Five Weeks to Wed: Reflection on Youth

By the time I was seven I had the whole marriage thing wrapped up – my husband would be tall (at least a head taller than me), dark and handsome, I would be bedecked in lavish jewels and wear a big meringue dress (almost exactly like the one Jennifer Connelly wore in Labyrinth – see below). The ceremony, no less lavish than the dress (naturally), would take place in a beautiful church, with the reception in a grand country mansion. Guests would eat plentifully (mostly chocolate), and I would spend the remainder of my days tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Or something like that.

Fast forward 27 years (ouch) and the reality isn’t so far from the dream. My husband to be is indeed tall (not quite a head taller, but let’s not, if you’ll excuse the pun, split hairs) and handsome, if not quite dark (but red haired will do nicely). The lavish jewels are out (clearly my seven year old self had no concept of money), the dress thankfully not quite in the meringue league, and the ceremony will not be in a church (this part I’m sad about, but as we are not Catholic we weren’t allowed to marry in the on-site chapel, and will instead do it outside on the lawn, weather permitting…). And much as I’d have liked a meal made entirely of chocolate, my 34 year old self has to acknowledge it’s not to everyone’s taste. But on one front I’ve trumped seven year old me entirely, for we are not getting married in a grand country mansion, but an actual bona fide castle (albeit because our original, far less grand and ergo far less expensive venue cancelled, but still..). And in Austria, land of stunning lakes and mountains.

With five weeks to go the nerves are kicking in, not about the marriage itself (fortunately), but rather about the plethora of things still to be ticked off the to do list. And the weather. Such a thing shouldn’t matter, of course, but as putting up a marquee will cost us an extra grand I would dearly love to see a forecast devoid of rain when it comes to marquee decision day (two days before the main event). And also, given that our loved ones are making such an effort to be there on our special day,  I would love to have sunshine as much as for them as for us. But what will be will be. I’ve learned a lot during this process about not stressing over things you can’t control. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s another part of growing up. And on the whole, I think we’re both doing pretty well. Next stop: tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Bring it on.

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Perfect Moments

In this recent post by Shakeclouds it was posited that the very notion of perfection can be damaging, especially when relating to the achievement of goals, because perfection itself it is such an elusive creature. And whilst I agree with that sentiment entirely, today I discovered that, every now and then in life, there ARE moments of pure and unadulterated perfection, it’s just that often we are so caught up in the whirlwind of our own existence and myriad pressures to perform at the optimum level that we fail to spot them.

What was this moment of pure joy and perfection? In actual fact it was the simplest moment of all. After taking the afternoon off work to pick up my Belgian ID card from the town hall, I came home early, set myself up at the breakfast bar with my laptop and selected the coffee house playlist on Spotify. Then, all of a sudden, the clouds outside parted and the whole apartment was flooded with sunlight.

It was, in that moment, so arrestingly beautiful that I just sat, focusing only on the lovely music and the beams of light coming into my living room, and I felt overwhelmingly grateful-not only for the music, the apartment or the sunshine, but for everyone and everything in my life. Having recently got engaged it isn’t hard for me to appreciate the positives at this point in time, but this was such a wonderful instance of stillness and appreciation that I felt moved to share in this blog; a rare moment of genuine mindfulness, a true oasis of calm. Such moments are not only perfect, they are as precious as the diamond I am lucky enough to now have on my finger. And I have a sneaking suspicion they don’t just hold the key to this crazy thing called life; they are its very essence.

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Summer loving

For the first time this year it feels like summer has finally arrived, and it may even hang around a bit to brighten the collective mood of the nation. Temperatures are high and spirits even higher. We may not get much good weather here in Britain but when we do, by heck do we know how to eek every last drop of satisfaction out of it.

Yesterday I went to Brighton for a mini break with three girlfriends. It had been planned for some time so the good weather was a fortunate, though most welcome, addition. We arrived just in time to secure a good spot on the beach and whiled away a very pleasant few hours in the sunshine before retiring to our capacious hotel suite for a rest and some pre-drinks. Later on we braved the inordinately large number of hen and stag dos congregating on the sea front and made our way to a club called Audio, which played decent music but which was packed to the rafters with what I can only describe as utter pikeys. Nonetheless we had a great night and laughed our heads off, so we absolutely fulfilled our fun quota.

When we returned today the weather was so fantastic that the only logical thing to do was sit in the sunshine on Clapham Common with ice lollies and some summer tunes on the speakers. As I sat and looked around at my friends and reflected on the great weekend I was having I felt a deep sense of contentment, in part because I love the summer but in the main because I realised how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people to share it with. After a bit of sunbathing I met some other friends in the pub beer garden for a quick drink before heading home and had the same feelings of good fortune and happiness.

It’s all too easy to take the people and places in your life for granted, which is why it’s important sometimes to just stop and look around at what you have – and to realise that despite the odd down day here and there, all is just the way you like it – lovely.

Glory days

Whoever has stolen the weather from some far flung tropical clime and brought it here to the UK deserves a medal. No, more than that, a knighthood. There’s simply nothing better than returning from holiday to find the weather at home equally as good as the place you left behind (apart from going on another holiday immediately afterwards, that is, but that would just be greedy). It softens the blow somewhat, that’s for sure. As does freelance Monday which, I’m afraid to say, I slightly shortened today with the insertion of a lazy middle of the day picnic in Brockwell Park with some friends and their baby. But sometimes you have to go with the flow and make the most of good fortune when it smiles upon you(r country). And as any Londoner who’s spent any length of time in this fine city will know, spells of good weather like this don’t come around too often.

The only down side of this fabulous weather (if one could really classify it as a down side) is that it makes running even harder, not just because it’s physically hotter but also because it’s harder to motivate oneself to exercise when the sun is shining and one would really, let’s face it, much rather be lying on the grass than stomping all over it. That said, I’m pleased to report my first 5k in almost a fortnight was completed in a rather respectable 27 minutes (had I not had my running club friend as a pacemaker I’m certain I’d have been considerably slower). And whilst at the time I felt I might be about to meet my maker, as soon as it was over and the familiar warm glow of satisfaction washed over me I felt much better. Which is just as well, because it’s less than nine weeks until my half marathon, and if I really want to avoid an early brush with Heaven I’d better get training…

Growing old disgracefully

As predicted yesterday’s wedding was magnificent in every way. The weather gods were smiling and there was barely a cloud in the sky. The church was beautiful, the reception venue stunning. But nothing and nobody was as radiant as the bride herself – just as it should be.

As the sun beat down the champagne flowed, followed by wine with the wedding breakfast, and by the time 10pm rolled around it was unanimously declared to be jagerbomb time, though everybody had drunk more than enough. There was dancing and much merriment…and then there was today.

Waking up at half past six in the dress you wore to the wedding with the bedroom lit up like the Blackpool illuminations is rather disconcerting. What’s more disconcerting still is having no memory of getting back to your accommodation. And what’s even more disconcerting than that is the grim realisation you have an unavoidable three hour drive ahead of you.

After downing some water and eating a hearty fry up I hit the road, convinced once I got going I’d feel better. Not so. Shortly after leaving the bed and breakfast, in fact, I was forced to pull over and eject the aforementioned fry up on the side of a country lane – watched by a herd of unimpressed cows. Clambering back into the car and convinced that now I’d feel much better, I continued on my way.

After almost an hour of driving around narrow country roads I entered a village and my heart sank – it was the same village I’d driven through forty minutes earlier. I had, in fact, been driving around in a circle. As this realisation sank in my body decided to eject another bit of fry up for good measure. This was rapidly descending into the journey from hell. Not only was I overwhelmed with insatiable nausea, I was also now stuck in the countryside, in my very own version of Groundhog Day.

Of course there was no mobile phone reception, so when I saw the first car in what felt like hours I flagged it down and asked for directions. As I spoke the man inside regarded me with a bemused smile – it was only afterwards when I looked in the mirror I realised my hair was sticking out at right angles to my head and I had sick on my top.

Fortunately I did eventually make it out of the maze that is the Shropshire countryside, and four and a half hours later I arrived, dishevelled and grumpy, at my parents’ house, where mother saw fit to point out that I’m far too old to behave like this. And I realised I’d left my shoes in Shropshire.

Let wedding season commence

Today is my good friend and ex-colleague’s wedding in Shropshire, and as I shall shortly be embarking on the three hour journey with no wiggle room on timing this post will be brief. 

Whether it’s the occasion, the dresses, the speeches or the food, weddings have something for everyone. Even the most unromantic of souls can derive pleasure from a disco and a free bar. Weddings are also a great excuse for an overnight getaway, and a chance to let our hair down with a different crowd – scoffing cheese and nattering to Great Auntie Gladys before hitting the dance floor with Uncle Bert; what’s not to love?

But for those of us with a little more heart, being invited to watch our nearest and dearest exchanging vows is both a privilege and an honour. I never fail to have a tear in my eye at that moment when the deal is sealed and the bride and groom look at one another, dewy eyed and ecstatic, knowing from this point on they’ll be taking on the world together – as a team. I for one can’t think of anything more romantic than that.

So I’ve packed my dancing shoes and the little cream number from the Calvin Klein sample sale in New York that I’ve been dying to wear, and I am ready to P-A-R-T-Y. Like it’s 25th May 2013 – which, of course, it is. I’ll get my coat.

I captured this moment whilst walking around Central Park in New York on my visit in April.

 

Escape to the country

This weekend I’ve opted out of London life, preferring instead to soak up the glorious sunshine in the sleepy Hampshire village of East Stratton. I’ll admit the weather’s been a stroke of luck; it wouldn’t have been quite as perfect if it had been grey and rainy, though still not that far off.

East Stratton is a picture postcard village, the kind of place the word idyllic was invented to describe. With beautifully restored thatched cottages, a village hall, church and quaint pub (where I’m staying tonight) opposite the village green it’s got pretty much everything a country village needs.

The pub is called the Northbrook Arms. As well as having all the trappings you’d expect from a country pub (including my particular weakness, a real fire) it has several guest bedrooms upstairs which are designed to a very high spec (think satin bed linen and mahogany furniture). It even has an old fashioned skittle alley located in one of the outbuildings, though I can’t say we’ve ventured in there yet (having been seduced by afternoon tea and a game of Scrabble sitting at the pub tables in the village green opposite).

In short, this place is the antithesis of the frenetic London lifestyle that we’ve come here to escape (albeit just for one night). It’s great to know that places like this exist right on our doorstep (East Stratton’s only an hour and a half’s drive out of London). I’ll definitely be reaping the rewards of this little break for some time to come.