My sister and brother and I spent part of our childhood being educated at home. After a difficult time at our rural Scottish primary school (we were either “tinks” because we were dressed in second hand clothes and clearly poor, or “toffs” because we had English accents) we didn’t have a peer group around us except for each other; and I think this affected all three of us: we felt like outsiders and our social skills (probably) and self-esteem (definitely) suffered as a result.
The other-ness that made us shy and fearful when we were children is, perhaps paradoxically, part of my confident armoury now; but one legacy from those days is that friends are hard-won, and important to me: I don’t collect them like bangles. The end of a friendship is something in its way as devastating as the end of a romantic relationship.
I started at a new school in Edinburgh, at the age of 13, having spent four years in the “little school”. It was a terrifying experience: how sophisticated they all were with their clothes and hair and make-up and cigarettes, and talk of snogging and lovebites and drinking at parties; how self-conscious I felt with my cheap clothes and hennaed hair. Another girl, F, joined a year or two later, an outsider in a different way, and we gravitated towards each other. She was very different from me: her parents lived in a huge house in Morningside, her father was a name partner in a firm of accountants, and she had come to the school from a well known all-girls school. F was overweight with dyed blonde hair and given to dressing in long black all encompassing tops and skirts. She was clever and funny too, but defensive and prickly and prone to outspoken criticism of others. She used to say she’d love to be a traffic warden because of the power it would give her over others. We were similar too and shared a love of the Smiths and of quoting lyrics at opportune moments (“aye, there’ll be blood on the cleaver tonight”). We went clubbing together at the (legendary, for Edinburgh) Kangaroo Klub, and I often stayed at her house. Her parents liked me. We never fought over boys. We had fun together, even though I resented her family’s wealth and she probably resented me for being slimmer than she was.
Perhaps because of our conflicting feelings about each other the sine curve of our friendship sometimes horrifyingly dipped into hatred and I particularly remember sitting cringeing in a maths class as I heard her loudly bitching to my brother’s ex-girlfriend about me. She was competitive and vindictive, and I was probably no better; when we were friends I loved her and when we were not I loathed her, and I’m sure she felt the same way about me.
After we left school we kept in touch; she went to Manchester University and I went to Glasgow, and despite a disastrous visit to “Madchester” where we went clubbing (I still remember dancing to the (pre-Blur) Mock Turtles’ “There’s No Other Way”) and she thoroughly alienated me and our friend Tara by spending the whole evening chatting up some skinny bloke and then announcing to us at 3am in her room to me and painfully boyfriend-less Tara “I’ve just got a boyfriend!”, we were still what you would call friends. When I applied for my postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice she lent me some money to do the course, which was incredibly generous of her.
This was the seed of our downfall though: after I finished the course and started work, I was a bit slow to pay her back as I wasn’t earning much, and I missed a few payments. Instead of calling me about it, though, she took what was probably the advice of her parents and sent me a “legal” letter by registered post threatening me with legal action if I didn’t repay her with immediate effect.
I sent her a letter with postdated cheques for the remainder of the money, and said I was sorry and that I hoped we would laugh about this in years to come. I have never heard from her since.
I still think about her from time to time and wonder how she is and where she ended up. I heard she works as an audiologist and is very successful. I've never forgotten her, but I'll probably never speak to her again.