Two Weeks to Wed: Panic Stations

If I could give one piece of advice to future brides to be it would be this: don’t leave too much to the last minute. It’s easy to tell yourself in the weeks and months leading up to the wedding that it’s important to stay calm and level-headed, and that you still have plenty of time for the details. But those are the excuses of lazy people, and trust me, when it’s two weeks until the big day and you are crazy busy at work with barely a second to think about anything else, you will rue the day past you slammed the wedding spreadsheet shut in favour of an episode of Made in Chelsea.

Yet despite the pressure we aren’t doing too badly. It is fortunate that, whilst I am prone to rumination and panic (usually in that order), R is using his work skills to keep me on the straight and narrow efficiency track. We’ve had a few run-ins along the way, but I challenge you to show me an engaged couple who haven’t. Ironically it seems minor arguments are par for the course when planning a life union to the person you love most in the world.

A piece of advice given to me by a past bride was not to worry too much about the details. She painstakingly spent days preparing intricate flower displays for the tables, only to find weeks after the wedding that nobody could remember them at all. I’ve taken this to heart, primarily because it’s a convenient excuse for my inherent laziness and near-total inability to craft. We are preparing some small touches to make the occasion unique, but have spent far more time focusing on the really important things, like making sure there will be enough booze, and good music to dance the night away to.

In the last few weeks it has felt like time has moved into warp speed. I can’t believe in fewer than 15 sleeps I will be a married woman. Even though I’ve had 15 months to mentally prepare it still feels a bit scary. I haven’t even thought about changing my name on all my official documents yet. That task will have to be left until later. For now it’s back to the wedding spreadsheet and full steam ahead that track of efficiency, all the way to the end of the aisle where my husband to be will be waiting 🙂

image

Advertisements

Eight Weeks to Wed: An Update

Last weekend I went to Las Vegas for my hen party with six close friends. It was predictably fabulous. We crammed an enormous amount of fun into a short space of time and did ourselves – and Vegas – proud. Wild, unbridled hedonism like that is harder to come by as you march inexorably further into adulthood, which is why it’s so important to appreciate it when you have it. The same applies to friendships. Whilst they should be nurtured throughout life, opportunities to  celebrate them become fewer and farther between as the myriad demands of life creep into our daily existence. And so the memories of last weekend and all the laughs we shared will stay with me forever. I am truly grateful.

And now it’s time to look ahead. Eight weeks ahead, in fact, to my wedding day. As a child I always dreamed of this occasion, wondering who I would marry (or, more specifically, who would want to marry me!) Now it’s nearly here it feels surreal, like a dream. The organisation has been a  challenge, but I know it will be worth it when we look around at the hundred or so loved ones who are so generously travelling to Austria to share it with us. I feel so blessed not only to have met the man I want to spend the rest of my life with, and to be so utterly confident in that statement, but also to have such wonderful and supportive people in my life.

Getting married feels like such a grown up thing to do. I feel ready for it, yet at the same time the little girl in me is tugging at my sleeve, chewing her nails down to the stub with worry. Will I be a good wife? A good mother? Am I actually mature enough to take this step? I have always felt a dichotomy within me. On the one hand there is the dreamer, the thinker, the artist; the one who likes to party and who yearns to travel, to explore, to be free. And on the other is the planner, the matriarch-in-waiting who wants nothing more than to care for others, to have a family and thrive on being responsible for others, instead of being concerned only with myself.

In some respects I suppose I’ve always felt that having a family would save me from myself, and stop me from pursuing the relentless search for meaning that drives my every waking moment. But now I’m on the cusp of that I’m filled with fear; of all that I ‘should’ have done up to this point in my life, and of all I will not be able to do if and when I take that next step. I suppose these worries are normal, and that everyone has them at some point in the run up to making such a big commitment to another person.

I don’t expect for one moment that getting married will mean a life free of worry and drama; far from it. But what it will do is cement our partnership in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God, in whom I do believe, at least in some form. It is a statement of intent on both our parts that we are prepared to put each other first, to work through all our issues together, and to co-create a stable and loving environment for our future children. The divorce rates reported so gleefully in the news don’t bother me at all. Marriage has always been important to me, and I am entering into it with my eyes and heart wide open.

The fun-loving, free-spirited party girl will always be a part of me, I have no intention of shunning her or locking her away. But despite my fears what is becoming ever clearer to me is that I owe it to myself to explore the other side of who I am, to get to know the girl who wants so desperately to help, to make a difference, to put love above all else.

This is a new chapter in the story of my life. And I am ready to turn the page.

storeBookDoubleHeartOutline-1

New Beginnings Part Two

Yesterday I spoke of new beginnings and adventures, and as a follow on from those sentiments I’ve saved this Christmas Day post for two very special people.

This couple have had a hellish start to married life after losing a dear friend who was usher at their wedding, then being evicted from their home by their mad elderly landlady and, most recently, having to endure illness over Christmas time (which they are having to work most of due to a lack of holiday).

These two, in particular my beautiful friend Bridget, have faced these hardships with the utmost of strength and fortitude, never once  complaining about their lot and simply getting on with things and facing them head on.

I have so much love and respect for them and just want to publicly acknowledge that I think they are amazing, and I wish them all the love and happiness that they truly deserve in the new year ahead.

So here’s to new beginnings for you too, Harry and my darling Little B. I wish you both a very Merry Christmas. May your year be filled with pandas and unicorns, and may you find the way ahead free of all burdens and obstructions. Love life. Seek adventure. Be happy.

Happy Christmas Everyone xxx

image

Old Friends

There’s nothing so wonderful as a wedding that also doubles up as a mass reunion of old friends. Last night was one such occasion, bringing all the friends from my Birmingham Uni days together under one roof for a good old fashioned knees up. And what a night it was. It’s been years since we were last all in the same place at the same time and we made the most of every second, reliving the silly dances of our youth and reminiscing about the fun times we all shared.

Life moves so fast and is so busy that it’s not always possible to see old friends as much as we might like. But, in my case at least, on those increasingly rare occasions when we do all get together the old magic is still there, and that’s such a lovely thing to behold and to experience.

I realised last night what an integral part of my life all those people have been and how much I love and value them. It was also heartwarming to see how happy and comfortable in their own skin everyone is now; Lord knows we’ve all been through our fair share of ups and downs over the thirteen years we’ve known one another but now it really feels we’ve come out of the other side and are all relatively settled.

But the biggest accolade of all must go to the stunning bride, Rebecca (whose Temperley wedding gown was the very definition of elegance) and her handsome groom, Paul, without whose hospitality we would not all have had the opportunity to come together in the first place. Great night guys, a thousand thank yous and enjoy married life xxxx
image

Fresh start

The alarm went off at six, but before it could even reach its shrill crescendo Graham was in the shower, singing loudly as he soaped himself. Brenda reached a hand out of the depths of her warm cocoon and smacked the clock hard to make the noise stop. In doing so she managed to hit her hand on the bedside table, which caused her to swear. She was still swearing when Graham returned from the shower, his face flushed from the heat of the water, or excitement, or a combination of both.

“Morning my flower,” Graham grinned as he towel-dried his thinning grey hair. Brenda looked her husband up and down, noticing with faint disgust the wedge of fat that sat atop the towel around his waist. His belly button and its immediate vicinity were so thick with hair one might, Brenda thought, fairly assert they bore more resemblance to a wild animal than a human. No wonder he enjoyed camping so much, she thought crossly.

“Hmph,” was all Brenda could manage as she extricated herself from the covers, throwing them off and braving the exterior climate – which was several degrees cooler due to Graham’s borderline obsessive dislike of central heating. Despite being a bank holiday weekend in May, the weather was stubbornly – and perhaps predictably – refusing to play ball. Gale force winds had hit during the night, and if the weather reports were to be believed there was yet worse to come.

“Are you excited about our trip, my flower?” Graham asked as Brenda circumnavigated her way around his bulbous form, grasping for a towel on the hook on the back of the door whilst simultaneously trying to avoid physical contact with her slimy-skinned spouse.

“Ecstatic,” Brenda replied, slipping out of the door and padding grumpily down the hallway to the bathroom.

Thirty minutes later and they were on the open road, camping paraphernalia packed into the boot along with Sadie, their pet golden retriever. It was raining so hard that the windscreen wipers were rendered ineffective, not that Graham seemed to have noticed. With every swoosh of the wipers Brenda’s fury increased, yet Graham merely hummed along to his Van Morrison tape and shovelled handfuls of boiled sweets into his cavernous mouth.

They reached the campsite by late morning, and whilst the rain had fortunately stopped by then, the field was more liquid than solid. Brenda, white-knuckled with ill-concealed rage, pulled on her wellington boots and dutifully assisted with the carrying of multiple loads of she-knew-not-what to the location Graham had identified as being the best for their stay. It had not escaped her attention there were no other campers to be seen.

As the winds buffeted them this way and that, Graham stoically erected the tent with minimal assistance from his frigid wife, who had taken to retreating to the car every twenty minutes or so for the comfort of a few blasts of hot air. Eventually the tent was up, and Graham moved onto blowing up the mattress. He’d even thought to bring pillows this time, he informed his wife with glee, seeming not to register the look of incredulity on her face that spoke of wanting to be anywhere but exactly where they were in that moment.

Brenda sat in one of their decrepit camping chairs and watched, arms folded stiffly across her chest. In spite of herself she had to admire her husband’s sheer belligerence in the face of such adverse weather conditions. Less hardy souls would have beaten a hasty retreat by now. Not so Graham, for defeat was not a word in his vocabulary. Once, Brenda supposed, she would have found such qualities endearing, but as she sat knee-deep in mud in this wet field she was at a loss to work out how she’d ended up here.

For dinner they ate sausages, cooked to a cinder atop a rickety gas fire. The weather gods at least gave them some peace for the duration of their meal, but not long after the heavens opened and rain lashed down upon them once more. There was nothing for it; they would have to go inside the tent.

“Shall we play cards my flower?” asked Graham in his usual stiflingly optimistic tone. “It’ll be like old times, do you remember? When we used to play rummy by candlelight after the kids went up to bed.” Brenda did remember, and for a fleeting moment felt her heart soften towards this silly old fool whom she had married. She consented to a game before bed, for old times’ sake like he said.

After what seemed like an interminably long day it was time for bed. Brenda and Graham clumsily took off their outer clothes and climbed onto the mattress in their long johns, pulling the sleeping bag on top of them. “Well hasn’t this been nice?” Graham said as he flicked off the torch.

“Nice?” came his wife’s voice from the darkness beside him.

“Yes, my flower, don’t you think?”

There was a brief scuffle as Brenda fumbled for the torch and the light blinked back into life. She glared at her husband and raised herself up on one elbow. “Do you really want to know what I think?”

“Of-of course, my flower” Graham stuttered.

“Okay, then I’ll tell you. In twenty years of marriage I have never liked camping. Not even for a second. I humoured you at first, because I was in love, and because I wanted to please you. And then, when the boys were born I did it to please them. But there is nothing about sleeping in such cloyingly close proximity to you without a single luxury in sight that appeals to me. Nothing – got it?”

Graham nodded, his mouth hanging open in bewilderment. “But I thought…”

“You thought what, Graham? That I enjoyed it? What have I ever said or done to give you that impression?”

“You never said you didn’t.”

Brenda stopped mid-flow to consider this point, and for a moment they stared at one another in quiet contemplation. “You mean, if I’d said I didn’t like it you’d have stopped – just like that?”

“Of course, my flower.”

Brenda opened her mouth to chastise her husband further, but the words dried up in her throat. “Oh,” was all she could manage. “I see.” She flicked the torch back off and lay down on her back, feeling the counter balance of her husband’s pose beside her. Was it she who all along had been the fool not to say how she really felt? Could all those years of bitterness have been avoided if she’d simply admitted that Graham’s choice of holiday wasn’t her cup of tea? This was a revelation that both frightened and excited her.

As they lay in the darkness with their private thoughts a tiny hissing noise started up. Soon the noise was louder, more urgent. Within moments the air bed had deflated, and as her bottom touched the floor Brenda laughed. She laughed so hard her sides hurt, and soon her husband’s laugh had joined her own. When they eventually recovered themselves Graham flicked on the light and grinned.

“There was a B&B a couple of miles back. Shall we spend the night there?”

Brenda grinned back. “Yes please.”

“Fresh start?” Graham asked as he pulled his wife to her feet.

“Fresh start,” she agreed. “Oh, and if we’re having a fresh start can I ask one more thing?”

“Of course, my flower,” said Graham.

“Don’t call me your flower. If there’s one thing I’ve hated even more than camping all of these years it’s that.” She laughed again and took his hand, guiding him out of the tent into the night.

Raw

Why do they say that the air is crisp, as if it were something that one could bite into, that one could touch? The air’s no crisper than the sun, though that at least would burn you to a crisp if you could get close enough to touch it.

It’s funny what thoughts pop into your mind, unbidden, after a traumatic life episode. Here I am, lacing up my boots – the ones with the dodgy soles that let the water in, which are really altogether pointless as it’s almost always wet outside – and instead of thinking about what’s happened I’m ruminating on the physical qualities of the air and the sun. I suppose this could be called a ‘coping mechanism,’ in which case I should probably be glad of it. Lord knows I’d rather think about the air and sun than all the other jumbled mass of thoughts and emotions that are swirling around in the background of my mind.

I call Betty and she tears into the room with her trademark boundless enthusiasm. Betty is a cocker spaniel. She’s brown with white splodges of various shapes and sizes that look as if someone’s used her as a canvas to try and recreate a Jackson Pollock painting. She’s named after the landlady at the bed and breakfast where we got engaged. With hindsight that’s ridiculous, but when we bought her we were sickeningly in love and blind to sense.

I’m walking down the road now, treading the path that’s been so well trodden over our ten year marriage. The tarmac’s hard and unforgiving beneath my feet. Betty’s straining at her lead; she may be an old girl but she’s got more life in her than I’ll ever have. But I won’t let her off the lead until we’re on the footpath. Can’t risk anything happening to her – she’s all I have now.

Charles Reginald Harper (prefers to be known as Reg).

Likes: Arguing (loudly), snoring (ditto), mustard on rare roast beef, red wine, cherry jam, walks in the country, art (except, ironically, Pollock) and obscure foreign literature.

Dislikes: People not agreeing with him (always), his wife (most of the time).

As we veer off the road onto the footpath – Betty scrambling over the muddy terrain as if her life depends on it – I run our last argument through my mind. It was over nothing, as always, something as inconsequential as him not having done the dishes. But then it wouldn’t have killed him to do them, would it? Once in the whole damn marriage?

But I digress. His not doing the dishes aside, all of those silly, petty arguments aside; he was a good husband. It’s funny how it takes something like this to make you realise the good things about a person, to see them in a light that has been dimmed for far too long.

Still. We walk on, Betty and I, through the fields of corn that sway in the light breeze like lovers clasped together in a slow dance. I remember then the dance of our wedding day, the way his hand rested on my waist, the reassuring weight of it.

Where did we go wrong? Somewhere along the journey of our lives together we took diverging paths. I’m not sure either of us knew it at the time, but by the time we did realise it was too late to go back; weeds and thorns had grown across the paths behind us.

When we return from our walk I unclip Betty’s lead and pour myself a scotch; his favourite drink. I sit in his favourite chair and look out across his favourite view. And then it hits me. A tidal wave of grief that I have hitherto suppressed rises up and catches in my throat, emerging as a roar of emotion. Or should that be a raw of emotion, because that’s all I now am – raw.

I don’t blame him for leaving, how can I?

I just wish I’d had the chance to say goodbye.

I took this picture yesterday in East Stratton, Hampshire. It was the inspiration for this story.

You had me at first click – Part Six

“Jasper, Amy, come on!” John looked at his watch and sighed.

“I don’t know why you think shouting’s going to speed them up,” said Alison, entering the kitchen with a pile of freshly laundered clothes in her arms and depositing them on the table.

“Well something has to. We’re running late as it is.” John sighed again. “What are they doing up there?”

“Being children, darling,” Alison said, her voice laden with scorn, “something you’ve obviously forgotten all about.” She started sorting through the pile of washing.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Alison identified two matching socks from the pile and set them to one side. She looked up at John and shrugged. “You tell me.”

“I don’t have time for one of your cryptic one-sided conversations right now Alison.”

“Well there’s no change there then.”

John walked into the hallway. “Kids, come ON!”

He re-entered the kitchen and watched in silence as his wife painstakingly sorted his family’s clothes into neat little piles, one for each of them. Her mouth was set in a thin line, her forehead ruched by frown lines. John wondered when she had become so embittered by life, and whether it was his fault.

Thunderous footsteps announced the imminent arrival of Jasper, their eldest. He tore into the kitchen, closely followed by his sister, Amy.

“We’re ready!” Jasper shouted, zooming around the kitchen with his arms held wide like an aeroplane.

“Ready!” Amy mimicked, holding her own arms aloft.

“Don’t forget your packed lunches,” Alison said, pointing to the work surface. “And remember what I said about sweets and chocolate.”

“They’ll rot our teeth,” said Jasper, rolling his eyes.

“And make us fat,” Amy added, her expression solemn.

John shot a disapproving look at his wife and shepherded the kids out to the car. “See you tonight,” he shouted back over his shoulder, not waiting for a response.

At seven and five Jasper and Amy were proving more than a handful, and whilst he loved them dearly these days John often caught himself remembering fondly how easy life had been before they came along.

Whilst other friends had procreated and adapted to life with kids with what seemed – on the surface at least – to be complete ease, John and Alison’s journey into parenthood had not been so easy. John had known when they first got together at university that children were high on Alison’s agenda, but had he foreseen the fervour with which she would pursue her goal despite the detrimental effect it would have on their relationship he may have reconsidered the whole proposition.

When they found out she had polycystic ovaries Alison had cried for days, despite the doctor’s reassurance that it didn’t mean they wouldn’t be able to have children – it might just take longer. When she did eventually fall pregnant she was overjoyed, but her nerves were so frayed after months of treatment and false alarms that she became paranoid about losing the baby – a paranoia that had continued long after both the children were born. Although he knew it sounded dramatic to describe her as a different person to the one he married, in many respects it was true. And he didn’t have the first clue what to do about it.

John parked up outside the school and walked the children inside. It was a typically manic first day of term, with children and staff alike wandering the halls with confused expressions, timetables in hand. As they passed the staff room John heard a man’s voice say “welcome to the mad house,” and a woman’s reply, “thanks. It’s great to be here.”

John stopped in his tracks and turned around. He dropped the kids’ hands and took a few steps closer to the staff room, craning his neck around the door. Sure enough, in the middle of the room was a familiar slender form. Even from behind he could tell it was her, there was something unmistakeable about the way she held herself; something proud and assured. She turned around and gasped as her eyes met his. “John,” she breathed.

“Hello Jen.”

Image

I love this image, taken in northern India. It captures something magical and indefinable.