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» Listings for May 2011

  1. Last month I got a phone call from France. It was my penfriend's brother inviting me to a party near Avignon for his sister's birthday. I've not seen her for 20 years, but I know that despite my French and her English being a bit rusty, we'll get on just as well as we did on all our school exchange visits between South Tyneside and St. Denis. That's the kind of friend you need. Friends that don't hold a grudge because you've not called them for a decade, and who you feel delighted to hear from when their name pops up in your inbox.

    Then there are the other sort that you've picked up somewhere along the way. Those people who suggest that you might like to meet up, and you agree because it seems rude not to, and then ends up taking up more time than you give to your own best mates. When the phone rings and you see the name you think, "Oh lord, now what?" instead of "Oh good!" And you know that when you say, "How are you?" you're in for an hour's worth of the latest catastrophes: relationships, jobs, whatever.

    I've had my time as a high maintenance friend. We all go through difficult phases, and I appreciate the hours that people spend listening to my tales of woe in the 90s. I like to think that I'm passing it forward by allocating some of my friend time to taking my fair share of it back again. But that means there's less time for the people who are never any bother at all.

    Some of the HMFs take advantage of the self-employed:

    "Good you're at home. I'll come over then."

    "I'm writing a book!"

    "Oh I won't be any bother."

    Some self-help books tell you to dump the friends who are too much effort. I don't think that's kind and I don't think it would make you happy, but I do think that you have to watch them, ask yourself why you take them on, and make sure that you don't get overwhelmed. Some problems can't be solved by friends alone; they need people with prescription pads.

    Nope, what I suggest you do is have a look through your address book and get in touch with the really lovely people who are no bother - your low maintenance friends - for no reason at all except that you like them, and would love it if you heard from them unexpectedly; the friends for whom you'd drop everything, empty your bank account and book a train to Avignon just for a party. I'm seeing four of my mates over the next week, I've had an afternoon out at the V&A with another and lunch with one more. Do it now.

  2. It's Tuesday. Out of my window I can see white clouds and grey clouds. For May, it's not that warm. But the bees are buzzing around the interesting sprays of tiny white flowers on next door's palm tree. (I know! In Ealing!) and the flowers are blooming in the row of little front gardens. Yesterday I spent eight hours in two different accident and emergency departments, first Charing Cross Hospital, which isn't anywhere near Charing Cross, then the bright shiny new one on the Fulham Road. There's nowt wrong with me; I was with a friend who'd had an argument with a sharp implement and lost. Thank goodness I had my knitting with me; there's a lot of waiting around to do. Anyway, after eight hours watching ill people getting patched and despatched, I am seriously appreciating my current good health.

    Incidentally, if you ever have a choice, go to Charing Cross; they are lovely. At the other hospital I got told off twice, once for standing in the wrong place and once for sitting in the wrong place. It was the stroppy blonde woman in white, hair up, thinks she's the boss of you. Although it's fair to say that the plastic surgeon who's going to see if he can repair the damage today was a very nice chap. She's going straight into the next novel, and then we'll see if she starts being a bit less supercilious.

    So for today, I'm going to appreciate whatever the world chucks at me, even if it rains. And I'm going to write up my notes ready for next time I write a hospital visit into a work of fiction. Every experience is useful, even eight hours hanging around in A&E.