The alternative reality at the end of the road

Life is hard, but it bounces. So while variously tinted media chew away at loosely disguised propaganda about the state of the nation – and indeed the world – there remains within our grasp an alternative reality, known usually as friendship.

This can easily be undervalued. A chat with a friend may not seem to yield much of substance, but there is a depth to it which builds up over the weeks and years. It does not depend at all on political agreement – some of my closest friends do not agree with me on issues that may in other circumstances seem critical. It does depend on kindness, on liking each other and, if this does not seem too extreme a term, love. 

A group of neighbours in our city street meet one day a week, outside (weather permitting), for a drink and a chat. We obviously have a lot in common. We live in the same part of the same cul de sac in the same city. But we also have a lot of differences. We come from different parts of the world; we have different skills. 

It started during covid, when one couple were kind enough to go to the supermarket for us for several months. It has developed into an eagerness to help each other and to just enjoy a talk now and again. As usual it depends to an extent on one person to keep it going – what we call the street meet, anyway – and it is not me. 

A church is another place where this sort of thing can happen – not surprisingly, since the whole of Christianity is based on love. Our own church is an example of an extraordinary and loving mix of people who are diametrically different in many quite startling ways. 

Outside of a physical environment like a street or a church (or a club), this sort of thing happens most often in a family, whether close or far-flung.

Last weekend our grandchildren – one of whom is at university, with the other (thanks to excellent results this week) about to go – came and stayed with us for a couple of nights. At the same time our friends from Canada, who were originally English, came to stay nearby. It so happens that these friends are also our grandchildren’s step-grandparents, through a process so unlikely that it is tempting to write a book about it. 

So what? It was a magical weekend. On the Saturday at Blakeney, Norfolk, we all gathered for a meal and an evening walk out on to the marshes, looking for meteor showers. And on the Sunday the non-Canada four of us took the opportunity to visit one of the places that held many childhood memories – Winterton, which to our delight was resisting, at least temporarily, the influx of the sea: the once-loved café has been replaced by three log cabin food and drink stalls that are so attractive that they were visited a few minutes after us by the actor Tom Hiddleston. It was in the paper. We shall no doubt be talking about the near-miss for some time. In a friendly sort of way.