My squad. My birds. Our posse. The Gang.
Call 'em what you like, but there's no debating a close-knit gaggle of girlfriends is worth their weight in gold; like the sun in the sky, they are the one true constant in the ever-changing scenery of life. No matter what life throws at us, I know my Sisters From Other Misters have got my back.
My closest female friends and I have been running as a wolfpack for almost three decades now. Fiercely loyal, we'll savagely tear strips off anyone who dares to betray one of our pack, fangs bared in fearsome warning. We can often be found howling in unison at the moon, cycles synced, as together we tackle the stresses of everyday life....over a bottle or two of Prosecco, naturally.
My girls and I first laid eyes on one other back in 1987, as newbies at secondary school: a bunch of pimply pre-teens, clustered together like bacteria in a petri dish, united in our nose-crinkling dislike of the poncy purple uniform our parents had coaxed us into.
During those initial weeks at high school, we gradually gained the confidence to step out on our own: like newborn lambs we peered around, wide-eyed, before taking those first tentative, shaky steps towards adulthood. The echoing corridors of the imposing grammar school felt huge in comparison to the various quaint little primaries we'd come from, so it was a basic survival instinct that saw each of us seeking out a kindly face or two to latch onto.
Slowly, our petals unfurled and blossomed; over time our roots became entwined. We grew up together: a bunch of roses united in our journey through life - fighting off the pests, weeds and thorns that happened across our path.
Time passed, we became twelve hormonal teenagers, discovering boys, booze...and all the drama that invariably accompanies the two. We sat our GCSEs, then A-levels, gathering around in a huddle as we eagerly tore open our results. Some of us went to university, some straight into work. I scampered off to the University of Life (or that's how I refer to my stint in Ibiza for a few sun-kissed summers).
But no matter where life took us, we were all together in spirit - and at the weekend, in spirits....literally. Liberally doused in vodka, we'd catch up on each other's news: celebrating our successes or commiserating as another hapless fella fell by the wayside. "Oh well, plenty more fish in the sea," we'd say, as we hugged...catching the eye of a handsome stranger at the bar over a damp (cried-on) shoulder.
The years hurtled by; there were sparkly engagement rings, wedding bells...the pitter-patter of tiny feet became a stampede. Some of us backpacked around the world, some settled down into cosy domesticity. But still, like a dozen snugly-packed eggs in a box, the twelve of us have nestled together, praying that our fragile shells can withstand the knocks of everyday life.
It's not been all hearts and flowers, of course. There have been tears - rivers of tears between us over the years - as we've consoled each other through break-ups, health scares, grief and loss: clinging together like survivors of a shipwreck, floating amidst the wreckage. Thankfully, the raucous laughter has greatly outweighed the tears.
Those girls - women now, in our forty-first year of this crazy experience on planet Earth - are still the stabilisers on my bike, the armbands that keep me afloat; they are my trusty anchor in the stormy sea of life. As the months on the calendar flip over at an alarming rate, I'm increasingly aware of how lucky we are to have each other. We may have a few grey hairs between us, those telltale crow's feet around the eyes, but when I look at them I just see the carefree giggling schoolgirls we once were.
There is an easy familiarity between us that only comes with eons of gossiping and shared life experiences; we still call each other by our teenage nicknames, much as we'd like to shrug some of them off. Like everyone these days, our lives are hectic, our schedules jam-packed, but we'll always clear a space in our diaries for each other, and thanks to modern technology we have a constant flow of live group chatter streaming through our phones. It's like having them all in my pocket: if I require a quick answer to a question or an honest opinion, there's no need for Google - I just tap out a quick message and one of them will ping back a response almost instantaneously.
Recently, we went on a girly jaunt to Greece to celebrate our birthdays: a brand new decade. As we tipsily clinked shot glasses I sent up a silent prayer of thanks for the last thirty years of friendship - and another solemn request that we'll all be together for the next thirty too.
I'm not remarkable. I'm no Olympian. I'll never stand on that podium, beaming, as I proudly hold my gold medal aloft (I can't even be bothered with the gym for Christ's sake). But I know when it comes to friendship, I really have won the gold.
"Make new friends, but keep the old
One is silver, the other....gold."
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