My friend Rosie and I used to play a game. We'd be sitting outside the Arnolfini, backs against the sunbaked wall, watching the world go by as we chatted. It would be fairly crowded, a favourite amongst those who liked to have a drink in the sun, either in relative solitude or in the midst of friends. Eventually we would settle on a couple, each taking the part of one of them and start providing the dialogue we could see but not here. Suffice to say, it would get very silly and kept us amused for quite some time.
Some days I would rattle down the stairs of the house I was living in, meeting Rosie and Pascal and Kay and whomever else was around at the back door. We would hang around chatting in the backyard, the window of my bedroom open so we could hear the music.
Sometimes we would amble to the pub, or out along Coronation Road onto the docks, pausing occasionally at the Cottage Inn, another favoured sunspot, or continue along at a stroll. Invariably we would come to the 'new' buildings that reminded everyone of Tenerife apartment blocks and Rosie would launch into one of her diatribes about the inappropriateness of their existence.
There would be dinners and picnics, kite-flying, bimbling and mooching and just generally being.
Most of my friends have moved away from Bristol, and any number of them have become married, had kids and busy with duties of the home and the career.
We don't have any time for strolling anymore. It takes weeks to organise a coffee, months for a weekend away. Nobody drops by unannounced, the easy informality of days gone by replaced by a delicate negotiation by text and email. The last time I tried to organise a doubles badminton game I had to send out a spreadsheet so people could mark up their availability. Suffice to say, in a three week period, we couldn't find a single day where we were all free.
I realised last night, having talked about it with a friend whom I have seen twice in the last year, that I hardly ever see my friends any more. Some weekends I don't see anyone. Some? I mean many. Everybody is busy. Including me (although not all the time).
It astounds me that the people I have the most dialogue with are the people I know on Twitter, Facebook or Flickr. This is not to decry the value of these interactions, but it is difficult to have coffee and cake with someone online; there is no substitute for the face-to-face.
I know my 'pool' of friends in Bristol is much smaller. I know everyone has plans and kids and other stuff. I know I can be busy doing whatever it is I am doing. But we all used to be busy back then, we all had our projects and our hobbies and interests, and we still do. Yet we seem to have less opportunity than we did back then.
I just wonder where all the time has gone. I wonder where all the people have gone. I wonder if it is just me. But speaking to my friend last night made me realise that it isn't just me (although some of it may be), it is her and it is others as well.
In a world where opportunity is rife, where the communication channels have multiplied (emails, blogging, texting, mobiles, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc) it somehow seems harder to meet up with the people who matter most.
Then again, maybe it is just me. I can't be sure.