One stormy winter’s night, several years ago, as darkness fell, I heard a knock at the door.   Surprised that anyone would call unexpectedly at such a  time, I discovered on the doorstep a slight, fair lady about my own age, whose car had broken down.   She had come out minus her mobile phone and she  requested the use of our telephone.   We brought her in.   Her husband, she told us, was at a dinner to mark his retirement.   The lady was Barbara K— and she became my friend.

We phoned for help for her car.   We warmed her up and fed her.   John went out and waited for the AA man.   She and I talked.

There are as many surprising things about Barbara as there were about our meeting.

Normally when I make a friend, I’ve looked at the person and considered them for some time.  (I’m not talking  here about  the ranks of one’s friendly acquaintances, valued though they are.)     I’m always slightly reluctant to admit anyone to the inner circle of my intimates because once they’re in that circle, I’m never going to be indifferent to them again.    So I generally view them for some time from my watchtower, as it were.   If all goes well, I descend to the gate and observe them through the bars.   Eventually, I open the gates.   Surprisingly, perhaps, after all this scrutiny, most people do choose to enter when the gates are open, though some with caution.   I don’t think I could be described as friendly and open at first glance.

But there was none of this with Barbara.   She stormed the gates, and there she was.

She’s a pretty lady, but self deprecating.   She’s clever too, but you’d never know it to hear her speak of herself.   She runs a nice line in artless, seemingly rambling chat. But she’s extremely smart and savvy and her observations are spot-on.    I love talking to her.   She’s witty and amusing, and also sensitive and deep.   She’s also very kind, generous and unselfish and gives of herself without counting the cost, perhaps more sometimes than she should.

So over the last few years, I’ve enjoyed her company.    She shares many of my interests.   She’s very good at crafts and sewing and she has a fantastic eye for colour.   She’s fun.    She made a fabulous silk ‘coat of many colours’ from samples of silk curtains, which as well as being beautiful, cost next to nothing and is light, luxurious and warm.    Her husband is lovely too and he and John walked and golfed.   We had lunch together.   We all like camping/caravanning.

So you can imagine my dismay when she announced out of the blue that for perfectly good reasons they were moving to Goring.   Goring? I thought.   What’s Goring got that we haven’t got in Haywards Heath?    Well, it has the sea obviously…   I would say, facetiously, that it hasn’t got ME, but people might think I meant this seriously.   I know I’m not a prominent person in Barbara’s life – she’s got children, step-children, grandchildren, friends of long standing.   Even so, I thought, Goring….

I’m going to miss her.   I know Goring isn’t far away.    I hope to visit there and gain a good impression of Goring.    I hope they’ll come back and stay with us here.   We might meet elsewhere together with our camping/caravan outfits.   It’s a different phase.   Besides, I want her to be happy.

She blew in on a storm, but I hope she sails out on a sunny day, and may she always find friends to share with as easily as she chanced upon me.    But after all, this is a woman who can disarm the best guarded citadels with practised ease.   So I guess she’ll be perfectly fine.   I’m the one who’ll do the missing.