Forty reasons to be cheerful

Katherine Rees

Katherine Rees

First published in Columns Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , The Whole Tooth

As summer draws to a close with a typically British August bank holiday weekend of torrential rain, the memories of the balmy days seem distant.

Flip-flops are being replaced by wellies and last week saw the central heating being fired up in our house for the first time in four months. Despite the demise of the blissful weather, there was one final hurrah in our social calendar last weekend when we got together with my oldest and closest friends, Zoe and Helen, for a weekend.

Our trio friendship began back in school, forged over detentions and all night chats, we’ve stayed best friends for the past 25 years. We chose the same university, were each other’s bridesmaids and despite choosing wildly different career paths, we’ve grown up together, almost like sisters. This year has been the year we have all turned 40 and so it was decided that a weekend away was in order; kids, dogs and husbands included.

Over the years, we’ve travelled our paths at different stages; I was the first to get married and have children whilst Zoe has only relatively recently joined the ranks of the sleep deprived.

After many years of watching wistfully as she had long weekends away climbing mountains and holidaying in exotic locations, the tables have turned, minus the long weekends and exotic locations.

Helen, having done the baby thing at almost the same time as me; has returned to the delights of nappies and pureed food with a surprise third late addition.

We arranged the great assembly for bank holiday weekend at Hales Grove house near Cirencester – a random booking based solely on availability at a week’s notice.

One of the surprises of being a parent is not actually noticing when the tricky things stop being quite so tricky. Seeing our friends unload their cars with a house-load of baby paraphernalia made us realise how easy life has become in comparison. A change of clothes each and that’s us done.

Hales Grove is nestled on a hilltop in the middle of the Gloucestershire wilds, just on the edge of the Cotswolds. It oozes slightly faded grandeur and is owned by a Canadian-born musician who welcomed us with open arms.

Within 10 minutes every surface seemed to have been covered with “stuff” and the kids had disappeared to explore the garden which, despite the 45 degree incline leading to a deep pond, seemed to provide sufficient distraction to allow us to catch up on a year’s worth of news and gossip.

Sleeping arrangements were fluid to say the least.

With three babies who seemed to be in a different time zone to the rest of us, this was never going to be a late-night booze fest.

With a friendship as strong as ours, the different approaches to parenting are completely accepted. They turn a blind eye when I feed my kids chicken nuggets or bribe them with monetary incentives, and I do the same when it is insisted that fluoride in toothpaste is the work of the devil and that eating battery-farmed chicken is a near criminal offence.

The highlight of the house was the stunning grand piano given pride of place in the living room. Apparently tuned to concert pitch, I doubt the incessant renditions of Chopsticks played by an over-enthusiastic eight-year-old helped to keep it that way.

With a vague piano ability and a memory of our time in the school choir, we found a old music book and spent a morning belting out Hey Jude to a bemused group of under 10s.

The memories we will have of the weekend will be of laughter. Slightly deranged sleep-deprived laughter. Even laughter after trudging through the pouring bank holiday rain looking for the dog who was set free by a well-meaning five-year old.

As clichéd as it sounds, Friends really are what it's all about.

The time we had together was unbelievably special. In another 40 years, we may be bringing grandchildren.

That’s if the chicken nuggets and fluoride toothpaste haven’t killed us by then.

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