Fifty – and fabulous friends

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Well hello, strangers. Yes, I know, look at the date. It’s been a crazy year. First of all I was ill throughout most of January and February. Nothing serious nor worrying, but staring at screens when I wasn’t at work just wasn’t happening. Then life went nuts with work trips and interviews with some amazing people and we started a podcast with Olly Mann… All very interesting but again, left me not wanting to stare at a screen more than I wanted to.

But now I’m back – and I’m FIFTY!!!! Yup, it happened. And it was fabulous. A weekend filled with family and friends, far too much food but loads more good cheer.

We held a small “party” at my nephew’s pub, the Brandling Villa, in Gosforth, Newcastle (yeah, I’m plugging. Get over it), for two reasons: firstly, my mam is too old to travel now and I wanted to see her on my birthday (she, being a Northern woman through and through, thought this silly sentimentality).

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Thank you Catherine and my fabulous Warriors for reminding me who I am!

Secondly, I mightn’t have lived in Newcastle for more than 20 years, but it is and always will be my home. Like all true Geordies, there is something about getting back to the North-East that will always touch my heart. Travelling back from Edinburgh, it was the sight of Bamburgh Castle standing beautiful and aloofly against the horizon – all that history oozing from its walls. Coming up from London, it is Durham and it’s magnificent cathedral and castle dominating the skyline.

And then, of course, there are the bridges. If you have to have the experience of how it makes you feel when you see Newcastle’s bridges after being away, then you’re not from the North-East and will never understand. When I see them, I relax. Even my voice changes (as I explain here – yeah, I’m plugging. Get over it.)

Living away for so long – and not always in one country – has several negatives for arranging a party in your home city, mainly that your friends are now spread all over the world while old relationships can fade away or explode. So I invited everyone I wanted to be there knowing fine well that the vast majority would not be able to make it. Even then, I had to choose as I didn’t want people feeling beholden to send a present or fork out a fortune for travel, as so often happens when you invite someone to a do, so I kept it to UK only.

Still, I was amazed how much people were willing to travel to help me celebrate; friends I’ve known for decades and others for no more than a few years who all told me they “wouldn’t miss it for the world”. Plus there were the old work colleagues, several of whom have also moved away, who brought back so many memories and long-forgotten gossip. People who I hadn’t seen for so long and yet it felt like yesterday.

Finally, there were old school friends who time had taken away and then brought back into my life over the last couple of years. We’ve changed so much and yet haven’t changed at all – although our hair isn’t so big any more.

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Thirty years on – Susie, Julie, Debbie and me

Friendship is a strange beast. One of my best friends told me once how I get on her nerves at times. When she saw my face, she asked: “Like I don’t get on your nerves at times? That’s what happens with people you love – sometimes they’re great and other times you want to kill them. But you love them warts and all. I wouldn’t change you for the world, even when you get on my tits.”

She’s right. Friendship isn’t a verse on a Hallmark card. It’s sharing your life with a warts-and-all person and acknowledging that while they might not be perfect, neither are you. It’s about liking them – to quote Mark Darcy – just as they are. And I’m honoured to have people who do that.

I am – to use a HELLO! phrase – blessed to have celebrated this landmark with so many wonderful people. You made it an amazing. Thank you.

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