Last night, Friday night, I went on a girls' night out with my NCT group. Yes, the National Childbirth Trust, the UK charity who organise ante-natal classes, post-natal support, and anything, basically, that helps make parenting a better experience.
And yes, that means we first met 20 years ago, when we all had large bumps. Mine turned out to be my son. Now those bumps are at university and in the meantime, we have seen each other through all the traumas life can throw at you (and then some).
We try to meet at least every six months or so, usually at Cafe Rouge in Clapham. There are seven of us - me, Penny, Frances, Dorothy, Liz, Deborah and Sue. (Sue's moved out of town, though, so we don't see her so often.)
I was at work yesterday, and arranged to meet Penny at Clapham Junction to share a cab to the restaurant. I don't often go out, mainly because of the hours I work, so I was really looking forward to an evening with old friends.
As we climbed into the taxi, out of the howling wind and pouring rain, after journeys that had revealed to us both the full horror of public transport in London on a stormy Friday night, I said to Penny: "I need a glass of water, a glass of wine and a steak." We got to the restaurant, I managed to get halfway through a glass of water and my phone went. It was my 15-year-old daughter, who had been mugged on her way home from a school music competition.
My daughter was, understandably, hysterical, so Frances gave me a lift home immediately. She asked if I wanted to meet for coffee next day, but I didn't think I'd feel up to going out so she said she'd drop round.
I found my daughter huddled under her duvet, crying bitterly. She felt she had played very badly in the school competition, and had made a mistake at the end of the piece, so instead of waiting to hear the results at the end, had fled.
She was supposed to phone her father (my ex) for a lift, but decided to walk home instead. On the way, a guy had stopped her and demanded her phone and iPod. The school gives the kids strict instructions to hand over items like this without arguing, so my daughter did so. She wasn't hurt, but was terribly shocked.
Her father and I told her that losing the phone and the iPod didn't matter at all as long as she was all right. And if she'd played badly in the music competition, it didn't matter either. Penny, who has a wicked sense of humour, texted me to see if I was all right. "Steak really good," her text said, which made me laugh for the first time since I'd got home.
The last thing I did before we all went to bed was to email my daughter's music teachers to explain what had happened.
The next morning, at about 11.30am, there was a ring at the door. It was Frances, with Penny and Deborah, bearing a huge box of croissants and Danish pastries. A few minutes later, Dorothy arrived. She didn't have any steak, but a home-made cheesecake still warm from the oven. I made some coffee and we sat down and recreated our evening out as a leisurely brunch. It was lovely.
Twenty years ago, our conversations centred around buggies and stretchmarks and gas and air versus pethidine. We still talk about the kids, but today the conversation ranged from student loans (non-appearance of), medication (we compete to see how many prescriptions we each have for our various ailments), and art exhibitions we'd seen or were about to see (Ed Ruscha and the photography exhibition at the British Library) to the drinking habits of students at Bristol University (I won't go into details).
Liz had joked the previous evening that we'd all still be meeting up when we were on Zimmer frames and I suggested that perhaps we should all try to get into the same residential home.
I was only semi-joking - I don't know what I'd do without them.
Oh yes, first thing this morning, my daughter's music teacher emailed me back. Apparently there had been a bit of puzzlement when the results were announced and my daughter had failed to come forward.
She had won the competition and was the school's Musician of the Year.