Italy is all very tempting, says Susie Fowler-Watt, but it isn't Norfolk...

On Alex’s birthday the other day, his phone pinged with a text from someone he hasn’t seen since they were at primary school together in Zimbabwe. It turns out that Alex and Paul – who’s also 59 – always message each other on their birthdays.

They reminisce about their childhoods and swap photos from the past. I found this particularly touching, given their paths haven’t crossed in person for around half a century.

Old friends are so precious. They remain a constant in a volatile world, and will always take you as you are, however long it has been.

While I am no great fan of social media, one of the positives of Facebook is that it’s enabled me to re-established contact with schoolfriends who are now dotted around the world.

One of my best friends emigrated to New Zealand more than ten years ago, and at the time it felt like a bereavement. We now go months without talking, because of the difficult time difference, but when we do catch up it feels like wrapping a comfort blanket around myself.

There’s a deep understanding and a lack of need to be anything but myself. When we went to visit, one of her ‘new’ friends asked whether we had known each other since childhood.

She had noticed how at ease we were with each other – almost like siblings, she said. That kind of friendship needs to be cherished – it doesn’t come around too often.

I had another wonderful reunion with an old friend this past summer. Jane and I have been close for 15 years, when our children were at nursery together. Our daughters went on to be best friends, attending the same school, but a few years ago the family moved abroad.

When they came back to Norwich for a holiday, we met up and couldn’t stop talking. There was so much to discuss that we had to arrange another get together the following week. Afterwards I felt such a warm glow, as if my wellbeing cup had been refilled.

After emerging from the pandemic into a cost of living crisis, life can feel very turbulent and even depressing. What is there to look forward to? The answer is – friends.

Whatever we take away from these rollercoaster years, the most important is that we need to look out for each other. The cost of heating our homes may be sky-rocketing, but the warmth of friendship is free.

* * *

I have an impractical (and some might say irritating) habit of falling in love with beautiful places – the ones with warm climes and stunning views that fill the soul – and then deciding that I want to live there. When we went to Italy this summer, for our postponed pre-Covid holiday, I fell hook, line and sinker.

Alex had to deal with me googling properties and dreaming of a new life on the Amalfi coast. Goodness knows how we would have earned a living, especially as we speak no Italian – picking olives maybe?

But then, when we were driving back home from the airport, we passed a massive queue of cars on the opposite carriageway of the A11. Our son asked us why there was such a lot of traffic. “Those are all the people leaving Norfolk after the bank holiday weekend,” we told him. “We live in a wonderful place where people want to come on holiday.”

And with that, the recalibration occurs. How many people have done the same thing in Norfolk as I did in Italy? They come to this beautiful county, fall in love, and decide to up sticks and move here. And yet, I am lucky enough to live here already.

I apologise, Norfolk, for my mental infidelity. It was just a holiday romance - blame it on the limoncello! This is where my heart truly lies. And of course, there’s the added bonus of being able to communicate without resorting to a Mediterranean mash-up language of my own making.