges in the ridiculous and a real partner in crime.

In our Final Year we never paid to get into The Pav and being on protective terms with the Bouncers was a bonus to once help get us smuggled out of the back door to avoid regretful encounters with the wrong people leaving them suddenly rather flummoxed on the dance floor.

When our Halls were installed with private landlines that you could call internally for free, it elicited huge excitement when you saw the flashing red light signalling popularity but then you’d find a whole lot of non verbal messages. Lovely.

After a particularly gruesome Econometrics test paper, Elbear sent the paper to Nestlé because at the time ‘only Smarties have the answer’ so she demanded if that was the case then try this exam for size.

I think true friendship is found in those who dance with you with full abandon. Because if you can dance with someone and not give two hoots about anything else then that says a lot about just how comfortable you are together. I can’t listen to Pulp without thinking of Elbear throwing her Jarvis moves.

She’s my very own Nigella, starting me on the right path of home cooking when previously I thought spaghetti bolognaise only came in the form of Dolmio or Ragu and it must never, ever come served with peas you know. These influences have a huge impact on you as you go on and it’s always a bonus to relish a friend’s cooking.

Then there’s also her brilliant Decoy Biscuits Plan. You should all try this one! You keep your good M&S biscuits on the top shelf in the cupboard but leave your regular Chocolate Digestives or similar on the shelf below. The person foraging for food is instantly gratified by the Decoy Biscuits and will look no further.

I came to Parenthood a few years later than Elbear and it’s good to have someone who’s been exactly where you are now. To have that understanding of how frazzled #1, 2 and 3 can sometimes make you and for there always to be someone to gently point out the things that aren’t really so big and annoying after all. One day maybe #1, 2 and 3 will build a cocoon around themselves and emerge as well behaved as her own #1.

But why is Elbear the Wise? Well, I do know a lot of wise people now who listen without judgement and give sound advice if it’s sought after. However for me, Elbear has always been this person. A naturally very caring, nurturing person, she was the one who understood many things I perhaps hadn’t reconciled myself to understanding in my younger years about myself.

Empathy is a gift. In my early twenties when I was wading through a fog of emotions and events that don’t need talking about here, that I wasn’t even aware were affecting me that much, Elbear is the friend that made me feel quite looked after. When you think you need to have all the answers yourself and rely on yourself to do everything, it’s quite a treat to realise that you don’t.

In the very early years of our friendship, in a time when I had even less patience than I do now, she said something to me that I’ve carried with me ever since. It was about learning empathy myself. That in each of our lives, we all have different measures of what is considered a ‘problem’. It’s still a very real problem for someone that deserves our understanding even if in our own experience it feels trivial. How very wise.

Although we are all fully fledged grown ups now, there is no harm in having someone there guiding you along the way through a path you’ve not yet trodden. Who says we have to have all the answers ourselves? What friends would we be if we could no longer rely on each other.

I’ve lived away from Elbear for almost 15 years now. But you never know, I’m quite sure at some time soon, we won’t be that far away from each other again.

It’s Elbear’s Birthday today. In an earlier email this week she had the good grace to encompass herself in the ‘we are all turning 40 soon’ category. She’s still got a whole year to go and I think she should revel in her youth, don’t you?



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