We both actively look forward to your blog, Neil.
There is a moment before I open it where I quietly draw breath and go through one of those entirely ridiculous, superstitious and nonsensical rituals in my head. You know the idea. Where you promise to stop eating sugary crap, become a better person, run a marathon (or at least start training for one), give up booze, or generally strike a bargain with God or some other higher power. Such is the bargaining ritual I go through in my head before opening your blog. Because, as a friend, what I wish for you is the best of times, with all your favourite people, for as long as is possible. I’m pretty sure you will be something of an expert at this bargaining ritual. And funny old thing. Sometimes my bargaining ritual works and your blog is upbeat, full of adventures, sunshine and laughter. But often it doesn’t and the blog post is raw, heartfelt and painful.
But whatever the theme, however difficult to read, we love reading it.
What we especially love about it is the glorious randomness of it all. A tale that starts in one place, takes an unexpected turn and ends up where we were least expecting it. You have a real gift for an anecdote, for bringing the past to life, for speaking from the heart. You don’t sugar coat it or shy away from the harsh realities that are beyond most of our experience, but nor do you wallow or over dramatize. You find irony, self-deprecation and humour in the darkest of times and you share with us the knuckle-clenching, white-water ride that is living with terminal cancer.
All of this has got me thinking. About our friendship, about why it matters and why we – Simon and I – feel so invested in you and Tricia, your story, your future. The answer is, of course, because you are good friends who we care about hugely. But when did we become friends and what is it that defines friendship? How do we decide, as an adult, to ‘make friends’ with someone? At what stage can you call someone a friend? Not in the Facebook sense, but a proper friend.
The dictionary tells me that a friend is a person you ‘know well and like a lot’. We can put a big fat tick in the ‘like a lot’ box, but in truth, I’m not sure we can claim to know one another well.
So, what is it that forms the basis of friendship? Sometimes it’s all about shared history – school, university, work or some other sort of mutual experience that creates memories and bonds us together. Perhaps it’s to do with a mutual hobby or passion – a shared love of, say, model railways or para gliding; stamp collecting or triathlons. Maybe it’s being members of the same church or political party; living in the same street or having kids at the same school.
But the four of us – me and Simon, you and Tricia - don’t have any of that.
No shared history, none of the connections that are the traditional building blocks for friendship. We haven’t known you for long and certainly don’t know you well.
For the benefit of others, Simon and I met Tricia some 7 or 8 years ago whilst she was at the College and we were in the first year or so of Kernowforno, our woodfired pizza business. Tricia helped us through some tricky stuff and we recognised a fellow pragmatist, someone we could trust and work well with. Fast forward a few years and Tricia brought you along one Monday evening to try one of our pizzas. We smiled, waved and said hello, no more than that, really.
Over a series of Mondays in the last couple of years we got chatting. Discovered that you and Simon seem to have much in common. An irreverent (some may say inappropriate) sense of humour. A love of a good project and a determination that nothing is too broken to be fixed if only you can locate the right tool that you have been saving just for this very occasion. Devilishly handsome, obviously. Straight talking and a preparedness to discuss death, bowel habits, divorce (for the record, that’s past divorces, no more planned as far as I’m aware…) and a whole host of potentially controversial subjects that others may coyly steer away from. Banter and silliness doing a poor job of disguising the fact that you are both, fundamentally, the kindest and caring of men. You became ‘bros’, a brother from another mother, partners in crime. Meanwhile, Tricia and I look on fondly, occasionally raising our eyebrows or rolling our eyes, but loving the bond that has somehow been created. This photo of the two of you, grinning together in the sunshine will always be the happiest of memories of one of those spontaneous and fabulous summer evenings. It was during that evening that I suggested the idea of a few guest blog spots – and so here I am, giving it a go.
It turns out that friendship isn’t about how well you know someone, the history you share or the mutual connections you have. It’s not about how often you see someone, how well you know their family, whether you’ve been on holiday together or can remember their birthday. It’s just about finding a kindred spirit, someone who shares the same outlook, someone whose company brings a ray of sunshine. As I wrote on the pizza box the other week, when you were too ill to come down and I delivered instead – ‘this isn’t just a pizza, but a hug in a box’.
Neil and Tricia – we love your glorious randomness and regardless of the basis on which it was built, we love being your friends.