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In the September of 1994, following a long, humid Summer of dancing to All-4-One in our local hotspot at night and spending most of my parents’ hard earned money on new duvet covers, pots, pans, warm sweaters and a perm to rival Tina Turner by day, my family packed way more than the kitchen sink and drove me, tears streaming down my face as I listened to Michael Bolton on my headphones, to the lush, green valleys of Wales to read law…and discover coffee.
Leaving my school friends, my family, my beloved dog Copper, all behind me to create a new student life for myself for the next four years was terrifying, and it was difficult to adapt at first.  A new country, a new responsibility (taking care of myself), a new subject (I began studying law having no idea what Parliament was), and a new beginning.  For the first few weeks I was lost in a whirlwind of lecture rooms and library timetables…and sleeping without the comfort of my family close by was harrowing.  Coffee swiftly became my friend, nestled close to me in my treasured Pepe le Pew mug as I squinted by lamplight at Hansard.

As I found my feet, I found friends.  Friends I still have 19 years on.  Some are tea friends, some are coffee.  All are true.  True friends are like lifeboats, or a port in a storm. They prevent you from drowning, they rescue you…and even merely knowing they’re there provides a sense of security in daily life.  The coffee cup? A buoy.  Cup in hand, your greatest hopes, fears, dreams and failures are all safe being shared openly.  Without motive, judgement and free from reprisal. We sail, sometimes into the storm, sometimes with the wind behind us, safely amongst our greatest assets in life….genuine friends.

Unlike when you’re five and begin school, a time when you truly and probably correctly believe that every person in your class is your bestest friend ever, by the time you reach the grand old age of 37 (like me) true friends are hard to find.

Whereas our childhood friendship decisions were solely based on crucial issues such as matching lunchboxes, the ownership of coveted toys (Care Bears in my day) or geography (living close enough so we could knock on each others’ doors) as we age, and as we live, we learn, we share…and we connect with like minded people.  People we admire, people who make us feel good about who we are both inside and out.  We need that. When we feel that sunshine, we continue to grow and reach and strive for more from our lives.  Growing is the key.  In order to do that we need to surround ourselves with friends who want to grow with us, to walk with watering can in hand, and nurture our friendship.

After law school I met my soulmate, and was married in Walt Disney World in 2008.  Meeting my husband and subsequently moving to Hampshire meant another life change; having children and becoming a momma changed me even more.  It left my heart fulfilled in many ways, yet alone in others.  My family and friends out of reach once more on a distant shore, I subsequently left my workplace on maternity leave, and the place where I felt most connected and valued became a distant friend; still there, but only because of something we once had in common.  I was lost again.

Adrift without old friends and family to support me, my best friend, my most trusted, cherished friend, my husband, gave me a laptop and a new virtual doorstep to knock at.  I reached out and knocked as bravely and loudly as I could, head down, scuffing my shoes in the dirt like a new student at school.  The most beautiful door opened wide.

So, on Sunday, over 5 years since this door opened, Our Little Adventurer and I shopped for Kenco coffee and pastel coloured frosted cakes, as I invited a group of my closest friends for coffee.  We got out the pretty china and the floral glass cake stand, made lattes and regular coffees in Alice in Wonderland cups and saucers….and got comfortable on the sofa..

Our doorbell never rang.  No one stepped through our doorway….but I wasn’t alone.
My closest friends never came…for most of them live over 3,500 miles away.  Yet these are the people I turn to for friendship, when I need a balanced opinion, when I need to smile…when I need to be heard; and more importantly, understood.

Even though my girls couldn’t physically be there for me (and I’m slightly relieved because they’d never fit in my house, and I’m not sure there were enough cakes), it didn’t mean they weren’t there.  In pyjamas, workout gear, on their way home from work…they were there.  Making time for me, no questions, just there….no matter what the time zone.

Instead I asked them to join me in a virtual coffee morning…me, my boys and their online presence.  We drank coffee, ate cakes and other sugary treats and tip tapped our keyboards cheerily as we shared our day’s events, just as we would if we were there in person.  

Out of just swapping coffee morning photos online, just for a few minutes, came such goodness.   We complimented each other, discovered new things about our everyday lives together….we were real together.  These friends who have never asked anything of me, make me feel good about myself, lift my spirits and give me strength…and I both love and thank them dearly for that.

Our coffee morning was blissful.  So good that we’ve already scheduled another photo-coffee morning already.  I drank my latte and smiled both on the inside and out.

In four months (and after a nine and a half hour flight) I’ll have the opportunity to have a good, strong, American cup o’ Joe with some of these amazing friends, as we laze by a Disney resort pool. We’ll laugh, we’ll hug, our children will get to know each other face to face instead of face to Facebook as they tumble and skip about in the Florida sunshine.  My heart will burst with happy.  Then, after far too short a period of time, we’ll wave our sorrowful goodbyes and return to our own corners of the earth to connect once more online….because that’s what we do best.

I may have virtual friends, but their friendship is real. Not just real, but genuine and heartfelt.  Precious and unpretentious.  Always there to throw me a rope, to make me smile.

So raise your (coffee) cup to the friendship lifeboat…for without it, we’d surely sink.

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