A few years ago I was flicking through a homes and interiors magazine when I came across my friend, Penelope. Penelope was a beautiful yet unthreatening redhead in her mid-thirties, dressed in fitted, but not overly tight, jeans, and (what I assumed to be) cashmere jumper. Penelope was leaning against her Aga in her stylish, stone flagged floored kitchen, smiling contently at the camera.
I say, ‘her Aga’ and ‘her kitchen’ but the truth is, it wasn’t Penelope’s Aga and it wasn’t Penelope’s kitchen. For beautiful, serene, redheaded Penelope was simply a model advertising the Aga; her name wasn’t Penelope and actually, if truth be known, she wasn’t my friend at all.
But that’s what I liked to call her; ‘my friend, Penelope the Aga lady.’
“She doesn’t look like she’d be that much fun,” one ‘real’ friend said to me as she cast a quizzical eye over Penelope, during coffee one morning.
“She doesn’t need to be fun!” I replied, I little too protectively. “She’s all…dependable and caring and…you know, together. She’s totally got it sorted. You could turn up at her house crying over some drama and she’d pour you a glass of wine, cook you a crumble, and everything would be alright.”
My real friend cast her quizzical gaze at me - a little too intently.
“Hmm,” she said.
“It would take bloody ages to cook a crumble in that Aga – they’re a nightmare.”
And with that, we spoke no more of my friend, Penelope, the Aga lady.
But, in retrospect, when I think back to Penelope and that time in my life, what was it that caused me to develop such uncharacteristic affection for a 30-something Aga model? Was it a girl-crush? Did she stir in me a side to my sexuality previously hidden and repressed? No. This wasn’t about sexuality or even sensuality for that matter. It was much more basic than that. You see, Penelope, in her stylish, grown-up, luxury kitchen, wearing her casual yet elegant outfits and an expression of calm contentment, represented everything I felt I lacked, and hence, yearned for in my own life at that point. I wanted a friend like Penelope because I wanted to be Penelope.
I was at a stage in my life where I felt unstable; both emotionally and financially. My marriage was rocky and I felt life was a constant struggle that I wasn’t coping with very well. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded with supportive and caring friends, but real friends have their own lives and their own dramas, and of course, Penelope, in my idealised world, had none of that. For in that precise moment and time in my life, Penelope represented idealised perfection.
The old adage, ‘opposites attract,’ isn’t confined to romantic unions. If we look around at our close friends we will often see traits in them that we admire, aspire to, and ultimately, feel that we lack ourselves. These are the people who are not just fun to be around and with whom we have bonded over shared experiences; they are the people who fill the gaps in our own personality C.V. And, it doesn’t matter if you know you will never have the patience of Janine; the natural elegance of Elizabeth; the steely determination of Alice; because, being around good friends doesn’t actually make you feel inadequate at all. Good friends compliment your own personality, boost your confidence and make you feel good about yourself.
It’s been some years since I’ve seen Penelope now. As often happens with friends, we’ve moved in different directions and grown apart. Or, more likely, she’s probably given up trying to cook decent crumbles in that fucking Aga and got herself a life ;o)