Introduction: I've probably never felt so conflicted about writing a blog post. I've drafted, re-drafted and even considered not writing this one at all, but I think there is something to gain from writing it and sharing it. What I obviously hope is that it becomes something positive, and something to act as a springboard towards better things and a better place.
Quite an odd thing happened on my last visit to Selhurst Park two months ago. As security was tight for the visit of arch rivals Brighton access to local pubs was quite restrictive. Prior to confirming that attendees were Palace fans and ticket holders for home sections of the ground, the policeman by the bar of the pub I was in asked the barmaid if I was a regular. Thinking my annual visits would lead me to make other arrangements, the barmaid instead said, "Yes, I've seen him in here before."
Perhaps it was being kind, perhaps it was the need to have customers a full three hours before the game kicked off, but I was still somewhat astonished. I visit once a year and the barmaid still recognised me? It wasn't quite the landlady of my Gran's local recognising me at my Gran's wake a full eight years after my last visit, but it was still pretty good.
Do you know how many pubs I'd have that kind of a welcome in where I live? Let's try zero.
Okay, pubs in Scotland tend to be very different. Absolutely no football colours for the most part, many with caged windows and noted affiliations. Perhaps it is part of my shy nature, but they don't look particularly inviting. But that's not the point I'm really making, it doesn't matter if you're talking about a pub, a restaurant, cafe or coffee house, I'm not a regular at any kind of establishment like that. The only places I'm a really a regular is at the closest-to-home take-away and my hairdressers. I suspect knowledge of my name extends to whether I've ordered by phone before visiting the takeaway or if my hairdressers are looking through their appointment book.
It isn't just establishments though, it is people too. I've gone through a time where I feel I'm known to people just as "Lorraine's husband" or "Chloe and Jemma's Dad", which although nice, doesn't make me feel particularly cared about as an individual sometimes. As a result of this I sat and stewed for the entire month of February, looking at my phone and counting the days that it didn't ring, beep, light up or show any other form of communication coming in my direction. Frankly it was a pretty stupid and worthless exercise that did nothing for either my self-esteem or any of my friendships.
February became March and I continued to grumble, moan and dwell upon how I was becoming less and less important to people around me (plain wrong), how I'd never really had a best male friend in Scotland (as if anyone replaces your best friend, regardless of geography) and how things weren't likely to improve while most of my friends faded away (because if you're a pessimist like me you don't think about a time when even the worst situations bottom out and start to get better). All of this was stupid and self-defeating.
Quieter times in your life do come with some advantages. Sometimes more time to think is a good thing, and sometimes it is a bad thing. In the early stages for me it is bad thing, as time to think breeds negative thoughts. Eventually I tend to get to a more considered position, and in this case I thought about how I treat my friends as well. Would I ever want them to feel left out or not cared about? No. Have I ever made them feel left out or not cared about? I doubt it, I'm clearly the perfect friend. Err, no. I'm clearly an idiot who forgets his own inadequacies.
In the same pub where a barmaid said she recognised me I had one of those private moans to my best friend. As a good friend would do, he listened, and then in the nicest way possible pointed to a time in his life where he didn't hear very much from me and indeed wondered if we would drift apart as friends. In the coming days I figured out when it was (when he had a work placement/gap year and I was finishing university and trying to figure out what on earth was going on with my life), and then called him to ask him about it and ultimately apologise for it.
How did my best friend react to this? He calmly said it was nothing, that he understood, and that he forgave me. And you know why he did that? Because that's what friends should do. More importantly, that's what I should do, and if you want to use the present tense, it's what I should be doing. Did I ever care any less about my best friend? Of course not, but the thought of making him feel that way made me feel frankly ashamed of myself, in spite of how caught up I was in my own life at the time.
My best friend is a lot of things, but mostly he's smarter, kinder and funnier than I am. In fact most of my friends are smarter, kinder and funnier than I am. They're also more forgiving than I am, which only serves as a reminder to me that however often I think I have life figured out then I realise that I've got a whole lot more learning still to do.
Oh yes, and making amends and making adjustments, but I'm working on that.