Who said that? Well, I've just Googled and I still don't know. But I'm willing to bet it was someone who doesn't have the perfect storybook family life. And that could be just about all of us, right? But someone who did have the most brilliant friends (just like the ones who bought us the sign bearing those very words, and that hangs in our kitchen). Because they understood that, while it's families who give us life, it's our friends who put the fun into it! And while we need to relate to our significant others, we don't actually need to be related to them!

Actually suggesting that storybook family life is perfect isn't entirely true. As it happens stories tend to have rather a pessimistic view of family life, and family members. From the works of Charles Perrault to Roald Dahl, children's fiction at least is populated with, at the very least, quirky families right down to neglectful parents who hand over their beloved daughter to nasty beasts, sons who sell the family cow for a bag of beans, not to mention wicked stepmothers and ugly sisters. Just fantasy? Of course (or at least we hope so)! But when you think of the regularity with which these types of characters appear, you begin to wonder: Did someone, somewhere, fancy a bit of imaginery 'revenge' on some of their own quirky relatives?

Fortunately, real life isn't like that. For most of us, families are just fine. But it's unrealistic to expect that just because we have a little thing like genetics in common (and not, in the case of in-laws, even that much), that we will be bosom buddies with every member of our family. Which is why, returning to my original point (high time I did that, I know) we are far more likely to anticipate spending time with our friends than that spent with our families. It might sound harsh but, when you think about it, it's not. They don't sell those signs in garden centres – you know the ones: "Friends welcome any time. Relatives by appointment" – for no reason! We have no choice in who our family are. Even when we marry we're choosing a romantic partner, a friend, and not the rest of their family.


Friends like to share experimental breakfasts … 

… and when you're with them you don't mind looking like a pixie …

They just come as part of the package. And I feel quite safe in saying this because I'm not married, so have no in-laws to offend. But, if you're honest, and I encourage you to be so since we're all friends here, I bet all of you have one or two family members you would happily trade? It's okay to admit to it. I won't tell! Friends, being entirely of our own choosing, are another matter entirely.When we meet new people we sort of filter out those we dislike, then those who irritate us, those who don't share our interests and so on. Only those who are left, those that have sort of ticked all the boxes, might then become our friends.

Friendship, of course, is about more than having things in common. Indeed, I have friends who read the kinds of books that would send me to sleep, friends who holiday in places I wouldn't want to go, and friends who don't share my political views. But this doesn't matter because friendship is not about finding an identical twin. It's about something else. Perhaps something indefinable. Certainly it's about chemistry. And about wanting to go through life together. After all, to paraphrase many quotes about friendship, a friend knows you well but still loves you.  Friendship is about the hysterical giggling of  wine-fuelled games of Trivial Pursuits and about not minding when your faux-pas during a game five years ago gets relived and relived. It's about the spontaneity of a picnic, or the anticipation of a well-planned trip. It's also about commiserations and about celebration. 

And about that moment, just before said friends are coming round, when you notice the big cobweb at the top of the stairs. In particular, it's about being able to say: "Never mind, it's only X & Y!" without being disrepectful.  Because while friendship is about making everything perfect for your friends, it's also about not caring when it's not!

But, when it comes down to it, friends are much more than people with whom we spend our free time. If we're fortunate (and I'm very glad to say that I am) friends can provide everything that family can. Love, support, sympathy and so on. But the very fact that we choose them, and choose them carefully, means that friends really are the most special part of our lives. 

Humans are, by nature, social creatures. We gather together to watch sport, to party, to chat. It's what we do. 

… or hamming it up a bit … 

… and you learn to appreciate them! 

So you might think that choosing friends is something we do with ease and enthusiasm. But, of course, we know that isn't necessarily true. To engage in a friendship, to invite someone in to see the bits of us that we prefer to hide from the rest of the world, it not easy. After all it takes great strength to let someone see our weaknesses. But they say that love is blind, while friendship closes its eyes. And that's it, isn't it? Friends don't judge, they don't compete, they don't criticise. They accept, they assist and they encourage. And they let us just be 'us'. 

And that's something you simply can't put a price on! In fact it costs you nothing … you just have to do it back. And with friends like ours that's no hardship at all, now is it?

And, you know, high upon our kitchen wall, there's another sign. One we bought for ourselves. It reads: "Happiness is a day spent with friends." And you can't get more truthful than that!