Sunday Reading: Blood Sisters

Listening to the sound of a friendship changing gear.
words Letty Mchugh, photo Antoine Henault

Photo: Antoine Henault

Photo: Antoine Henault

“Nobody really knows the difference between pyjamas and clothes, out of context,” I hear the 2011-me tell my friend, Becca. “It’s just a conspiracy to make us buy more.” 

Listening to this, I see myself strutting the streets of Bath in jeans, clogs and a pink, brushed-cotton pyjama top, printed with cows in nightcaps. At the time I met the gaze of quizzical passers-by, smugly thinking, “Yes, this is the world’s most kick-ass shirt and you should be jealous.” With hindsight, I don’t think anyone was jealous. I’m sure everyone was thinking, “Why on earth is that girl wearing pyjamas?”

In May 2011, Becca and I both had deadlines looming for our creative writing degrees. As we weren’t getting any work done separately, Becca came round to mine so we could not get any work done together. I had just written essays on various conceptual artists for the art side of my course and was convinced that anything I did could be considered art, if documented in the right way. Four or five hours into what became the 26-hour spectacular ‘bed-in for deadlines’, I began recording everything we were saying. Nearly five years later, this is the first time I’ve listened to the tapes. 

What strikes me is how little work we actually do; we type for ten-minute stretches before talking for two hours. I convince Becca to join Twitter so she can tweet Noel Fielding her dream about ground beef. Becca outlines her idea that you should only leave a marriage if you can find a person your spouse would be truly happy with to replace you. We take an hourly selfie holding up signs telling our 34 followers how long we’ve been in my bed. We discover and spend an age listening, enraptured, to the artificial rain. If procrastination were a super power, we would have been the world’s best superheroes. 

The other thing that hits me is how I can hear our friendship evolving over the course of the tapes. I’d known Becca for over a year before ‘bed-in for deadlines’; we liked each other, hung out a lot. But in these recordings we change from pals into something more like comrades—blood brothers; blood sisters, I guess, though I can’t pinpoint the moment. Is it where I read Becca’s flash fiction that is still hands-down one of my favourite pieces of writing? Or where Becca forgives me for getting pus from the sore on my foot on the printout of that same piece of writing? It’s probably the latter.

I might start using that as a friendship test. “Hey,” I’ll say to new people I meet, “Theoretically, if I had a wound on my foot from an ill-advised pair of shoes, and I let goo from that wound trickle all over your writing portfolio would you: A, Be grossed out? Or B, Graciously offer to tell anyone who asks that the goo is from your ice lolly?” If they answer B, I’ll know that in five years’ time they’ll still be the kind of friend you can rely on to always text you back.

Find more stories of female friendship in our Sisters Issue

Sisterhood: lifelong friends

After a brush with death came our life-affirming friendship.
words: Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Photo: Antonine Henault.

Photo: Antonine Henault.

I met Holly in one of the worst periods of my life. Two weeks after moving into a house with friends in north London, a man tried to strangle me to death. Traumatised, I couldn't continue to live in the area, so moved in with my grandmother and set about looking for somewhere new. Holly, a friend of a friend, offered to cover my rent in the old house. 

At the time, probably because of trauma, I felt disconnected from everyone. I would float zombie-like into lectures, lost in my head. Two of my closest female friends had stopped speaking to me _ one has said that I was boring, the other simply drifted away. I was sad and was drinking too much. I probably was boring. All I knew is that I needed them and they weren't there. 

The house hunt was long and dispiriting, as house hunting in London often is. Holly was also looking, having gazumped for my room in the old house. Eventually, I found a decrepit flat above a pub that had two rooms going. It had orange carpets, a bathroom shared with the pub landlord, and subsidence. Our flatmate was a permanently high actor in his fifties who had written a bestselling novel about crack addiction in the projects. 

Thus began some of the strangest, drunkest, funniest days I have ever experienced. We laughed, we drank, we drank some more. We talked intimately about our lives and ate lots of camembert. Once Holly realised that you're not supposed to remove its box before baking it, with spectacular consequences. One night, our landlords banned us for having any more parties, though the only guests had been us, singing loudly to the music of our youth. As a bonus, our flatmate provided excellent marijuana, and offered to give any man who came round a "taste of New York justice". 

New York justice is definitely what Holly's then-boyfriend deserved. I was there when he hit her in the face on her birthday. We went home, ordered alcohol and cried, then laughed, then danced it out. I helped her through the break up, and she helped me through the anguish of having felt so close to death that surviving it left me feeling only half alive. 

Before Holly, some of my female friendships were tinged with judgement. I was made to feel that I wasn't cool enough, that I was boring, or stupid; my opinions not worthwhile. With Holly, I could say anything. She was fun, with a deadpan sense of humour. And she was honest. If she was pissed off at me, she would tell me. We only lived in that crappy flat for three months, but I knew our friendship was for life. 

That was six years ago. Since then we have written a blog, and then a book, together. We have kind, decent boyfriends who don't cheat on or hit us. We drink less. Our carpets are no longer orange. The once grotty pub has gone gastro. Nest year, I am getting married, and Holly will be my so-called 'maid of honour'. But as far as I am concerned, she's my best woman. Not just for the day, but always. 

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holy Baxter are co-authors of and The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media, published by Square Peg. 

Find more stories of female friendship in our Sisters Issue. 

issue 30 / sisters
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