Leaving school presents many challenges, not least the challenge of finding work and wading through the maelstrom of ‘real life’. But there’s an additional and significant challenge that I’d perhaps not foreseen at the tender age of 18.

In the main I enjoyed school – especially the latter years, the college years. I was lucky in that I’d gone up to secondary with the friends I’d made in primary school. We were a tight bunch of friends and hung around throughout school and pretty much had each other’s backs should the need arise. We fought and squabbled, of course we did, but in the main we were good mates.

I left school in 1988 and had a brief stint at art college but was soon thrust into the real world of work, income and paying rent. It caught me completely off guard and I struggled to adapt. My school friends were, of course, doing the exact same thing and living their own lives. In the main we were all, geographically at least, pretty close. I maintained a close friendship with a couple of the guys but most were quickly absorbed into new friendship groups. It was a period of change and transition the likes of which the education system just doesn’t prepare you for.

This weekend I spent three days in a small cottage in Wales with four of my closest friends from school.

We’d made the effort to rekindle our boyhood friendships a few years back and have stuck to it each year since. Every year, just as Autumn becomes Winter, we find a remote place – far from the grid of normal life – to baton down the hatches, fill the house with food and drink and relax. The older we’ve become the more we regress and there is some real, primal comfort in that.

The beautiful thing about spending such time together is that we realise just how little we’ve all changed. Those little idiosyncrasies that we all had as young boys persist into adulthood. Those same little mannerisms that probably wound us up as kids are right there for all to see some 30 – 40 years later, and it’s a great comfort.

For me, and I’m sure the other guys as well, the real beauty in spending such quality time together is being comfortable in one another’s company. There are times when we can just sit silently for a minute or two and it isn’t awkward. Over the years our views on life may have become more extreme or even quite different (we try to avoid political discussion where possible), but it doesn’t matter too much. We are still able to laugh it all off and refer to each other with those stupid childhood nicknames we’d coined in the earliest days on the playground.

Friendship is a powerful thing. For somebody to say to you that when you fall they will carry you is indicative of a bond rarely found in the modern world of corporate dog fighting and territorial p*****g.

I drove back from the mountains of Wales yesterday afternoon (it’s just an hour and a half from home) with a deep sense of love and warmth in my soul.

Loving relationships and the love for and from your children give us so much in life. They largely define us – especially that which is given so freely and unconditionally from our children – but they perhaps don’t quite give you everything.
I find that the ‘love’ I have for and that is shared amongst my friends completes the picture. It gives me that final piece of the puzzle. Love and friendship are indeed a powerful combination.