Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Value of Friendship

Second only to my children, my friends are the greatest pleasure of my life, and I have been gifted with some wonderful friends.

Life as an expat can be difficult, and remember that I have been in Brussels for almost 9 years. There is no place like home, as Judy Garland knew so well, and there is no home like London. And I get very homesick sometimes.

And so, from left to right, in this picture we have Norman (ex-Royal Navy) Randall (ex-Irish army) and myself (ex-RAF) posing by a piano in the ambassador's residence. You will notice a pattern developing here. We have a wonderful ex-services community here in Brussels, and I often stop to think about how important that is to me, and to others.

Amongst our little team of friends, we include two Belgian navy veterans, two former members of the Red Army (one of who was on guard duty the night the Berlin Wall came down), and a 99 year old D-Day veteran. I also count amongst my friends a former Congolese soldier, and a former Rwandan army medic who was badly injured during the ghastly troubles there some years ago, and who is now homeless, and with whom I look forward to playing p├ętanque and sharing lunch with should the Summer ever arrive. He is actually one of the happiest men I know, and my 8 year old son adores him. One of my closest and most valued friends here is an ex-Royal Naval Reserve chap who was once done for mutiny on a minesweeper (he got off, by the way, he always does!). We are a mixed bag, but we all know who our friends are.

So what does it mean?

Why is it that we gravitate towards one another? Is it shared values? Is it shared experience?
What is it?

It is the knowledge that regardless of any personal differences, there are people in this world who are prepared to stand together, and to stand up for one another. It is the knowledge that when the black dog visits, unconditional friendship is only a phone call away.

Here in Brussels we have a large and thriving branch of the Royal British Legion. Not all veterans are members, but all are part of the wider community. I always urge all ex-service folks to join the Legion, as even if we do not need help ourselves, others do, and there is strength in numbers.

Even if you never served, associate membership is open to all, so please, consider joining.

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