Idiots Abroad

It’s just  hit me (in the freight train sense) that in a little over fifteen weeks I’ll be a Mrs. Given that I’ve been engaged for almost a year now it’s impressive I haven’t grasped this fact before. I blame the inordinately large number of organisational things that have to be done in order to pull off a wedding abroad. Nobody ever said it would be easy. And that’s because, well, it isn’t. In fact it’s really bloody hard.

People ask why we chose Austria, and I enjoy telling the story about the weekend my fiance booked a romantic break in Bavaria, only for us to be turned away from the hotel because he had accidentally booked the wrong weekend. And, as it was a public holiday in Germany, neither the hotel nor any of its immediate neighbours had any rooms available. We ended up driving for forty minutes in silence, over the border into Austria to a hotel where my hapless other half had eventually managed to locate a room. I was so angry I couldn’t speak, and we had an uneasy (and not the least bit romantic) sleep that night. When we went down for breakfast the following morning, however, everything changed. The sun was beaming down and the views of the mountains were spectacular. As we drank our coffee and ate our toast our mood thawed like the snow outside, and we jokingly said we would return to Austria for our wedding.

Fast forward a year, and we are indeed having our wedding in Austria. Right now it feels a little more foolhardy than romantic, but we have to hope the gamble will pay off. Admittedly we didn’t get off to the best start, when our first choice of venue cancelled on us three months after we booked it. By this point several guests had booked their flights, which meant an Austrian wedding was happening whether we liked it or not. So we went back to our second (much nicer, but also much more expensive) choice venue, which – nothing short of miraculously – still had availability on that popular weekend in June. So we snapped it up, pushing our concerns about nearly doubling the budget in one fell swoop to one side.

It took a while to fully comprehend the myriad complications of getting married in a country that is not one’s country of origin. Our situation was further complicated by the fact we already live in a different country (Belgium) – indeed the UK government website has a special page for people (read: idiots) like us. Not only would we have to prove residence in the country we wanted to marry in for a minimum of three days, we would also have to visit the British embassy there to apply for documentation and post notice of our marriage. Before we could go to Vienna to do this, however, we had to first request copies of our birth certificates from the UK (our existing ones being invalid because they were more than six months old), then send them back to a different address in the UK to be legalised before we eventually had what we needed for our embassy appointment. Painful doesn’t begin to describe it.

Once the legal stuff was sorted we rejoiced, thinking that surely the worst was now over. How wrong we were. The legal stuff had nothing on the nightmare of coordinating a hundred people in booking flights. Salzburg being nearer, most people sensibly opted to fly there. Until, that is, British Airways decided to cancel the return flight on Sunday. As in, the only flight that day, which meant that all the guests who couldn’t book Monday off work having to cancel and re-book flights into Munich. On top of that it transpired we couldn’t have the legal and religious blessing on the same day, and since the Protestant church in Austria no longer recognises the Protestant church in the UK, the only way we could have a blessing at all would be to enlist the services of a ‘free'(lance) priest. Still following? I’m not at all sure I am.

Then there are the challenges of working with a wedding planner and suppliers who are not only not in the same country as you, but also don’t speak English as a first language. They are all pretty good, but a lot gets lost in translation, and, let’s face it, that’s not really what you want when it comes to your wedding. It’s also been a nightmare trying to coordinate dress buying for six bridesmaids when you can’t meet everyone face to face. My girls have rallied, God bless them, but I know it’s been a royal pain in the arse doing the endless cycle of purchasing and sending back (thank god for ASOS and its free returns policy).

Now we are at the three-months-to-go-stage, things are really cranking up a gear. I’ve never been much of a fashionista, nor very design-minded, which perhaps explains why I’ve found it so difficult to choose wedding apparel (less so the dress, which was the first I tried on – hell, something had to be easy) and decide on all the smaller details like flowers, cake etc. There is still SO much to do it makes my head spin. I’ve really no clue how it will all come together, but I guess I just have to trust that somehow it will. All I can say is that it’s just as well I only plan to do this once in my life. More than that would send me absolutely nuts!

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Reflections on 2015

Another year has passed, and for me it’s been a year of firsts: the first year of living abroad, the first working for a PR agency, and also the first as an engaged lady. As I sit here reflecting on the last twelve months I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Many people do not have the wonderful things I have: loving and unswervingly supportive family, fiance and friends, a good job, a great apartment in a city that I have come to love, and the means (well, almost – thanks to the expense of our 2016 wedding this point is a work in progress) to pursue the lifetime of adventure that I crave.

Many of this year’s events have highlighted the shocking disparity between those of us who have, essentially, ‘lucked out’ in life’s lottery, and those who have never even had the opportunity to buy a ticket. I have been particularly affected by the refugee crisis, which, as residents of Brussels, has been literally on our doorstep – both in Brussels and in the ‘jungle’ of Calais that we pass by so regularly on our Eurostar trips home to visit friends and family. How easily we Europeans take for granted our freedom of movement, when our brothers and sisters from Syria and Sudan have nothing but doors slammed in their faces when they try to pass through borders and seek escape from persecution and a better life for themselves and for their families. Their plight is heartbreaking, and the ability of so many to turn the other cheek nothing less than horrifying.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Sometimes, just as I am about to despair of humanity altogether, something will come along to restore my faith. And the many ordinary people who have been galvanized by the refugee crisis into coming together to help have done just that. I have been following in particular the activities of The Worldwide Tribe, a fantastic group of young people from the UK who have been documenting the experiences of those in the Calais jungle, and in the process raising money to help improve their situation. Such dedication and commitment to this important cause is awe-inspiring, and goes to show that anyone can make a positive difference in the world, if only they have the drive and determination to do so.

I hope that those for whom 2015 was challenging will find fresh perspective, hope and happiness in 2016. And for everyone else, keep doing what you’re doing! May your year be filled with peace and love.

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Breaking the Silence

It’s been a month since my last post. Life is such a whirlwind at the moment that I’m struggling to catch my breath. I mean, life’s always busy – despite my best intentions I don’t seem capable of living any other way – but having a new job that is ten times as busy as the last, in parallel with the often stressful process of planning a wedding (there’s nothing quite so thrilling – excuse the heavy sarcasm – as the feeling you get when your venue cancels on you three months after you sent the invites) is leaving precious little room for anything or anyone else (except of course my constant companion Guilt, who naturally manages to elbow his way into almost every situation).

But, tempting though it is to retreat into my head and bob up and down on the familiar sea of anxiety and worry (Guilt bobbing up and down beside me in his rubber ring), before drowning out the internal noise with crap TV and pointless social media staring (which, I won’t lie, I did a fair bit of in plucking up the courage to write this), I know in my heart that my best means of finding some clarity and peace of mind is through writing. Which is why, after several aborted attempts at updating this blog, I’ve finally sat down to do it. And also why I’ve taken the big decision to reassess my writing priorities, to take time out of screenplay writing and go back to what I love most: novel writing.

And what better way to get back into that than by attempting NaNoWriMo again in November? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done it before, how many first drafts of novels are languishing in the metaphorical drawer, dusty and undeveloped. And I’ve no reason to think this time will be any different. Given how crazy life is at the moment I’ve no reason to think I will even manage to complete it. I just know I want to do it, or try to do it, to get the creative juices flowing again – and drown out those hateful voices telling me that I’ll never be good enough.

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Thought this was particularly appropriate given the circumstances. Come on NaNoWriMo, let’s get that crappy first draft underway..

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
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Sadness, and new friends

Sometimes in life things happen that shake your faith in all that’s good in the world in ways you never imagined possible. One such thing happened last weekend, when a new friend was tragically killed in a car accident. I say “new” friend because we had only met him and his beautiful girlfriend two weeks previously, at the wedding of a mutual friend in Scotland. As fate would have it Travelodge had overbooked and as a result the four of us were selected by the bride and groom to share a luxury lodge in the grounds of a 5* hotel. The lodge overlooked a golf course and was absolutely charming. Needless to say we had a wonderful weekend, not only at the wedding itself but also at the hotel the next day, where the four of us made full use of the spa facilities, sitting in the jacuzzi and sauna for an age and even sampling the kids’ water slide (!) and the mini golf in the grounds (or rather, the boys played mini golf whilst Sarah and I faffed around in the changing rooms-standard female behaviour). When we said goodbye we vowed to meet up before Sarah and Paul went back to Australia, where they’ve been living for a year. Though we hardly knew them we felt that exciting spark of possibility, the likes of which become rarer with age. We sensed we might just have met friends for life, and it was a lovely feeling.

To say it was a shock to hear from Sarah last week and find out Paul had been killed in an accident the previous weekend would be grossly understating the breadth and scope of emotions that accompanied such tragic news. A tidal wave of sadness washed over me. Then, as the flood waters began to recede just a little, came a powerful aftershock of anger. I’ve struggled with the concept of religious faith for many years, and this has rocked the foundations of my fragile beliefs more than anything I can remember. I always felt deep down that everything happened for a reason, but now I’m floundering and at a loss for what possible reason there could be for such a wonderful human being to be taken away in the prime of his life, leaving a trail of sadness and a gaping hole in his wake.

If there can be any solace at all from this utterly tragic loss it is that we have gained a wonderful, warm-hearted and genuine friend in Sarah, and that we have seen true friendship in the coming together of Sarah and Paul’s friends over the past few days. With what little faith I’ve managed to cling onto I am praying with all my might for Sarah and all of Paul’s friends and family, that they may find the strength to get through this awful time. And I’m thanking God for having brought Paul into our lives, even though it was for such a painfully short time.

The Wait

This wasn’t the first time Carrie had been late, but today Max was worried. He’d been waiting for nearly twenty minutes and every further second that passed felt like the ticking of a bomb. His shirt was drenched in sweat and he knew his hands would be trembling were they not stuffed deep into his pockets.

Why was he so worried? He had no reason to be. She’d seemed fine when she left the house yesterday-all smiles in fact. But she’d left her phone on the kitchen work top so he couldn’t call her now to check she was alright. Not that she’d have her phone with her now anyway, he thought.

Don’t panic, he told himself as he checked his watch for the hundredth time. She’ll be here. She’ll be safe. An unwanted image popped into his head of a mangled car wreck with a pale, slender arm extended through a broken window. He shook his head as if the physical motion of the gesture would dislodge the negative thought. It didn’t.

He wasn’t sure he’d ever felt such strength of passion towards her as he did in these interminable moments of not knowing she was safe. For five years now they’d been almost inseparable, and all of a sudden as he stood here waiting for her and thoughts of losing her sprang unbidden and unwelcome into his mind he felt he simply couldn’t live without her.

As his fretting reached a crescendo music began seeping through the window of his consciousness. A flurry of movement brought him back to himself and his immediate environment. The heavy wooden door creaked open behind him and his heart leapt into his mouth as realisation dawned. She was here, at last. And in a matter of only a few minutes more, she would be his wife.

Emma & Harry’s wedding: The aftermath

Needless to say the rest of yesterday’s wedding festivities were a rip roaring success, though they led to a fair few sore heads this morning. Fortunately for those of us staying at Cameron House Hotel the spa facilities were on hand to soothe the pain, and after a sauna and jacuzzi things began to look up.

The bride and groom had organised a barbecue at the rugby club in Helensburgh for those wedding guests who didn’t have to shoot off, and the turn out was predictably good. We had a fun afternoon going over the previous day’s antics and continuing the celebrations before people gradually began to drift off to the airport and train station and make their long journeys home.

Fortunately for us we’d had the foresight to book an extra night in Helensburgh so have had a leisurely evening stroll to the Wee Kelpy fish and chip shop and are now back to veg out and watch the Shawshank Redemption before bed. We may be in a Travelodge but it’s possibly the best appointed one I’ve ever stayed in, looking right out over the sea and the wild Scottish landscape. Right now I feel a million miles away from city living and (residual headache aside) I have to say it feels fantastic.