I was surprised recently when the name of a friend of mine came up in a conversation I was having with someone who works in the media, younger than me, finger on the zeitgeist: let's call him J. I met the friend who was mentioned at university and last year, after more than 25 years, we made contact and found that our friendship was, against all odds, intact. In those 25 years, I've done what I've done, working abroad, writing and so on, and my friend has become a household name in Britain, much loved and suitably rewarded (You know who you are!) for his work in television and theatre.
And what did J. say? That it was odd to see how two people could start off equal and yet one of them should become so successful and the other should end up a... At this point his voice trailed away but it was fairly clear that the word he wasn't prepared to utter in my presence was 'failure'.
And I started to look at my life and my friend's, and weigh them against each other. We've both done pretty much what we've wanted to do in our lives. We both have relationships that are strong and have lasted for over 20 years. He has children and I don't, but J. didn't know that. We've both achieved recognition for our work (though mine has come much more recently, and to a far more modest degree). We're both surrounded by friends. We both have houses we love and are proud of. We both have dogs... I could go on.
In fact, the only significant differences are two. Money and fame.
So why was I so surprised?