I have been visiting old friends recently – in Northampton, Birkenhead, Sheffield and Exeter; catching up on their news and sharing some of my own. J.P. e- mailed afterwards : ‘ though it may be a couple of years since we last talked, the conversation seemed to pick up where we left off’. It was like that for me all the time. There were new things to learn, family and work developments to hear about, the inevitable swapping of health stories, but the gaps in contact over the years were bridged by this sense of continuity. Part of the reason for this is that we have many experiences in common. Two of us have known each other since college days; and all of us have wonderful wives!

I feel that there is this common base for our friendships, from which we can move with confidence to sharing more recent events. Four of my six friends are the same age as me, and there are inevitable connections because of that, living through the same years. A subject in common was ‘where shall we move when this house becomes too much for us?!

It also helps that, although we are very different, we get worked up about the same things, and have similar political perspectives.

Well, not similar : the same! But for all of us there have been critical moments in our lives when we became aware of each other and at the risk of sounding pretentious, have bonded and found strength in each other.

Reflecting about the past is one of the things older people do. Looking back with gratitude or grief (‘if only I had done it differently’) is the inevitable consequence of having lived a long time, and accepting that there are not many years ahead for us. But without being unduly sentimental, there is something positive and contemporaneous about cherishing friends; they are not about what has been or will be, but about now.

Back home our granddaughter had just begun, with enormous enthusiasm, her secondary education.

One of the first exercises in her new class was for groups to discuss what friendship is all about. Her group came up with this: ‘kindness, trust, love, understanding, dependability, shared fun.’ A good definition!