Family & Education

My JC ad gave us a friendship for life

An advert for a travel companion could have fallen flat - but instead it led to a 20 year relationship, and a podcast


She was all fur, high heels and glossy lipstick.

“I can’t go travelling with her,” I thought as I walked down the stairs of my parents’ home in Manchester to meet her. “She’ll break a nail and cry. And she certainly can’t sleep on a tent floor. She’ll be back home in a week.”

She was Samantha Simmonds, a tall, olive-skinned, glamourpuss two years my junior from Leeds who had responded to my advert in the JC for a travelling partner, reluctantly posted at the behest of my parents who didn’t like the idea of my travelling solo to Asia at 26.

I said I’d post it to keep them happy but I never imagined a travelling partner would actually transpire and certainly not one in heels and a fake fur jacket from Leeds.

So we met, we talked and I grudgingly agreed she could meet me in Vietnam and perhaps we’d go on to Thailand together — “perhaps” being the operative word.

When it came to the time to meet up I was dreading it. Having already spent a month in Vietnam, living in dirt-cheap hostels, eating Vietnamese pho off the street stalls, I worried how much this Jewish princess could handle. But then we started our four-day hiking trek from Pai in Northern Thailand, wandering through farms and rice terraces, climbing mountains in the stuffy 40-degree heat and I watched and marvelled as she took one confident stride after another, often first to reach the top of the mountain or to fling herself feet first into a cascading waterfall, the dirt under her fingernails no more bothersome to her than it was to me.

She was a loud Northern lass with strong opinions and an even stronger sense of adventure and the more time I spent with her, the more I realised how mistaken my first impression had been.

Samantha was an extrovert and fun and people wanted to be around her, including me. She was an adrenalin junkie too and convinced me to parasail when I didn’t like boats or heights so before I knew it, I was gliding through the air, tied to a boat, my heart in my stomach as I directed every single curse word imaginable at her.

A month and many experiences later, we went our separate ways, but our friendship was sealed.

Samantha’s version of our first meeting is a little different.

“You were a bit judgy,” she recalls when I ask her. “I didn’t exactly feel it was a meeting of minds. You just looked me up and down and I could tell I wasn’t your cup of tea. But I was desperate. My parents were adamant I didn’t travel on my own and were threatening to stymy my trip if I didn’t find a partner so it was a case of needs must. I had to make it work!”

When we met in Vietnam, she was well aware of my reticence.

“You’d already been there a month and it was obvious you were apprehensive about travelling with me,” says Samantha. “But on we went, travelling around Thailand, pushing each other to do things we might not have done without each other. You were definitely more thrifty than me, making us stay in cockroach-infested dumps, which I hated. We had a great month but I think we were both happy to go our separate ways after that. We bumped into each other in Sydney a few months later and I think that’s when our friendship really took off. We no longer had to be together but chose to hang out.”

I agree. Back in London after our trip, both of us climbing the rungs of our various media careers mine in print journalism, hers in broadcasting, for the BBC and Sky we would meet up regularly and plan more travels together. We boogied till dawn in Skiathos, stayed in six-star luxury in Malaysia (I was the editor of a monthly magazine at that point and offered trips to review) and she even took me on my very first and last skiing trip in France (those dreaded heights again).

I like to take credit for her happy marriage, too, because I introduced her to her husband in shul on Yom Kippur. While we were all thinking of roast chicken and crispy potatoes, their eyes were simply devouring each other across the mechitzah.

Since then, we’ve been through quite a lot. Our thirties were a whirl of nappies and sleepless nights, her two boys quickly succeeding my two boys before she cleverly popped out a girl. Midlife hit us hard in different ways; not only were we consumed by the incessant work/life/mothering juggle, but there was the death of my mother, my divorce, her parents’ divorce, all challenging in their own ways and cause for many a night out, escaping, unloading, laughing, trying to make each other feel better.

Our friends around us were also caught in the guts of midlife: working, earning, parenting, trying to be good daughters, partners, sisters, friends and, as journalists, a germ of an idea began to take hold. What if we could do a podcast for women like us? Something to make us laugh, give us ideas, interviewing women in midlife who could inspire. And so, It’s a Grown Up Life was born.

Our first episode launched this month 20 years after our friendship started.

I certainly couldn’t have a better friend to do it with. The podcast is about us, the people we know, the chats we already have, only now we’re recording them. But, as Samantha says, there’s only one problem: “Now we’re doing this podcast we don’t seem to find time to actually talk to each other. We need to arrange a date night!”

Perhaps the JC can sort it out for us again?


Listen to the first episode of ‘It’s a Grown up Life’  and email us at or tweet us @itsagrownuplife

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