I’ll stop doing these after this one, it’s not Ada Day anymore.
But I have recently rediscovered another childhood friend, who I’m thrilled to see now has a computer science degree, and – more importantly – represents some fantastic memories for me.
We met at primary school when we were both nine shortly after my family moved to the area. We sat together in class, and we soon realised we lived on the same estate. Her house was in the valley, mine was at the top of the hill, and I could see where she lived and quite a lot of her cul-de-sac, from my window. From my vantage point, hers always looked a safe and welcoming road, unlike our steep hill. The houses looked slightly nicer, and I could often make out children playing in the street.
We even made up games based on the serendipitous positioning of our houses. I have vivid memories of shouting “Ready, Set, Go!” from my bedroom as she waved up at me from her bike after another long afternoon of two-player Golden Axe, then timing her on my watch as she peddled off like the clappers. She’d soon disappear out of sight, only to emerge three or four minutes later outside her house, waving again – a signal to stop the timer. The time would of course be noted down next to all the others, and I’d show her next time I saw her (no mobile phones in 1989). It was always summer back then, and sometimes, if we weren’t allowed to come out and play, we’d shine mirrors at each other from our houses, a blinding flash of sunlight across the rooftops to show that, well, that we’re here.
We were ridiculously active and got into low-grade trouble quite a lot. We constantly wanted to explore, and she taught me how to be bold, riding her bike down steep slopes with no hands, lashing out with her feet when an old lady set her poodles on us, sharing answers during maths tests by touching the numbers on her calculator pencil case. When a supply teacher was in, we sneaked into the class during lunchbreak, picked up the chalk, and filled in all the ‘os’ on the blackboard with smiley faces. We drew caricatures of the teachers and got bollocked for it. We attempted to collect for Children in Need, with no intention of passing the money on. We stole from the corner shop.
Oh, and we accompanied our older siblings to evening ‘lifeguard’ lessons on a different estate, promising to sit quietly and watch them swim. Looking back, I think our parents saw this as a cheap baby-sitting, all four kids out the house at the same time. Obviously we didn’t sit quietly, we wandered off around the new neighbourhood in the dark for a couple of hours, meeting new kids, doing gymnastics on the ancient playground near the pool, and enjoying the novelty of being out at night in a strange neighbourhood. There was a sweets machine in the foyer of the small, run-down pool where the lifeguarding went on, but we never had any money. This unyeilding sweets machine was a source of considerable ongoing frustration for us, and having failed to actually break into it with force, I remember us dedicating one of these evenings to scouring the ground outside for enough pennies to buy a lolly.
It wasn’t that we were fearless, but that fear didn’t even occur to us. It felt like the streets were owned by the kids; we approached it all with a sense of entitlement. Once we were trespassing on a farm near a river, miles from home, playing with some cows we visited so regularly we’d named them and considered them our own, and a weirdo flashed at us. We weren’t frightened, we just wondered what the hell he thought he was doing there.
We have reconnected on Facebook. It’s very strange that one-way street of technology; it distances the past selves so conclusively. Somewhere inside those nine-year-olds are still preserved, alive and book-ended by our moving into and moving out of the area, and onto a new phase of life. We need to shield those children from being absorbed into a continuum of time’s passage.
My main memory of her, though, is much more significant than the adventures we had together, and I’m pleased to see is borne out by what little I can gather from her Facebook profile. It’s there in her ‘Wall comments’ and her witty replies to people, and it’s there in her recent photos. Everything points to the same girl, someone uniquely courageous, incredibly full of life. We’ve both had a rough time since then, it’s fair to say, as well as some good times, but when she told me: “Those years were, if not the happiest, than certainly the funniest of my life”, you know everything’s OK, overall. Sad memories leave soft scars but happy memories give you a net gain, something solid to work up from. It’s a story that starts with a little girl emerging from a series of underwater somersaults to find herself somehow in the middle of an elderly aquarobics class, and ends with a bold, smart woman with a computer science degree. They were the funniest memories, because it was all about laughter and constantly surprising ourselves, and it still is. She burns brightly – very brightly indeed – and I realise now that you don’t meet many people like that in a lifetime.