I start writing a couple of hours before my self-imposed deadline of midnight expires. I close my eyes, let my fingers type, weighing the longing to sleep with my desire to set the night in stone.
I'm freewheeling now, eyelids drooping, energies low but happily so, because this sleepiness is due (apart from the champagne and the cointreaus and last night's late night so late the foxes had begun to howl) to a most glorious evening in celebration of friendship. Six friendships, to be exact. No, eight - because one of us couldn't be there, and one of us, the one in whose name we were meeting, is dead.
Deb's dinner, this was, this reunion of souls, conceived on the long journey home from that glassy northern city on the day of her funeral. We thought we would meet in her name, that 'circle' of girls of long ago and it turned out to be a splendid thought.
Nerves were high, we arrived alone or with another and all more or less within minutes of each other.
Cafe Koha is an old, wood-panelled place in St Martin's Court. I've always loved this alley, it's an actor's dream, with its two stage doors lit by a line of white light bulbs, such as so recently framed my dressing room mirror, lighting the way for tourists and Londoners alike. And at the far end stands J. Sheekey's, inscrutable behind frosted glass. It must be one of the few restaurants in London into whose interior it is impossible to peer and is beloved by me for being the first restaurant my mother Esme was ever taken to when she first arrived in London, bobby socks and all.
We had a window table nestling in the very crook of this alley's arm. The alley lights cast flattering, slatted shadows through the wooden blinds. Cafe Koha, too, is not English, never has been in my memory (it used to be called Solanges) and our waitress was a bright young Estonian who understood early on in our five, glorious hours together that this was a special gathering, and needed to be treated as such.
We meet with screams and hugs of relief and gratitude for our being there, together by choice in the wake of our friend's death, to reconsider, renew, and reconvene the circle formed so very many years ago, not so many miles away, at our proper, independent day school for girls.
After the thrill of first gathering, we sit back and can't help but congratulate ourselves on how astonishingly good we all look.
I have to say, I posture proudly, we look bloody good for our age.
Age. An odd thing entirely. Because not only do none of us look our age (even though, when not together we all singularly, sometimes, feel it), none of us can quite encompass quite how many years have passed since we spent our days staring at the same black board.
There is something else going on too, I think. Certainly I acknowledge what I can only describe as a relief in myself to be there, whereas even ten years ago I don't think I would have contemplated such a reunion with half the gusto I did this one. But then, ten years ago all sorts of hopes were still high, all sorts of people were still alive, and we were nowhere near four score years and ten.
Last night, heightened because one of our number is no longer with us, there was a palpable awareness that we are still here, still alive, and a realisation that if we've each coped with our assorted challenges thus far, we're hardly going to fall at the next fence. It is a bolstering thought.
I find myself doing a quick mental tally. Our joint life experience is staggering - as I suspect it would be between any six friends of a certain age.
Our homes are Switzerland, Swiss Cottage, Hackney, Madrid, Kentish Town and Kent. Some of us have partners, some of us are alone. We've lived with people; lived without people; near rivers, up mountains, and close by funny little tavernas at the end of the road. In our drawers we have death certificates, and marriage certificates and medical certificates saying no, it's not too late. We have children, and don't have children and sport physical scars. We've known breast cancer and bowel cancer and suspected this-and-that disease; migraine and menopause and tumours of the brain. We've watched parents die, slip into dementia, fall over, get better, and fall over again. We like drinking, and dancing; we have sex still or abstain.
And we have, all of us, finally come into our own. Yes, there was a metaphorical heavyweight nature to our joyous conversations last night. We always did have opinions, but at last we're not afraid to speak our minds and claim them as our own. We still apologise too much, worry what people think, and fret about our weight, our hair colour, or the liver spots appearing on the backs of one or two hands, but when the chips are down, by God - by God! - I'd want one of those girls - any one of those amazing women - to be there, holding my hand.