At the weekend, I went to a party thrown by a long term friend of mine. In a marquee, no less.
I have known Tessa since college days and although I have lived on the other side of the world for much of the intervening time, I have been fortunate enough to catch up with her and her lovely family on many of my trips back to England over the years. The same goes for other friends from that era.
It isn’t always easy to stay in touch with people over an extended period of time when you live so far away, but I have always tried to make the effort over the years.
However, as I’m sure others have found too, when you catch up with true friends, no matter how long it has been since you last saw each other, you just slot right back into the groove. It is as if you saw each other only yesterday, with just a few extra wrinkles to betray the fact that maybe that isn’t the case.
For the first few years after I had moved to the other side of the world it felt as if I had merely pressed the pause button and if/when I returned to the UK, it would simply be a case of pressing ‘play’ again to resume my life as it had been before.
But of course, that isn’t the case. Everyone’s lives move on at the same relentless pace and the longer you are away, the more their lives advance in your absence.
If I had gone to one of Tessa’s parties in the past, I would have reckoned on knowing a fair proportion of the other guests. After all, we moved in similar social circles.
What was notable about Saturday’s party was that there were far fewer familiar faces in the crowd. It was great to see some of the ‘old crew’, but there were a whole bunch of unfamiliar faces that represented the various dimensions of Tessa’s life – family, work, neighbours, school parents.
It illustrated quite neatly how after 20 years away, there are large slices of my old friends’ lives that I know nothing about and that are nothing to do with me.
It also made me think about one of the most anticipated movies being released this year – Baz Luhrman’s interpretation of The Great Gatsby, wherein Jay Gatsby returns to the scene of his glory days and seeks to ‘recapture the past’, an ultimately fruitless quest.
In moving back to the UK after all this time, I am conscious of the fact that much of my own past has been based 10,000 miles away in Australia for the last two decades.
But, unlike Gatsby, as I return to my old stamping ground, I’m aware of the need to look forward rather than back, to create a new life rather than trying to recreate an old one.
Ultimately, the real beauty of events like Saturday night is that reconnecting with old friends provides both a fond reminder of a shared past, whilst also opening up the opportunity for a new chapter of companionship into the future. I’ll drink to that.