When we left Edinburgh to come to Kent, a woman I knew only vaguely came up and said that she'd always think of me as a lost friend because she'd always thought we'd get on, but now we'd never have that chance. I was rather bemused at the time, but can't stop thinking about it now, particularly as I've been searching through my bookshelves looking for examples of 'unusual friendships' for a newspaper article.
I thought it was going to be easy, but had to set myself rules quite early on. It couldn't really be a lost love affair - which dropped PG Wodehouse's Lord Emsworth and the Empress of Blandings; it couldn't be a master-servant relationship, however, heated - step down Rebecca and the creepy Mrs Danvers; and it couldn't be an ordinary friendship, but one where the two people involved (oops, that was another rule - just two) would absolutely not be expected to be friends in everyday life.
And then I had to add another rule - it had to be an actual living being - OK, Silas Marner is friends with his money, but I had to take that one off the list.
I'm still on my long-list, but have spent some very happy hours going back to all the fictional friendships that have moved me over the years. It amazed me all over again how writers have used them to demonstrate just how we don't live in isolation. I suppose I normally take the cliche of friendship as someone who supports us (a friend in need, and all that) but it's much more exciting than that. All it just takes is someone else close to us going off the rails to make us wobble too, or - more positively - to open our eyes to a completely new world.
Which is why I keep thinking back to that woman in Edinburgh. Just how would she have changed my life, and what have I missed?