‘Picking up where we left off was easy’
Helen Collier, 54, lives with her husband Phil, 51, and daughter Grace, 19, in South wales.
The first time I saw Alex she was skipping across the hopscotch chalks in infant school. ‘Come and play, Helen!’ she called out, beckoning me to join. Just like that, a lifelong friendship began.
It was the 1960s and growing up in the South Wales valleys there wasn’t an awful lot to do. But in Alex I found my perfect partner-in-crime.
We were forever getting up to mischief. I’ll never forget the day we climbed the trees outside my parents’ house, and shook the branches when somebody walked past. The expressions on their faces as they looked up had us in fits of laughter. We were so naughty!
Alex will tell you I was the ringleader, but she was always there by my side egging me on. That’s what I loved about her. She was such fun.
Before long, she became an extended part of the family. Mum would automatically set a place for her at the table, and we even invited her on our family holidays.
By the time we went to
secondary school in 1974, she was my closest confidante. When my mum Mariel was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1975, Alex was the only person I felt I could turn to.
Together we ticked off so many important experiences, like going to our first concert and even having our first beer.
We’d spend hours talking about the boys we liked (and the girls we didn’t), and what we wanted to become when we were older. ‘I’d like to be a nurse,’ Alex said once. I told her she’d be brilliant at it.
Although our lives naturally took different paths after school, we still remained close. Then, when I was 21, Mum lost her battle with cancer. I was devastated, but Alex was there to pick up the pieces.
Immediately, she came home from Swansea where she was studying to become a nurse. For the rest of the week she barely left my side. Her support was incredible.
When she asked me to be her bridesmaid in 1987 I was honoured. But while Alex settled down and started a family, I moved to London to work as an air hostess for British Caledonian. Back then there were no mobile phones, no social media, and we quickly lost contact.
A few years later I met my husband Phil and moved back to South Wales. In 1998, our daughter Grace was born.
Soon, 20 years had gone by since I’d spoken to Alex. I’d often think of her, and recount our antics at dinner parties.
Then one day in 2009 I received a text message from an unknown number. I saw Alex’s name signed off at the end and I couldn’t believe it.
Alex explained that for the past year she’d been going to the same hairdressers as me. At first, our stylist didn’t clock that we knew each other until she started telling him about the mischief we got up to as children. He gave Alex my number, and she’d text me straight away.
We arranged to go for dinner. Although I worried that it might be awkward, once we started reminiscing the years just melted away. Alex was exactly as I remembered her. She even had the same laugh.
It felt wonderful to have that deep sense of personal history with someone.
Despite our hectic lives, we were determined to carry on meeting. It became easier when Alex’s youngest son flew the nest in 2015 and I retired. Now we text most days, and go running every week. We even get our hair done together.
I’ve never had a friend like Alex. After everything we’ve been through, she understands me better than anyone else. I’m sad we lost contact, but I can appreciate why it happened. The important thing is that we’ve found each other again and I know that with Alex I’ve got a friend for life.
‘THE YEARS JUST MELTED AWAY’
Helen and Alex have been through so much together