How I know I'll always get by with a little help from my friends
I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12." Movie buffs will be quick to recognise those as the words of Gordie Lachance, the narrator of 1986 rites-of-passage film Stand By Me. Gordie makes the observation as an older man looking back on a pivotal childhood summer and how his adventures with friends shaped the rest of his life. It's a profound quote from one of my favourite films and always makes me smile, because it's how I think about my own friends.
I am very lucky to be part of a gang which has stuck together through thick and thin since we came together for the first time on the first day of 'big school'. That was 24 years ago and we've been laughing ever since. Together, over seven years at school, we navigated the choppy waters of growing out of childhood and into our teen years. We talked endlessly about exams, boys, fashion faux pas, learning to drive, learning to drink and our first forays out to discos and school formals.
When our school days came to an end, we had our first taste of independence as we all moved into a house in the Holylands to embark on our university days in Belfast. We revelled in our student squalor for four years – terms that went past in a blur of partying and last minute cramming.
They were the days of our lives, with more emphasis on fun than lessons, and eventually the adventures had to come to an end when love, the world of work, financial independence and being proper adults began to send us our separate ways.
The memories and experiences we have shared over many years are countless. In our freer days, we did cheap holidays, lived in neighbouring tents for four months while summer working and tried (and failed) to conquer America but had a hell of a time trying. We took each other to A&E when things went wrong, we've been thrown out of nightclubs together and off stage during bad karaoke. In later years, we've been each other's bridesmaids, celebrated weddings, warmed new homes and cooed over new babies. Life has given each one of us knocks in different ways, but there's always been someone on hand to console heartbreak, put problems in perspective or grieve a loss or bad news.
Even though we don't live in each other's pockets any more, adulthood hasn't diminished our friendship in any way. No matter how many months have passed from our last catch-up, the conversation always runs as warmly as if started the day before. Unusually for a group of women, there's not one ounce of bitchiness between us.
We're all married now and live scattered over Northern Ireland (with one as far away as Prague). So having run out of weddings and hens for a regular catch-up, we now have to concoct a reason to have a badly behaved night out.
That was how we recently found ourselves dancing on the chairs of the Cabaret Supper Club, a night that was proof that no matter how many years pass, we tend to regress to our teenage selves when together. Only six of us could make it, but we drank in honour of the missing few.
In theory, we were six professional women in our mid-30s with 10 children between us, but strangers would be hard pushed to see us as anything other than excitable, mad women who don't get out enough.
As the night degenerated, we waved our napkins in the air to Frank Sinatra, went rolling with Proud Mary, sang along to every single word of Dolly Parton's Nine to Five and bust out our moves to Beyonce's Single Ladies. The years melted away as we sang, danced, gossiped and laughed like teenagers.
I know that no matter what life throws our way, we are friends for life and I smile at the thought of us in another 24 years, still dancing on tables together and not caring one jot how disgraceful we look.
'The years melted away as we sang, danced, gossiped and laughed like teens'