Once upon time, not that long ago, there was a world without social media. Indeed, a world without mobile phones.
Back in those dark distant days, of about 20 years ago, young people on a rite of passage left their homelands with only the promise of irregular phone calls and perhaps the occasional hand-written letter that disclosed far more than they should.
That was the way of the world for generations. We couldn’t Skype home when we were lonely for our family’s faces or text our mums and dads whenever we felt the need.
When we met new friends on our journeys, but had no fixed abode or phone number, we had to agree to meet up again at a pre-determined place and time at some stage in the near future – or we’d leave a message for them in a backpacker’s magazine in the hope that they would read it.
About 22 years ago, that mode of rudimentary communication was the only way that short-term connections could evolve into something more permanent and profound.
And so it was at the infamous Munich beerfest in 1995 that my paths crossed with someone who would have a seminal impact on my development.
She was on crutches after an unfortunate traveller incident, I’d like to think involving dancing on tables, while I was travelling around Europe in a Leyland Sherpa van with three male friends and was probably also in desperate need of female company.
Within one stein of Lowenbrau beer, our burgeoning sisterhood was cemented and grew over the ensuing drunken days as we used her injury and our youthful vitality to get to the front of the drinks queue.
Then our time together was done and we made plans to reconnect in some months hence when we were both back in London, which somehow we managed to do.
Over the next 12 months, our friendship expanded to include her sister and our (literally) odd assortment of friends, and before we knew it our circle of friends was dozens in size.
And even though millions of people live in London, we somehow ended up living around the corner from each other.
Our local bar, which transformed into a debauched rave at the weekends, was the scene of many a long night and day as we partied like our lives could end tomorrow. Tomorrows were for old people anyway – back then.
Before long, I’d transformed my blonde tresses into dreadlocks – mostly inspired by her red ones – and we were both soon the owners of tattoos and piercings, while all that dancing meant we became waif-like women on a hedonistic mission with no end in sight.
But visas only last so long and far too soon it was time for us say goodbye to London and to each other.
It wasn’t until many years later, through social media ironically, that we reconnected. By that time, she was a married mother of two living in Denmark, and I was still single and living somewhere far less exotic.
And then a few days ago, on her visit back home, I flew to Sydney to have lunch with her.
We hadn’t seen each other for 21 years but when she met me at the train station, it was like no time had passed from that moment to this.
As I rushed up the stairs towards her, she ran down the stairs to met me halfway, and we embraced long and hard in the rain. Then we looked at each other and said “you haven’t changed at all”.
For the next 13 hours we literally didn’t stop talking. I guess 21 years is a lot of news to catch up on.
Our lunch transitioned into dinner which transformed into late night disclosures of loves lost and found and our mutual dreams of living writing lives.
And in a strange twist of fate, both of us have mothers with advanced Alzheimer’s.
We laughed and cried as the past 21 years were relived anew for the sole benefit of the woman sitting opposite.
But even though we spent hour upon hour with each other that day, I knew there was so much more to say.
And I won’t have to wait another 21 years for it, with a permanent move home on the agenda for her family.
Perhaps then I’ll tell her something that I didn’t last week. Perhaps I’ll reveal that I met her at a time in my life that I needed a woman just like her…
She was empowered, she was fierce but kind, and she lived her life on her terms with much laughter and even more love – and to me that was an inspiration because that was the type of woman that I wanted to be.
Looking back through the prism of time, I have no doubt that the year we spent together helped transform me into the woman I am today.
In fact, I know that that chance meeting in a beer hall in Germany was one of the best things that ever happened to me and her friendship, now reconnected, will continue to be an important part of my future.
Yes, when I next see her, I’ll make sure that I make time to tell her that.