Archive | October, 2010

Drifting

28 Oct

I read an interesting blog comment over on Any Other Wedding yesterday. Little Wife to Little Mama shared her story about a friendship coming to an end as she and another girl found that their interests just weren’t compatible any more. Her friend was keen to go out drinking, but unwilling to compromise and have dinner or just hang out.

I’ve been in the same position, but for opposite reasons. My best friend from school stopped wanting to have big nights out, but also gradually phased me out while I tried to arrange lower-key gatherings that might be more suitable to her. We didn’t speak for four years. Our lives have come back into sync in the past few years – it’s still a little tentative, but we’re getting there.

I often think that friendships are far more difficult than relationships. With relationships, when you have problems, you make a conscious decision to either end things or try to work at it.  With friendships, when people grow apart, all that’s left is one embarrassed person trying to keep the lines of communication open.

I read a comment from the ditcher’s perspective recently, and was horrified to see her say how pathetic she thought her friend was as she tried to keep the friendship going, when she just wanted her to go away. It was so sad to think that someone could consciously treat someone they were supposed to care about that way.

I’m not suggesting that every random acquaintance should be formalised, but we all know the type of friend to whom we owe more than a “sorry – I’m busy”.

Jesse’s Irritations

27 Oct

Remember this guy?

(source)

Well, this week, I ‘ave been mostly irritated by…

Jeremy Hardy. Frankly, he is ruining the usually wonderful and hilarious News Quiz on Radio 4 with his irrelevant socialist BS. Start being funny or shut up, old man of squeaky voice.

Engagement shoots with that eyes closed, “we’re so in love” shot. I’m sure you are, but photos are either candid, or they’re posed. There is no “we hired you for an hour and you just happened to come across us during a really tender, intimate moment”.

Really, truly awful spelling and grammar. I could care less about loosing weight, but that’s a whole nother topic.

The fact that every once-in-a-while, ITV shows something brilliant, but not often enough that you might catch an advert for the next wonderful thing while watching the current one. As an aside, my friend Ciara and her sister used to use “ITV watcher” as an insult while fighting. Hilarious!

X Factor. Everybody loves it. Apparently there are four of us in the world who think that it’s actually contributing to the decline in society.

Clearly toasted cheese and Marmite sandwiches are the only answer.

Moptastic

23 Oct

I love it when I can feel winter approaching! First sign – Mop in town. The High Street closes down completely from Friday night to Sunday morning, and the funfair takes over. I was terribly deprived as a child – my Dad has always been a bit sceptical over the safety of fairground rides; hates goldfish and would never let me have one of those giant sugar dummies. Because of this, I absolutely adore the fair. Throughout my teens, it was the social event of the year – a number of pubs in town would turn a complete blind eye to underage drinking, and you would spin in the Cage until either it, or the Smirnoff Ice, made you sick. What can I say? Rural life is exciting!

Nowadays, things are slightly different. Bizarrely enough, I still go to the same pub, but I don’t have to lurk in the shadows while my more developed friend goes to buy the drinks. I have also got over my “ugh, only laddy girls drink pints” phase. Unfortunately, grown-ups who like to be turned upside-down and shaken, both literally and metaphorically, are getting fewer and further between. Thank heavens, therefore, for my brilliant husband, who is just as much of a child as I am – and that includes enjoying a cheeky trip to One Stop for a pocket-sized bottle of nasty brandy to keep the cold at bay.

Meg seems to love the weather as well. She’s constantly sniffing at the air, trying to figure out why it seems different. Or, with the amount of time I’m spending with her, I’m assigning far too much of a personality. At the moment, she seems pissed off with me. After weeks of her biting my hair, I decided to borrow Mum’s air-in-a-can. Two squirts into the air, and she’s eyeing me with suspicion, but the fact that I can cuddle her without her trying to gnaw off my nose is a great blessing… Unless she’s saving it up for when I least expect it. Those big brown puppy dog eyes can be deceiving.

Picture using Hipstamatic iPhone app. Because I’m such a hipsta.

Teeny Tiny Blog

22 Oct

A few years ago, I performed an audit of a record label. One of the fun things we auditors have to do is count stock to make sure that the figures on their books is correct. Sometimes it’s fun – for example the bra factory where we were allowed to visit the staff shop – while some can be awful, like the meat factory where the animals came in live and left in small packets. This one was somewhere in between.

The record label was one of those achingly-hip places full of muso types and beautiful girls with blue dreadlocks. They generally dealt with music that would come under the title “alternative” as their genres were a more fluid state; using words that I didn’t really understand, like acid and dubstep. Nothing will make you feel more square than being an accountant in one of those places. They had achieved success by bringing one well-known American band’s music to the UK, but that was the only band I had ever heard of. Standing in a warehouse full of thousands upon thousands of CDs and vinyl records, thinking of the hours spent making music that I, and everyone I know, would probably never hear raised a question:

What is the point?

I stalk my Site Stats far more than is probably healthy. A new click gets me terribly excited, even though my better half points out that it doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody has read the post! I often wonder how people like the former Weddingbee crew or other bloggers with a pre-made audience deal with the excitement.

Really though, is that what it’s all about? The lure to industries such as music, art and writing is multiple. There’s money, of course. It is thought of as vulgar to do it purely for the feeling of having an audience, but the success of reality TV proves that fame is a big pull. So, what if you’re a teeny tiny blog writer (a writer of a teeny tiny blog, that is; nothing teeny tiny about this writer!) or an obscure musician – there’s no fame; and an intimate audience delivers a very different kind of joy to the buzz of applause.

It seems a bit twee to claim to do things for all the right reasons – and almost an attempt to imply that you are the only one who is doing so. During the annual podcast awards, one podcaster irritates me no-end when he insists repeatedly that people should not nominate his podcast (I say his – he handles the technical stuff and lurks in the background, making negative comments) because “that’s not why he does it”. I do just as he says.

This is something I’m figuring out. One thing that I have lost over the years is the thrill of being genuinely good at something. Accountancy exams are something that we’re dragged through, kicking and screaming. There is only pass or fail, so there is no reason to push on to do better. Results days are met with relief, not accomplishment, and it’s on to the next sitting.

I’d like to be a good writer. I’ve got the grammar thing down, save for a bit of poetic licence and the odd typo, but when it comes to actually talking about things that mean a lot to me, I’d like to be much, much more articulate. I suppose the answer is practice, so practise I will!

Honeymoon – San Francisco

20 Oct

Day One

The morning after the wedding, we were up at 6am to leave for the airport, for our horribly long flight to San Francisco.

This was our first time flying Premium Economy with Virgin, and it was worth every penny. Patrick’s great height means that the length of his thighs is equal to the distance between the back of the seat in front to the furthest back point that you can sit. If the person in front keeps their seat upright, it’s uncomfortable; if they lay it back, it’s unbearable. Politely ask someone not to put their seat back, you say? Yeah, we tried that once… It turns out that people are extremely rude! Who knew? Anyway, seeing as my beloved is deemed some kind of space-waster by the powers-that-be, the only answer is to splurge.

The first leg of our Californian Extravaganza was a two night stay in San Francisco – city of love, cable cars and serious hills. I’m a big Charmed fan, so I was really looking forward to experiencing this picturesque and eclectic city. We landed at around 2pm local time, which was actually 10pm back in the UK, so were fairly knackered. The plan for our first afternoon was to check into the Sheraton at Fisherman’s Wharf before heading out to Chinatown for an early supper.

The hotel was very pleasant – a bit business-oriented, but with spacious, clean rooms and excellent facilities. Navigating the city was tricky and it was significantly colder than we had imagined. After some serious sleep-deprivation, we were just about ready to jump into the first restaurant we saw – not the greatest start! After some pretty horrific all-you-can-eat dim sum – just thinking about the non-specific mince makes me a little queasy – we decided we’d be best off getting an early night.

Heading back to the hotel, we seemed to attract every crazy, rambling, homeless person. Having lived in London and Birmingham – the latter in some very dodgy areas – I can honestly say that I had never felt unsafe walking around a city until we were in San Francisco. An attempt at using the cable car was disastrous – the queues were about three cars’ worth long. Once you’re on, it’s a bit of a crazy ride – I was too busy trying to cling on for dear life to really make the most of the scenery.

Day one written off due to excessive tiredness, we were in bed by 8pm!

Day Two

Today, we planned to visit Alcatraz, to do some general exploring, and dinner at the Stinking Rose. Our body clocks were still a little crazy, so we were up super early and decided to make the most of it by hitting the gym! The hotel’s gym was lovely, and we worked hard to earn a proper American buffet breakfast of waffles, bacon and sausage.

We decided to carry on the activity kick and walk to Lombard Street, San Francisco’s unique zig-zagged private road. It was very cool to see how the city formed around the crazy landscape. Despite having packed for what we had imagined to be a typical Californian August, we managed to scrape together enough warm layers – as well as a hot coffee – to make the day’s sightseeing a bit more comfortable.

A quick stop at the world-famous Ghirardelli’s and then we headed down to the docks to catch the boat to Alcatraz.

The Alcatraz tour was a really amazing experience. The atmosphere on the island is so eerie, and learning about the varied history was fascinating. We all know about its role as a high-security prison, housing some of the most dangerous criminals of its time, but I didn’t know about the island’s importance in the fight for Native American rights.

The cells were absolutely tiny, and it’s amazing to think of the difference between what we consider to be basic human rights now and then. One particularly interesting fact was that Alcatraz was one of the only prisons of its time to use hot water, because they didn’t want the inmates to become so acclimatised to cold water that they could swim away with any ease.

The island is a nature reserve now, and the plants were really beautiful. It also offered some spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge , which seemed to be half-swallowed by the cloud.

Back on the mainland, we decided to find a City Tour bus to soak up as many of the sights as possible in our last afternoon. Unfortunately, we had no luck finding the always-reliable and sensibly-priced City Sightseeing bus, so we gave the first one we saw a try. How much? Try twice the price of a City Sightseeing bus!

The cold weather was starting to cause some serious sense of humour failure, especially when the only words you could actually understand over the speaker were “you think it’s cold now? Just wait til we get to the bridge!” Ha, frickin’ ha. We abandoned the bus at the Golden Gate Bride, and bought coffee to warm our hands. It turns out that public transport in San Francisco isn’t half bad (considering I live in Wiltshire!) and so we got a proper, fully-closed bus back to have dinner at the Stinking Rose.

The Stinking Rose was one of the things I was most looking forward to about our trip. The whole restaurant is a shrine to garlic – every dish contains the stuff! The food was spectacular – they start you off with a bowl of garlic and parsley in oil, with a tonne of bread. Patrick had meat loaf, and I ordered pork chop, as it’s one of the things that American restaurants do spectacularly well.

Pork chop is just a run-of-the-mill Thursday night dinner type of thing here, but our cousins across the pond manage to make it juicy, succulent and the size of your head! Both dishes were delicious, and despite the piles of amazing, garlicky bread, we managed to save some room for the garlic vanilla ice cream! It was very strange, but tasty nonetheless.

The only let-down at this restaurant was the service – I was always led to believe that service in American restaurants is excellent, because serving staff are so dependent on tips. In San Francisco, this didn’t appear to be the case. I don’t know if it’s because we Brits have a bad reputation when it comes to tipping, and so they decide not to bother trying to earn any, but seriously, I’ve had friendlier service in France!

Day Three

The next morning, the barely-Anglophone Eastern European waitress at Bourdain’s Bakery was even worse. I’m a huge believer that the location of your mother’s uterus on your date of birth should not affect how your life works out – I’d campaign for completely open borders if anyone would listen! But I won’t go into how much I feel it’d make the world a better place right here. It just drives me crazy when business owners appoint those who cannot speak English in service positions, just to save a buck.

One of the things I absolutely adore about Californian cuisine is their propensity to put all kinds of foods into bread bowls! I tried a scrummy bacon, mushroom and pepper scramble for breakfast, but the best thing has to be the more liquid things – clam chowder; chilli; soup.

After breakfast, we got a cab to the airport to pick up the hire car and start the road trip. I’m hoping that it was a combination of jet lag and a comedown from the adrenaline of the wedding, but we were so disappointed in San Francisco, and desperately excited to move on to sunnier climes! So many friends and family absolutely adore the city that we are determined to give it another try some day, not least because we would love to take our future children to Alcatraz. If we’d had more time, we would have made sure to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, and if we’d had more money, we’d have stayed in a more intimate boutique hotel. Our recent travels to the same safe places have dulled our exploration skills, and I think those are essential in a city like San Francisco.

I’m aware that the first instalment of our honeymoon write-up may make me sound like a misery-guts, but I promise there are happier times to come!

Coming up – Napa

Back to Earth

15 Oct

I had always been a bit concerned about the so-called post-nuptial depression. The wedding day is a big high, especially when you’ve been gearing up for it for so long. I’m particularly prone to the blues upon returning from holiday, and with the honeymoon (report coming soon!) being such a biggie, I knew that I had to be careful to keep my spirits high when I got home.

A few weeks before the wedding, my full-time contract with an accountancy firm came to an end, with only a few weeks notice. It was a scary position to be in, as between us we have more debt to repay that either of us had really faced up to. The return from honeymoon was going to present us with a number of new lifestyle resolutions.

As it turned out, we got back to reality with the promise of a bump. I had felt a little strange at times on honeymoon, but had just put it down to jet lag and too much rich food, but a pregnancy test confirmed it. We were heading to London that same day for Patrick’s mum’s birthday, so we excitedly shared the news with our respective families.

Despite my determination, I gave in to the pee-on-a-stick obsession, just to be sure that I hadn’t been mistaken. All sources I discovered stated that it’s virtually impossible to get a false positive, but still, I tested again, and got a negative. I felt so silly – we’d rushed to tell everybody and now we were going to have to go “um… sorry.” Consultation with my motherliest of friends told me to ditch the Tesco Value tests (don’t judge me – I’m broke) and splurge on one of the special ones that tells you how many weeks. Since then I have learnt that it’s not really a quality or reliability thing, but simply the sensitivity of the test. If you were to use a cheap one while at basketball-under-jumper stage, you’d definitely get a clear positive, but in the early stages, it’s a bit hit-or-miss.

After forking out for the test, and deciding to actually follow the directions and only test first pee of the morning, I got a positive result, but it said 1-2 weeks, when by my calculations, it should have been much later. This was my first clue that things weren’t going well. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse and over the course of the next week, the pregnancy was no more.

It’s a strange position to be in – to lose an unplanned pregnancy. We were so excited – the second we got a positive, we were delighted about our future – but from our perspective, it wasn’t the tragedy that miscarriage so often means. For one thing, it helped us to realise that now is absolutely the right time for us. It confirmed that should we choose to try again, neither of us faced any of the fertility issues that can be so trying for some couples.

I’m not saying that the experience hasn’t been difficult – I feel like everyone I know, from friends and neighbours to the writers of the wedding blogs I used to read, is pregnant. I’m working hard not to feel envious, but it’s not easy. Then there’s the blame game – at the early stage I was, they insist that it’s “one of those things”, but when you think of rollercoasters, margaritas and all the fun-yet-forbidden things you did before you were aware that you were pregnant, it’s difficult not to question. We’ve resolved to pick up, dust off and try again.

Think the week couldn’t get much worse? Well, I don’t know if it was down to the week we were having already, but somehow we managed to oversleep and miss our flights to Romania for my dear friend’s wedding, and – financial situation raising its ugly head once again – there was no way we could afford to take another flight. I was so gutted – she means the world to me and I hate that I missed it.

We decided that it was time to lift ourselves out from under the raincloud. Patrick’s dad and step-mum had very kindly agreed to buy us a puppy as a wedding present. As I would now be working from home, it was the perfect time to go and find our new furbaby.

I’d like to introduce you all to the newest addition to our family – Meg. She is a 12-and-a-half-week old yellow labrador-cum-foot-warmer, and both the highlight and bane of my existence! We picked her up five weeks ago from a lovely family in Corsham, and she has turned our household upside down.

I have become one of those people – the ones who talk about their pets as if they are children. Don’t write me off as the crazy cat lady just yet, but this really does feel like a practice run for when we manage to fall pregnant again. Don’t believe me?

1. Our lives revolve around the whims of her teeny tiny bladder. The rule of thumb we’ve been given is that up to 6 months of age, they can go one hour per month, plus an additional hour. We’re increasing intervals by fifteen minutes a week, but it means that even now, we take one shift each during the night!

2. We haven’t had a night out since we got her. We’ve met with friends briefly, but she can only spend a few hours in her cage, and with the cold weather setting in, we don’t want to leave her outside. The internet is full of shouty, angry people who will tear your head off if you ask any questions on the subject. Be warned.

3. We post about her on Facebook incessantly. Actually, it’s Patrick more than me, but that’s because I’m so aware of not being the incessant Facebook posting person!

4. Sometimes, we just sit and look at her, and that’s enough.

5. It’s impossible to go to the loo alone any more.

There’s a difference; I know. But just having her here definitely makes us feel like more than just a couple: a family.

One Late Summer’s Day in Wiltshire

13 Oct
I remember reading a post on A Practical Wedding, where Meg talked about her fear of forgetting how it felt on her wedding day, and it’s something I can completely relate to. I’ve left it so late to write this down – I’m terrified of it slipping away. I loved every aspect of our wedding day, except how quickly it flew by.
  
We did all we could to drag it out – starting with a rehearsal dinner the night before at our regular haunt, Pino’s. We took over an entire room of the restaurant and tucked into their delicious pizzas before a swift last drink in our usual pub. It was really cool to have all our favourite people in our same-old haunts. One of the loveliest things about getting married in our home town was definitely the act of adding the special to the familiar.

Back to the house with three of my bridesmaids for a glass of wine and bed. I woke up early the next morning to a phone call from Patrick, informing me that my present had been hidden behind the bed for the past few weeks – a framed original sketch from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I grew up addicted to the film and the read-along story book, and this was definitely a way to make up to me the fact that he won’t let me call our first daughter Aurora! Once the other bridesmaids arrived, we breakfasted on croissants and champagne while the make-up artist and hairdresser started work on making us beautiful! The all-important dress was by Disney Fairytale Weddings designer, Kirstie Kelley, and was found purely by fate! Some of you will know what a massive Disney fan I am; others may know my disdain for how strapless dresses sit on me. If I were I slender size 6, I might have fancied the look of one of the more ethereal styles that look so beautiful, but I am most certainly not – I wanted straps and boning and beautiful, beautiful material. It seemed like it just wasn’t possible to find a dress that addressed my three wants, but by some miracle I found this one – in my size, in a tiny boutique in a nearby town, within my budget, and as a bonus – with a Disney label! My veil was from Etsy seller Damselfly Studio, and I found the perfect lariat necklace at Liberty in Love. The shoes were hot pink Louboutin, with as killer heels as I could muster – my groom is a clear foot taller than me!

The girls and Mum went on ahead; it started to rain as we left the house, but all I could really focus on was not crying! I’m a big crybaby – anything can set me off, from Westlife songs to Cancer Research ads. I bawled for about half an hour when Patrick proposed!

Waiting outside the church was such a rush – nerves and excitement. The day had been so long in the planning, and now it was finally here! When you walk down the aisle, I swear it’s impossible to look elegant and ethereal – grinning hello at lovely friends and family on either side and clinging for dear life on dear old Dad’s arm. Some of the ceremony was a blur – I don’t remember the hymns. I do, however, remember how cool it was to hear and say those words that I’d seen at numerous weddings (excluding bridesmaid Helen’s – she went for the full “love honour and obey” malarkey!) and yet feel like they were completely ours.

Patrick’s Uncle Alastair, a former Baptist minister, gave the address based upon my Granny’s reading from Collossians. I can’t hear I Corinthians without thinking of Four Weddings and a Funeral, so we asked Patrick’s uncle to choose the reading for us. The essence of the address really meant a lot to us, especially as it is sometimes difficult to defend the choice of marriage when you are both children of divorced parents.

He spoke of the importance of “putting on” the behaviours and actions of love; and the message that a marriage takes work, and that it’s something we will always have to actively decide to strive for. I’d like to hope that I never got overly caught up in the superficial elements of the day to the detriment of its more sober meaning, but the address really helped to cement the more serious aspects in the middle of it all, and we were so grateful to Alastair for bringing it to the forefront in such a good way.

Our lovely friend Sam and his brother, Nico, sang an amazing a cappella version of a song that we love called Promise by Kellie Coffey. The song is played as Epcot, one of the parks at Walt Disney World closes down each night, and the lyrics are just beautiful. As we stepped out of the church, the bells began to ring, the rain seemed to disappear and the sun came beaming through. We just couldn’t have wished for better luck.

We moved up to the marquee at the rugby club where Patrick plays, where the reception was starting. After we were announced, we cut the cake. My sister-in-law and bridesmaid, Robin, started her bakery, Cakes by Robin, back in 2008 after being made redundant from the banking industry. Her cakes are incredible – not only beautiful but really delicious. We gave her basic guidelines, and requested a combination of grapefruit and vanilla, and she did the rest! She also has a store at Not on the High Street, where you can order her cakes directly – perfect with Christmas coming up! Our escort cards doubled up as favours – miniature bottles containing lottery tickets for that evening, with parcel tags indicating which table – named after pubs that had featured prominently throughout our relationship.

 

While we’re talking about suppliers, I just have to sing all of their praises. Hamish Roots, our photographer, did a spectacular job. He is the ultimate stealth photographer – he caught so many beautiful, candid shots of our guests, and all of the photos in this post are his work. I’m a complete flower newbie, so our florist – Wendy Lewis – was an enormous help. She managed to get just the right balance of rustic and romantic in my bouquet, and captured the gentle Alice in Wonderland theme in the centrepieces perfectly.

The food was spectacular – Patrick and I both agreed that it was the most important thing apart from the marriage itself! We used a local caterer, Moran’s, and the only thing stopping me from taking a third helping of their signature bay-flavoured creme brulee was the corsetry of my dress! Our marquee was provided by Marquee Vision, who just had the best customer service and quality product of any marquee company in the area.
 
Before this starts to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech, I will carry on with the day! We spread the speeches out, so as not to bore people. My Dad, Patrick, and Patrick’s best friend George are some of the most verbose people I know, so they had to be broken up a little! My favourite part of other people’s weddings is the father of the bride speech, and Dad did not disappoint! There was laughter – especially when a slip of the tongue found him saying “fart” instead of “heart” (we’re a sophisticated bunch) just as he moved from joking about my ex-boyfriends to the serious part of the speech – and tears as he said how proud Grandad would have been, had he been alive today. Patrick brought the hankies out further, as he described what had happened a year earlier. George had people in stitches with his very management consultant-esque PowerPoint presentation, complete with pie charts.
 
It had been gently raining throughout lunch, but as soon as we got outside again, the sun burnt through and a game of rounders started up. Well, with Patrick’s friends, and my family, there was no chance of it being a competition-free day! I even scored a few myself, with some help from a lady-in-waiting to hold my skirts!
 
At around 6pm, the evening guests started to arrive, and the dancing began! We had ummed and aahed about the music situation, but in the end couldn’t bear to risk something so important being compromised by someone who liked the sound of their own voice, or who played too much current chart music, and the only good DJ we know was going to be a guest. The combination of laptop, iTunes and PA system worked like a dream, even when naughty youngsters had a go at making their own playlists! We had dance lessons in preparation for our first dance by REO Speedwagon, and our friends and family were very amused to see two klutzes actually move with some grace! Of course, dancing can result in some of the most awesome pictures ever, as evidenced by this masterpiece by our friend Chris. Thankfully the suit hire people didn’t deduct for the friction burns from Patrick’s kneeslide a few seconds before this was taken! The night finished off with a demonstration of Patrick’s party trick – downing a pint while standing on his head.
 
It was such an exhausting, exhilarating, wonderful day – just the right combination of traditional, sentimental and personal. I worried that I’d feel so sad once it was over, that it was something I’d never have to look forward to, but I’m surprised and pleased to say that hasn’t happened – I still feel so joyful that we were able to enjoy such an amazing day with the people who mean the world to us.
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