The Compartments

Compartments and Circles of Friends

Do you have a Circle of Friends? I don’t mean “Do you have a wide circle of friends?” I mean do you have a group of friends that you have known for a long time? Are there people in your life who know about your past and who would have a reasonable idea of what’s happening in your life right now?

I don’t. I have lived in the same part of London all my life apart from three years at university (and even then I was back home for nearly half the year). But I have multiple small groups of friends, or I am on the outskirts of other closer groups of friends, and there are plenty of people I know without knowing any of their other friends or family.

I realized this a few years ago and discussed it at a party in 2012 with an old university friend. I’ll call him Ian. We knew each other well enough back at university, we had both written for the same magazine, we had plenty of mutual friends and we had kept in touch for a few years after we both moved back to London in the 1980s. But we hadn’t seen each other for over 20 years. That party in 2012 was given by one of our mutual friends from university. I’ll call him Kevin. He, his wife and grown-up children regularly host the most enjoyable parties (they’re usually in the summer).

Kevin is one of the few people I have kept in touch with, year on year, since the 1980s. He hasn’t been to every party that I’ve invited him to (and couldn’t make it to my wedding) but I have always invited him, and he did come to my mother’s funeral, which meant a lot to me. It generally takes me an hour or more to drive right across London to Kevin’s parties, but if I’m not away on holiday I will always be there.

In recent years there have been a few more events – Kevin’s book signings, his appearances at literary festivals, other people’s book launches; we’ve even been to a couple of gigs together – but mostly I have seen him at parties at his house.

And, over the last 20 years, my only conversations with many other people I knew at university have been at Kevin’s parties.

This was the kind of thing that Ian and I were talking about in 2012. I assumed that he was part of a more regular Circle of Friends, one that I only caught a glimpse of once or twice a year at parties or other events. But no, Ian said, he didn’t have a Circle of Friends in that room either. There were some old friends in the room that he hadn’t seen for ten years or more. So it wasn’t just me then.

We agreed that we would keep in touch, meet up for lunch every now and then, and sent each other emails with the subject “Circle of Friends”. But we haven’t met up since he came to a party of mine in 2012.

And that’s how it is with lots of people I have known. I am writing these words in December 2015, and in the next week I will sit down to write my Christmas cards. There are so many people I have not had any contact with since last year’s Christmas cards. Long ago I gave up writing “Hoping to see you in 2008 / 2009 / 2010 …” Most of the people who send me Christmas cards have given up writing such messages too.

And I realize that the small groups of friends that I will be sending Christmas cards to, or the individuals that I still keep in touch with, only know about a small part of my life, a compartment or two.


[I am about to use the verb “compartmentalize” a few times – my spell check tells me that it’s a real word. And I see that compartmentalization has 20 letters and 7 syllables. The only other 7-syllable word that I have heard in everyday speech is homosexuality.]

There may be some rule about compartmentalizing your life. Maybe people who compartmentalize their lives are happier and more successful than people who don’t. Or maybe the trick is to avoid compartmentalizing your life. Or maybe the significant thing is the number and type of compartments in your life. Whichever it is, my life seems to be divided into compartments. Some of my friends, or my small circles of friends, know me for one or two things, for things that I do or used to do, and have no idea of the other things going on in my life.

This page is my first formal attempt to list and evaluate my compartments. As the list takes shape I’ll create menu items and links throughout the Blog.

And if I stumble across some magic formula about compartmentalization (all 20 letters and 7 syllables) I’ll let you know.

The compartments: a list

Current: Memory / Parenthood / Reading / Writing / Ireland / Catholicism / The Movies / Late 70s guitar-based music / Shakespeare / The Spectrum / The Day Job / Singing and Playing / Lyrics / Trivia / Smart Thinking / London / Pinball / Kilkenny Hurling / Leeds United / 50,000 hours of childcare /  Cambridge / Drinking or Not Drinking

Historic: Miscarriage / Cancer / Film Festivals



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