Having watched The Jungle Book (again) this week, I now have an ear worm buzzing around in my brain.  With the strains of That’s what friends are for on internal auto-repeat, it’s not very surprising that I’ve been thinking about friendship – what it means, how we define it, how we live it.

So what ARE friends for?

I did a whole research project on this topic about a decade ago. It was (rather boldly, I now realise) titled Towards an understanding of the role of friendship in contemporary Western society. In about 20,000 words I examined comparative notions of friendship, from Aristotle forward. What I found, in essence, was that friends are broadly seen as being bound together by a combination of altruism, kindness and high levels of trust and support. After speaking to various people on the topic over the last couple of days, I would add that these relationships are based on trust, honesty, reciprocity and mutual understanding – usually between equals. Indeed, many people consider friendship to be the most meaningful of relationships.

Broadly speaking, it seems to me that choice, equality and mutual trust appear to have remained the foundation stones that encapsulate our notions of friendship as a whole. However, ideals such as these need to factor in the rapidly changing nature of our public and private interactions – and the constraints that these impose on us. Clinging to them if they don’t is, quite simply, setting ourselves and our relationships up for failure.

Friendship is complex and many-faceted. It doesn’t operate in isolation and there isn’t a set of formal rules that can outline how individual interactions can or should evolve, who one can be friends with or why.  This is simply because having such rules would limit the nature of what is an essentially fluid relationship. Perhaps the most, and the least, that can be said is that friendship is. It is part of our greater and ever changing social milieu, it is a source of support and comfort to individuals, and it is the one area where people feel that they should be able to be comfortable and relax with their peers.

These are relationships that clearly continue to be seen as providing levels of interaction not available from or in any other kind of relationship. A true friend is still seen as a treasure – something both to aspire to be and to have. With this in mind, perhaps it’s worth considering the words that Buzzie, Flaps, Ziggy and Dizzy (the vultures) sing to Mowgli and to come to our own understanding of what we think friends are for.

That’s What Friends are for.
From “The Jungle Book” Composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.

We’re your friends…
We’re your friends…
We’re your friends to the bitter end

When you’re alone…Who comes around
To pluck you up… When you are down
And when you’re outside, looking in… Who’s there to open the door?
That’s what friends are for!

Who’s always eager to extend… A friendly claw?
That’s what friends are for!

And when you’re lost in dire need… Who’s at your side at lightning speed?
We’re friends with every creature… Comin’ down the pike
In fact, we’ve never met an animal.. We didn’t like, didn’t like
That’s what friends are for!

So you can see… We’re friends in need
And friends in need…Are friends indeed
We’ll keep you safe… In the jungle for ever more
That’s what friends are for!

We attended our first ever house concert this weekend – and what a joy it was! Mikaela and Stephen Castledine hosted a very enthusiastic crowd of over 50 people, who filled their house with laughter and song on Friday evening.

sparrow house concert

The draw card was Sparrow – a delightful progressive acoustic Celtic quartet. Supporting them was Darling, a local ten-piece all-girl acappella group.

So what exactly is a house concert? More than anything else it’s an opportunity to enjoy music in an intimate setting, usually in someone’s home or garden. It’s an informal and very sociable event, with most people being friends or acquaintances of the hosts.

For an event of this nature to work, there are any number of logistics to consider, ranging from the capacity of the house to the selection of musicians and what their fee might be. Then there’s whether or not to have a lead-in act, how to publicize the concert, how and where to sell tickets and the complicated juggling act involved in getting the crowd seated in time to start the music.

The Castledines managed all of this with panache. Although house concerts often don’t provide much in the way of sound systems, thanks to a family friend this one was completely plugged in. There was only one very brief power outage, but Sparrow had been warned that this might happen and simply carried on ‘un-plugged’ without breaking stride, much to the delight of all. Most people took along food/drink to share, which added to the sociability of the evening, as did the very generous catering and outgoing manner of the hosts.

Seeing just how much work they put into preparing for the concert, it would be easy to wonder why they would even consider hosting such an event. The answer was there on the night, however. The happiness quotient in the room was very high, both on the part of the (very interactive) audience and the musicians. It was a pleasure to listen to Darling, who will undoubtedly go on to greater things. Fiona Rea, Charlie McCarthy and Jon Edwards from Sparrow seemed delighted with the response that they received from the crowd. Apparently we (the audience) have lovely ‘fronts of heads’ – this from Fiona, who said that they often play in pubs and mostly to the backs of people’s heads, which are not nearly as responsive 🙂

I could blather on ad nauseum about the wonders of finding a bouzouki player in a Celtic band, about the extraordinary fiddle playing of Charlie McCarthy and the joy of Fiona’s vocals, but instead I’ll just say that I take my hat off to the hosts and the performers – and can’t wait for the next one!


I wandered along to a jazz concert on Sunday afternoon, along with dozens of other music lovers. it was part of a very popular free concert series that showcases West Australian musicians of various genres. In summer the concerts are conducted outdoors at sunset and people bring along picnic blankets and snacks and relax with family and friends to the strains of whatever music happens to be flavour of the week. In winter, the concerts are held mid afternoon in the  theatre (dry, warm and comfy) and drinks/snacks are available at the bar.

We were super excited to find out about these concerts when we first arrived in Perth, 20+ years ago. As new migrants with limited financial resources, we were up for just about any entertainment that wouldn’t cost anything – so many hours were spent out at the beach, down at the river and on our bikes exploring the ‘burbs.


The free concerts were something new and we became regulars, never sure whether we’d be listening to sitar or guitar, jazz or soul, funk or reggae – but happy to be out and having adventures, getting up to dance and enjoying the relaxed ambiance inspired by happy people and good music.

Looking around this week I was surprised to see that most of the group was probably well and truly over 60, rugged up in jackets and with umbrellas to hand in case skies opened.  They were completely engaged, chatting in the queue, quaffing a glass of wine or cup of coffee before the show and or at the interval, going all out applauding and cheering the (excellent) musicians.

This set me to pondering and one question led to the next: where were the younger set(s)? Why are they not taking advantage of this opportunity? Do they no longer enjoy live music? Have they become sufficiently ‘cashed up’ to be picky as to what genre they’re prepared to listen to? Or have readily accessible electronics  made home-based entertainment easier and more inviting?

I guess as we morph from being students to adults, often with families of our own and certainly with jobs and responsibilities, our focus changes. We may start to move in different circles and, as time goes by, our interests inevitably shift. But in this process does our capacity to engage in and with life outside of our home/family/job narrow as we use it less? Do we slowly drift into patterns and routines that are comfortable and, in that process, start to view alternatives as ‘effort’ rather than ‘living’?

Either way I see it as a potentially slippery slope towards becoming old – not physically or chronologically, but mentally. To remain cognitively alert and socially relevant outside of our home/work context surely requires active engagement with the world around us. Join me in not going gently!