During a get-together with friends last week we started to count back how many years we had known each other. I’ve long since got over the shock of such discussions revealing a number well in the double figures, but even I was a little stunned to realise it had been 25 years since some of the most formative friendships of my life had been formed.
Yes, it is 25 years since I first walked into the musty assembly hall of the old Thornhill College and was assigned a form class to join.
There in my bottle green pinafore, gabardine coat that nearly hit my ankles and my scratchy knee high grey socks I wasn’t very sure of myself.
My sister was in the same year group (we’re Irish twins, 11 months apart) but was quickly dispatched to another class. I was relieved to see one of my cousins assigned to my class but apart from a lone primary school companion I was pretty much on my own.
And in the eyes of this 11 year old, Thornhill seemed like a very, very big school with a mass of corridors and staircases and hills. I longed to return to the relative calmness of my wee primary school and go back to the classmates I had known so well over the previous seven years.
I felt lost. And lost is not a nice feeling.
I’m not overly sure how I fell in with my wee group of friends. One, I know, had been to school with my cousin.
We were kind of forced together by default. Another, well I’m not sure where I picked her up - it was probably that we lived close and shared an obsession with Bros. And of course, I had my cousin as well - and my sister in a nearby class.
It wasn’t long before finding my way through the mazes of corridors felt a little easier. And it wasn’t that long before I had found friends who, unbeknownst to me, would weave their way in and out of my life over the following quarter of a decade,
We’ve collectively shared an awful lot. We’ve danced together, laughed together, gone wedding shopping together, cooed over each other’s babies, dried each other’s tears, laughed together, grieved together.
And yet our lives have all travelled in different directions. Leaving the comfort of Thornhill after seven years literally scattered us throughout the world.
The band that had been so tight was stretched to the limit.
There have been times we have gone weeks, months, even years without talking - but when push has come to shove we have always held a comfort in the notion that in times of need - or great joy - we have always been available to each other.
We have come in and out of each other’s lives when we have needed each other - and there is no greater feeling or greater honour to know that someone knows all about you - warts and all - and still has your back.
At the weekend a few of us got together to celebrate one of these friend’s 37th birthday.
We did our best to ignore the fact we are all much older and all need to reach for the bottles of Nice and Easy these days to hide the greys.
We ignored the fact that some of us at least no longer had our school girl figures (one did.. the birthday girl... the cow!) and that for most of the time we are expected to act like responsible adults.
We drank wine (which we absolutely didn’t do 25 years ago) and watched The XFactor, squealing with delight when Rylan sang a very famous Bros song. Yes, we danced a little bit as well. (I still have those Bros moves down - no bother to me, and ably supported by a glass or two of Pinot Grigio).
And we put the world to rights - and there may, just may, have been a little bit of Wilson Phillips singing at one stage (this only came back to me on Tuesday, which proves it was a good night).
This year has been a tough year for me - for many personal reasons that no-one needs to hear about in a column in the Derry Journal - but one thing has become very clearly evident to me.
I know that I have a group of friends who will be there for me - even when I’m in a super grumpy mood, or feeling unsure of myself and not quite knowing where to turn to.
Just like that first day in first year, when I felt a little lost, this group of friends have been helping me find my way ever since.
Generally us women are a bit soppy. I remember during our days of preparation for leaving Thornhill we spent hours bawling and being over dramatic and vowing we would always stay in touch. We were like extras from a very bad American after school movie, our faces streaked with tears.
And while we made our vows, I think the reason we all cried so hard is that we knew things were going to change and that we would, inevitably perhaps, drift apart.
It is comforting, and wonderful to know that 25 years on - no matter what life has thrown at us - we can still turn to each other when needs be.
We’re not old enough yet to be the Golden Girls but I’m happy to be the silver girls - celebrating 25 years of ups and downs and friendships worth keeping.