OUT of the blue at the weekend I was contacted on Twitter by someone who said she’d read about me online when she was doing some research and had she and I been at school together.
I’ve a good memory for names but couldn’t apply it on this occasion since the writer was using a sort of odd abbreviation as her user name, so there were no clues for me there other than the fact that, buried within it, were three consecutive letters: P-E-N.
An old schoolfriend called Pen, or Penelope, perhaps? No, surely not dear, wonderful, Penny?
We exchanged a couple more messages, establishing extra yards of common ground, and the thing that finally nailed it for me, and assured me it really was long-lost Penny, was when I asked if her family pet had been a Dachshund called Herman. It had indeed.
So there we were on Sunday night, touching each other’s lives across the ether, in contact for the first time since that awful day at the end of a summer term when, aged nine, we were tearfully prised apart.
We’d enjoyed an inseparable friendship for two years. Penny’s life was suburban and sensible, mine extremely rural and a bit mad, but we clicked from the day we met at school, doing eight-year-old little girl things and then nine-year-old little girl things.
We were giggling Kelpies together in the Brownies, we ran wild near my house at weekends and built camps, and in our more sensible moments we wrote stories, mostly about ponies, that we let each other read.
I imagine we were something of a trial to our teacher because, although good girls deep down, Penny and I shared a streak of naughtiness that often got us into trouble. The worst time, and therefore the one we both remembered in our Twitter exchange, was when we put a piece of holly on our teacher’s chair in the hope she would sit on it and shoot up to the ceiling.
We’d failed to anticipate that the teacher, being somewhat brighter than we were, might notice a shiny green holly leaf where she was about to place her ample behind (or BTM, as we daringly referred to it). Sure enough, she saw it as soon as she walked into the classroom and it was Penny and me who were for the high jump.
There were other escapades but most of all there was the joy of having a soulmate, someone who shared my thoughts and was always up for a laugh and an adventure.
There was just one thing that stopped Penny from being completely perfect: her hairclip stayed in place and mine didn’t. Life can be very unfair, and it’s enormous issues like this that help small girls learn about growing-up and coping with an unequal distribution of sartorial good fortune.
After two years of being best pals ever, Penny left our school. She moved away because her father, a bank manager, was transferred to another branch in somewhere foreign and about 1,000 miles away called Worcestershire. We wrote a few letters, pledging we’d never lose touch, and then the contact fizzled out.
Now we know of each other’s existence again, are we going to get properly in touch and dig into each other’s pasts, using more than 140 characters at a time?
We’re not. There’s just too much to recapture, too many turns in our respective roads to go down and find each other.
We’ve become different people from our nine-year-old selves, although I bet Penny still has neat hair.