On the last Saturday of January I hopped on the train to Birmingham for the day to meet some friends.
Nothing hugely ground-breaking about that you might think. Well, for me it was huge. For a start, out of the group of seven of us, I’d only ever met one of them in person before. Yes, that’s right, I said they were friends, but I’ve never met them. Huh?!
This was a gathering of women who had originally connected on Instagram, the acquaintances had grown, and now we were taking the friendships out into the real world. Although I ‘talk’ to some of these women nearly every day of the week, and have shared in highs and lows, celebrations and dark days, changing seasons and creative endeavours, to me it felt massively significant to actually meet them face to face.
The other part of the equation was the journey – it was in fact an hour on the train into London, a trip on the tube across town, and then another hour and a half on a different train out the other side. And the same back again in the evening. I find this kind of travelling fairly stressful and exhausting at the best of times (part of why I hated commuting for my previous job), and add that to the anxiety of meeting a bunch of more-or-less strangers, and frankly I felt a bit sick by the time we were whizzing past Watford Junction.
Anyway, that part is beside the point – I made all my connections with plenty of time to spare and everything ran on time. No drama. So let’s get back to meeting.
We’d arranged through a week of WhatsApp messages to find each other in a café/coffee shop near the station, and once there we all confessed to following the moving blue dot on Google Maps to make sure we were headed in the right direction!
We spent a couple of hours in Yorks Bakery Café supping a variety of teas, coffees, and water (me), and munching on the delicious selection of cakes (happily including options for the gluten free and vegan members of the group). But also, talking. Goodness, so much talking! It was wonderful to spend time getting to know everyone better and filling in the gaps of stories we’ve shared about ourselves on Instagram. We discovered a range of current jobs, but also so many similarities in previous experiences, attitudes and interests that the conversation flowed, and with that natural banter that comes from understanding. I think we may have raised the volume level of the café rather considerably too with all the laughing!
With Claire being the local, she lead us the short walk to the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery where we all admired and photographed the beautiful mosaic floor in the entrance, and wandered through a couple of galleries and the shop, happily snapping at details that caught our eyes. We naturally gravitated towards the tea rooms and decided it was as good a time as any to sit down and eat some more. Lunch was ordered, and more chatting ensued. Some of the conversations drifted off into pairs as Emmy and Rae discussed common interests in coaching, Tori and Dal shared favourite Sheffield haunts…but then some odd-sounding out-of-context comment would draw everyone’s attention and we’d be back to roaring with laughter.
Another wander later in the afternoon drew us through the North Western Arcade, and down Corporation Street past the law and magistrates courts, and into our third watering hole of the day, Boston Tea Party. Kylie didn’t stay long with us here as she had her travel plans booked to head home, but after fond goodbyes more drinks (smoothies this time) and cake were ordered. Rae and I departed soon after, heading back up towards the station to catch our respective trains. I later heard that Tori had become stranded for a while because of cancellations, but eventually everyone made it home safe and sound, the good humour continuing in more WhatsApp messages throughout the evening.
I had a really good day.
I mean that genuinely. Despite the nerves, and the annoying little voice in the back of my brain worrying about the possibility that these were not the genuine, lovely people I believed I was heading off to meet, but some weird internet-troll-axe-murderers (honestly, the things our minds concoct!), I found myself among a group of beautifully like-minded and kind-hearted women who I am proud and grateful to call friends.
It was an adventure, and a challenge to my courage that I’m pleased to have met, and I really hope we’ll be able to get together again in the future. And perhaps, with a bit of luck and probably a lot of planning, it might be possible, one day, to meet-for-real some of the other wonderful women I’ve connected with through Instagram – you know who you are, and I send you lots of love.