I am meeting two old university friends at a pub by Hammersmith bridge, and I squint through my sunglasses at the swarms of drinkers soaking up the last lazy rays of the day by the riverside, fervently hoping it will not be too difficult to spot them. A little of my schoolgirl shyness tends to rear its timid head when I find myself scanning a crowd for familiar faces.
As it happens I needn’t have worried, there they are, pints of lager in hand, propping up a wall in front of me. I grin widely, enquire as to the whereabouts of their girlfriends, who are conspicuously absent, then deliberate about what to drink. The afternoon – spent with a handful of “friends I met on the internet” – has drifted by in a comfortable haze of Pimms and lemonade. Pacing myself has now become imperative.
We shoot the breeze while I pick at my pub food (fish, chips and mushy peas, my second platter of the weekend, which tasted all the better for being eaten outdoors), and I realise with a pang how much I have been missing platonic male company.
Back in my university days, with the exception of one special girlfriend, my closest friends were male. There was rarely any ambiguity in these relationships, as I was seeing someone for much of the time, as were they. The contents of our underwear were therefore refreshingly irrelevant. So many memories from that happy time make me smile when I replay them in my head. We were on the same wavelength. Our friendships were marvellously uncomplicated, yet rarely shallow or superficial. And in the case of present company, they proved to be enduring.
Arriving in France, and, in particular, falling in with a French crowd when I met Mr Frog, I realised that being “one of the lads” was no longer a very popular option. However well I might hit it off with his male friends, they remained his property. If there were girlfriends in tow, I was expected to gravitate naturally toward them, leaving the boys to their own conversations. On the rare occasions when I did allow myself to indulge in a little harmless banter with one of the boys present, his girlfriend was liable to frown and place an impeccably manicured, restraining hand on his arm, silently voicing her disapproval. Despite my own attached status, I was, in some way, perceived as a threat.
I do have a few male friends, these days. They are invariably expats. Or gay. Or gay expats. Which does little to dispel my theory. I resolve, hurtling back to France on my Eurostar, to seek them out more often.
Because for all her eleven years in France, this petite anglaise will never change her English ways. And she still yearns to be one of the lads. Sometimes.