We talk almost constantly, as we struggle out of coats and scarves and take our seats either side of the wooden table. It's a couple of months since we last met up so there's plenty to catch up on, but as we each pick up one of the oversized menus to choose our food, I'm momentarily side-tracked by thoughts of childhood friends. I don't ever remember going out for a meal as a child, not even with family; the very idea that anyone back then would have suggested an outing involving dinner makes me smile.
I think of a time when friends were just there, wherever you happened to be; sitting next to you at school, running alongside you round the field by the bin-sheds down the flats, standing beside you peering into the muddy ripples of the river in Belair Park. In the days before mobile phones, in a world where ballet lessons and after-school activities were something other people did, there wasn't any planning or scheduling involved; it just happened.
Conversations were about the people and the situations you all knew; your teacher, the girl in class whose Dad hit her with his belt, whether or not you were really going to kiss Terry Jackson. Friends changed quickly, you fell out and fell back in again and a 'best friend' was more a state of mind than a matter of fact, but friendship itself was a constant.
I don't know when it started to change, perhaps it was when we all left school to go off in different directions. After that, families and relationships, new jobs and places to live, there were so many reasons why keeping friends suddenly became 'keeping in touch'; why constant became intermittent.
Yet the first half of our evening follows a defined pattern, as we each share news of our other halves and homes, of ex-colleagues in common, of current work burdens and future holiday plans. Conversation flows, it's collaborative and comforting, but then as the plates are being cleared, I realise there's been something in the tenor of our talk that's changed. When I've spoken about holidays, it's been less about future adventures and more about the places I might never get to see. We've made reference to failing eyesight and aching limbs, I've even mentioned retirement.
Then comes the moment when I lean forward to make a confession. But it's no tale of infidelity or misbehaviour, no shocking scandalous gossip,
"I've bought a new pillow."
Almost as soon as the words leave my mouth, I realise the mistake, I'm already cataloguing myself as an old woman.
But then she smiles and offers up her own secret.
"I've got an electric blanket."
And then I remember that thing about friendship; about finding things in common, having a partner in crime, and I realise that maybe times haven't changed that much at all.