Goodness me, where to begin? I haven’t posted since November and so much has happened since then…
1. Way back in November I flew back to the UK and was finally reunited with the man I love. I hope we will never have to spend 100 days apart again.
He picked me up from Heathrow after my 23 hour flight bearing a beautiful bouquet of flowers… and a bucket half full of water. For the flowers. Isn’t that just the most wonderfully practical and romantically thoughtful combination?
2. Once I’d unpacked and rested for a couple of days, we drove in his campervan through the misty English autumnal countryside to Maesyronan in South Wales where we stayed in a lovely cottage beside an old Unitarian Chapel, surrounded by fields, hills, hedgerows and trees.
We went for long walks and read books by the fire. We admired the sunrise and the sunset and each other. We snuggled and ate and talked and played and were treated to a rousing rendition of ‘Rock of Ages’ through the walls on Sunday morning. The choir were so dedicated, in fact, that they had even all gathered in this remote spot to practice in the dark and chill of the winter’s evening two nights before.
We were also able to pop over to Hay-on-Wye for lunch with a very dear friend of mine, as well as stopping off for lunch with Ed’s uncle and his husband – who were once again as welcoming and charming as two people could possibly be – on our way back to Bristol.
3. From Bristol, Ed’s base, we made an excursion to visit the organic apple farm out in the Somerset valleys where we’ll be getting married. Its lovely. Absolutely what we need and want.
The site of an ancient (probably Roman originally, certainly pre-medival) watermill, there are several old stone buildings – some already restored, some still crumbling softly – and a stream running through the land, girded by willows. There’s an apple orchard and a little round flower garden which we’ll use as a focal point for guests to arrive and mingle accompanied by our Gypsy/Folk/Oompah band. There are open meadows for the ceremony, plenty of space for the marquee (which will be bright yellow and gaily patterned) and a field for tents or campervans, as well as an old avenue of trees where we’re planning all sorts of country-fair type games for the children (tug-of-war, treasure-hunt, wang-a-wellie, pony rides etc).
This slightly shambolic rural idyll is presided over by an idiosyncratic chap called Richard who arrived from Los Angeles 30 years ago, bought the land and has slowly but surely transformed it (with an army of young volunteers on working holidays) from a decaying ruin into a working farm producing organic apple juice as well as fresh fruit and veg for the local market, transforming himself into more of a local than many of the locals in the process.
Having said all that, I’m also glad we went to visit it so I could see the inside of the farmhouse. Richard is a bachelor and most of his volunteer helpers seem to be students barely out of their teens: their idea of a decent bathroom and mine do not coincide. So, I’ll be spending the night before the wedding in a nearby holiday cottage with my family. That way, I have somewhere clean and in full working order where I can get dressed and so do the bridesmaids. Ed and I will spend our wedding night in our campervan, at the farm, after the hog-roast, speeches, dancing, bonfire, fireworks and cocoa and cookies that will round off the evening
4. Next stop was a day and night at Ed’s Mum’s house in Salisbury, where we paid flying visits to several friends of hers who very kindly wished to congratulate us on our engagement and hear our story first hand. Champagne was drunk and new friends were made, as old links were strengthened by a shared joy.
5. Thus fortified, we drove what seemed endless miles over to Norfolk on England’s east coast (Bristol is on the west coast) to meet up with my family, gawd help us, who were gathering for my sister’s wedding on the following day.
My parents were predictably detached but well-meaning. A friend of mine had very generously lent her 8 bedroom house to us all so we could stay in one place, at no cost, which was lovely. Ed and I did most of the grocery-shopping, cooking, cleaning, organising of transport and general hosting with help from my youngest sister and her boyfriend. My parents just sat around reading and drinking tea, waiting to be fed and generally wishing to be left in peace.
I’m afraid that my oldest niece is going through one of those trying periods when children become spoilt and precocious little pests, constantly interrupting the grown-ups for attention and manipulating her parents by playing each off against the other to get what she wants. The youngest niece, however, showed excellent taste by falling for Ed
We enjoyed the wedding – my sister looked so beautiful and so happy – but it reinforced for us that we don’t want such a traditional or formal event for our own marriage celebrations. Which is lucky because its going to be colourful bedlam.
Also, I had picked up a god-awful stomach bug the day before. But we shan’t go into that.
6. After a very hasty lunch with an old pal of mine who took over running the illustration agency in the UK from me when I moved here… we then jumped back in the campervan for another looooooooonnnnnnnngggg drive down to Brighton on the south coast. For why? To have a chat with the old family friend of Ed’s folks who has agreed to officiate at our wedding ceremony. He was at University with Ed’s Dad and married both Ed’s brothers, as well as conducting Ed’s Dad’s funeral service. He’s also a warm, kind, calm and wise gentleman who was a delight to spend an afternoon with and we’re both thrilled that he’ll be guiding us and our guests through the day.
7. Tintern Abbey (or at least, the pub next door) was the venue for our next lunch, this time with one of ‘my’ artists and his wife. Having stuffed ourselves on bangers and mash we trundled off for a jolly nice walk through the winter mud along the river, chatting happily about wildlife, art, marriage, moving to the countryside, chickens (I thought of you, Mr Random) and the Black Death [I can’t help it, medieval settings set me off. Inconceivable that 30-60% of the population of Europe died because of this – then – mysterious pathogen, and yet it happened].
8. My niece’s fourth (yup, count ’em) birthday lunch at a pizza restaurant in Winchester was enlivened by her sugar-fuelled stroppiness so Ed and I made a swift exit and headed for the College grounds where Ed was a schoolboy. He showed me the little river where he and our mutual good friend Olly had rowed together for the school, constantly berated by a coach with a pathological need to prove something to someone it seems. As can be the case with so many of the preceptors of our youth, he comprehensively ruined the activity for them, draining the joy out of it just as if he’d let the plugs out of their boats.
We kissed beside the playing fields where his younger self had forcibly participated in competitive team sports and wondered what that lonely, grieving and unhappy boy would make of his older self, whole and loved and happy. Some ghosts were settled down to rest.
9. Back to the campervan and on to Ed’s middle brother’s home for a warm and mature welcome from his 14 year old nephew and the other kids plus assorted dogs, cats and miniature horses. Their family really is a family. If we’re fortunate enough to be able to have children, we’ll be taking tips by the skipful from this lot.
10. On to London! An early start and a packed car, boys absorbed in ipods and nintendos, arriving at the home of Ed’s eldest brother in Kensington to find he and his wife happily moving furniture out of the ground floor reception rooms to make space for our engagement party which they had very kindly offered to host.
Enough champagne, wine, juice and soft drinks were put on ice to have refloated Titanic, their longstanding family housekeeper and her husband were on duty to pour and top-up, ably abetted by both sets of nephews and nieces circulating very professionally with canapés (at their age my brother and I would have been in a broom cupboard stuffing our faces in an orgy of prawns and filo pastry), and a good time was had by all. Even us. And we hate parties.
Our friends came and were delighted for us. Ed’s eldest brother made a lovely speech. We made sickeningly smooshy eyes at each other. My parents didn’t make it, but I had warned Ed’s side of the family that they wouldn’t, so nobody was terribly surprised. My brother and sister (the one that wasn’t on her honeymoon in Las Vegas) came, both having made fair schlepps from outside London on a week night.
My new red frock – bought specially for the occasion – was a success. It was comfortable and reasonably stylish while at the same time enabling Ed and his Mum to point me out from across the room to their family and friends who hadn’t yet met me “She’s the tall blonde in the red dress, you can’t miss her”.
11. The next morning we were given a lift all the way to the airport by Ed’s eldest brother – who fills the long vacant ‘father’ role in as many practical ways as he can I think – and then we collapsed onto the flight back to Sydney. And I do mean collapsed, having both picked up a dose of flu from the nephews. Mine laid me low for almost the whole first week we were in Sydney – hardly the introduction to our lives together in the Love Nest that I had planned – but Ed was marvellously kind and patient and caring as I lurched around, alternately sweating and shivering, coughing like a coal-miner and blowing my brains out through my nose.
12. And since then? Well, hold on tightly to the edge of your seats, folks, for the next installment of ‘My Life As An Eventually-Requited Unrequited Secret Romantic’.
P.S. I shall add some photos on Friday. Tomorrow is Australia Day and so we’ll be picnicing in our flat with friends and watching the ferry race.