I was chatting this week with a lass who had returned to England after a stint in California. She described her excellent interesting well-paid job and her superb huge house opening onto the beach, but something was missing. She described the superficiality of her relationships – like she inhabited the embodiment of Facebook... she had lots of ‘friends’ but no real relationships or deep warmth and commitment. No-one was there for her.
That got me thinking about friends. I am not as sociable as I used to be, but I guess that is a side effect of working as a General Practitioner. My job is a privilege but my weeks are full of others’ crises so it can be a real luxury to have alone time. But I do need my friends, even if I don’t spend hours together every week. Every so often, I look forward to evenings with the right people. Those I feel most affinity to are friends I’ve ‘done stuff’ with. As an undergraduate I spent much of my leisure time caving or in various watery activities including white-water canoeing. Then with a change of location I tried rowing and hill walking. These outdoor activities can have you feeling quite miserable and you wonder why you choose put yourself into such situations. But they also stretch you – show what you’re made of.
Completing some journey under challenging conditions induces a good feeling, and if the weather is foul or I end up cold, wet and hungry, the cleaning up and the first hot chocolate tastes so unbelievably luxurious. How can anyone appreciate luxury except through the contrast of not having it?
The real jewel to treasure from working or exploring together in difficult circumstances is that you really get to know people. Particularly if you’ve shared miserable times, you discover what they’re made of, whether they’re really there for you, whether they still care for you when the cold, cold rain is dribbling down to soak the underwear. And you know who has the psychological strength to keep on going when the physical strength is spent. If that's elitism, then it gets my vote.
When George Mallory considered who would accompany him on his attempt on the summit of Everest in 1924, one of Sandy Irvine’s qualifications for the honour was his rowing prowess: he rowed for Oxford in the Boat Races of 1922 and 1923. Mallory knew that an oarsman of this calibre would have the unstinting determination to succeed.
Last night I spent the evening with the squad of women I’ve been rowing with for the last few years. We've learned that when the boat's unbalanced we each take our share of the blame. We’ve worked hard, got fit, been beaten often but each month we improve just a little. Most importantly though we are there for each other. We’ve rowed together, timed our strokes so we move the water together, our quads have burned together and we’ve struggled for breath together. This is true camaraderie and friendship. Thanks girls.