‘No, thank you, I don’t want to call my mother’

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This weekend we were back in the UK for our final wedding of the year for what has been quite a hectic couple of months, nuptials wise. We have been absolutely delighted to be a part of so many wonderful celebrations and have some fabulous memories of all the weddings we’ve attended this year. This last marriage of our wedding season was a family affair and involved our basing ourselves at the fiancé’s parents and then travelling to the venue from there the night before and returning the day after.

We set off from the fiancé’s familial homestead (and in case I’m not being clear by ‘fiancé’ I am either referring to my fiancé or the imminent groom to be, I did say it was a family shindig) and our journey took us past our old neighbourhood, the lovely London borough of Greenwich, where our two-bed flat, now rented to strangers, lies. As those in the car pointed out various local markres I decided to avert my eyes and stare fixedly at the foot-well of the back passenger seat. As my fellow travellers tried to engage my attention as we passed the turning leading to our road I quietly mumbled ‘I don’t want to look’ and fervently hoped I could avoid having to explain why. Fortunately there was enough excited pre-wedding chatter to save me from having to admit the truth.

On the post-wedding return journey on Sunday morning as we again neared the approach to our old flat, the question was innocently put ‘would you like to drive past your flat?’ At this point, as nonchalantly as possible, whilst trying to be clear and audible, I again politely declined the offer. I then decided that, to be on the safe side, I would stare fixedly at my phone, in case the driver hadn’t heard and decided a drive-by was something we should do.

The desire to avoid seeing the flat I no longer live in reminded me of when I took part in a French exchange visit arranged through school when I was 13 or 14 and on my arrival the mother of my host family asked me if I wanted to call my mum.

In my best schoolgirl French I politely declined, however my best schoolgirl French was far from fluent and I could see the host mother trying to work out if I just hadn’t understood the question. In fairness my answer was probably something like ‘no thank you, I no mother call’, which I understand could be open to interpretation. Perhaps she thought I was worried they’d charge me or that I was trying to explain I’d like to call my mother but not understanding they were offering for me to do so. She eventually ascertained that I didn’t want to but now accepting that my French was enough to understand the question, she clearly couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to call my own mother and kept asking me, every day, if I wanted to call.

After a week in to the two-week exchange I thought I’d better accept the offer so as not to raise suspicions of being some sort of wayward, sociopathic, anti-familial devil creature residing in her house and corrupting her daughter. So, unwillingly, I caved and called home. My mum was pretty surprised to hear from me and instantly wondered if everything was alright, after all why else would I be calling unless something was wrong? I reassured mum, exchanged a few words, finished the call pretty quickly and then decided to bide my time, in the room they’d suggested I use for privacy during my call. I waited until what I thought host mum would think an appropriate length of time for natural daughter-mother exchanging instincts to be satiated and returned to my French family.

The reason for not wanting to call my mother, was very much the same reason for not wanting to see my flat. It isn’t that I’m an unsentimental hard-hearted wench, who couldn’t give a rat’s behind for my family or the first home I’d bought with my fiancé. It was rather the opposite, I knew that in going to France for two weeks there would be certain things about parental home life I would miss, and I knew that leaving the country there would be certain aspects of London I’d miss. For me out of sight out of mind, is something of a survival technique, I know who I am in that respect. I also know that these partings were not forever and that my best course of action is to live in the moment, get on with the current situation and perhaps occasionally indulge in the odd pondering of possible familial or architectural reunions in the not too far distant future.

Homesickness would be a possibility only if I let it and I would prefer to choose not to especially when I knew that in a mere 14 days of French exchange I’d be back in the heart of my family, and I know (or at least tell myself I know) that when (quietening that inner voice that replaces ‘when’ with ‘if’) we return to London, our lovely flat will still be standing and ready and waiting for us. In the meantime the rent is being paid, the place is being lived in and taken care of by our tenants and any concerns on that score are relieved by six monthly reports on the property condition from the managing agents.

So thank you but no, I didn’t want to call my mum right then and no, I don’t want to drive past my house right now and just in case I’m not being clear in English ‘merci, mais non’.

 

 

 

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Ten reasons to love weddings

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1. The groom’s expression when he first spots his bride. I haven’t been disappointed with any of these yet. So grooms if you think no-one is watching you when the bride marches in then think again! On the plus side if your tongue hangs out, you make an eyes wide and circular mouthed ‘ooo’ response or just produce the sappiest grin you never knew you could make, those of us watching you will think it’s rather endearing. If you roll your eyes at your bride’s firework tiara or zombie make-up then maybe rethink whether or not this is the woman for you before you commit yourself with the vows.

2. Everyone is so happy. Or at least at the weddings I’ve been at. I’ve yet to attend one where the bride’s divorced mother and father try to set each other alight with romantic candles or the best man punches the second usher who happens to be the brides brother-in-law after some inappropriate remark, but I’m sure these things must happen.

3. That moment of suspense when the vicar or registrar or whoever asks whether anyone has any objections. Although I know this is unlikely and recognize it really would spoil the wedding I can’t help but eagerly squirm around in my chair to see if anyone is feeling objectionable or hope that the groom’s pre-existing but previously unknown wife comes bursting through the door or something.

4. The wedding dress. I’m sure some brides wear terrible outfits for their own wedding, but on the whole the bride tends to look the loveliest you have ever seen her before. Truly worthy of the ‘ooo’ face the groom is making at the other end of the aisle.

5. Wedding outfits of everyone else. Generally men all look rather dapper in a suit but there is a whole range of options for female guests, members of the bridal party etc that are a feast for the eyes and a source of much amusement as you bravely voice loud approval of the bride’s mums outfit or silently whisper to a friend your condemnation of something another guest is wearing.

6. The ceremony. I like every part of this, I like thinking about why the couple have chosen the readings they have and why certain people have been asked to say certain things. I like hearing the vows and noting the way the couple support each other as they do this. I like heartily agreeing, with the rest of the guests, that we’ll help support the newlyweds in their marriage and really meaning this. I like feeling the love.

7. The free food and drink. Given my passion for eating and drinking you’d think me remiss if I failed to put this in my top ten. Obviously it’s not the best thing about a wedding (if it is that doesn’t say a whole lot about the special day) and I’d still want to go even if I had to pay for all my own beverages and refreshment but I like the drinks on the arrival, the wine at the table and a nice meal shared with happy people whom you may or may not know.

8. The singing. Not always a component of every wedding, tends not to feature so much in civil ceremonies but I do love the opportunity to belt out a song in unison with others, which I tend to otherwise only get the opportunity once a year with Christmas Carols. So long as everyone is singing loudly it really doesn’t matter if you can’t actually sing or not, it’s just fun to all do it together.

9. The dancing. The little ones running around in circles or playing hide and seek behind their mums, the dads breaking out the dance moves, the increasingly drunk guests bouncing around and pretending drunken stumbles were part of the moves they were trying to pull off.

10. Speeches. These are best enjoyed if I’m not giving them. Even if speeches are awful it’s fun to dissect them afterwards and talk about just how awful they were. The Best Man definitely has the hardest job in trying to be amusing without upsetting anyone, remembering to acknowledge the bride and resisting the urge to go too much into a bromance ode of love to the groom, a bit of emotion is nice, wailing throughout the duration so that no-one can hear what you are saying isn’t fun for anyone. Tough gig.

 

The zombie wedding I wasn’t allowed to have

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The engagement and wedding fever

In September 2013 my partner finally gave into familial and societal pressure and after six years together he decided to put an end to my wandering ways, came out to join me at the end of a financially-insensible, three-month, unpaid internship in Cambodia and proposed.

He tells the story slightly differently, something about a romantic setting at one of the wonders of the world (Angkor Wat in Cambodia) blah-de-blah…*

We returned to the UK together: him, one box of jeweled anxiety lighter and me, one bit of bling heavier.

I thought we might be allowed a teeny amount of time to revel in our new found enfiancededyness (should totally be a word) and bask in the happiness of knowing our friends and family can relax and enjoy our betrothal.

However, it turns out that isn’t what happens once you get engaged. What happens is that all that pent-up longing to see us get engaged mutates into a monstrous level of excitement about all things weddingy. Within a week of return I must have been asked approximately 10,000 times when, where and how the wedding was going to take place and who would be invited.

Finding it a bit overwhelming I enlisted the help of some avowed wedding-unenthusiast friends who helpfully suggested a strategy to combat marriage fever. I was to come up with as many ridiculous wedding plans as possible until people got so frightened I was serious they stopped asking me about it.

Of the unsuitable wedding ideas considered, the zombie theme was undoubtedly my favourite and I put a lot of thought into the details to make it convincing.

The zombie wedding plans

Zombie weddingThere would be utilitarian themed wedding invites scraped together from the kind of bits of cardboard you’d find breezing around an apocalyptic London where no-one has time to go to Paperchase anymore.

These would include the necessary logistical information but also references to the need to band together to increase our chances of survival.

I envisaged the wedding itself as a fairly non-eventful affair except that at the part when the Priest invites anyone to declare any reason why we couldn’t get married some ‘zombies’ would bang loudly on the church door and groan.

The service would conclude and guests would be carefully chaperoned to the wedding reception venue by Shaun of the Dead inspired groomsmen armed with cricket bats and old records.

Serving staff would already be undead (I was thinking actors, students or some other bunch of reprobates) with chains to limit their movement. You can take a drink but would have to try not to let them bite you.

For our wedding breakfast we could have provided packets of Wotsits, tins of cold baked beans, mouldy cheese, beer cans and other larder items scavenged from deserted houses. Decorations could have been paperchains fashioned out of blood spattered old newspapers and stubs of candles in old wine bottles would have provided suitable Armageddon-esque romantic lighting. All in keeping with the concept, and cost-effective too.

Rather than the usual party games for tables of strangers, guests would be provided with scrappy pencils and recycled paper and asked to plan their escape from the reception to a nearby safehouse and there’d be a competition to come up with the most inventive way of killing zombies with only the contents of the room available to them.

Photos would have been in two stages. Initially guests in their nice outfits and looking their best. Then we’d have had a face painter whose job would be to gradually transform guests into zombies. Later, another round of photos and if guests happened to be drunk and covered in Wotsit dust by this time then so much the better.

By the end of the night I imagined everyone having been bitten and transformed into a zombie so that party time could be everyone dancing to Thriller on repeat, drinking brain cocktails, eating cake shaped like a decomposing body and occasionally shouting out ‘brains’ to make the zombie bride and groom try to eat each other.

The reaction

My dad, reasonably confident I was joking, entered into the spirit of my zombie wedding idea and at an engagement party took great pleasure in sharing plans with aunts and uncles. He was pretty convincing and the measured looks on their faces as they tried to weigh horror at such an idea against likelihood it was a joke was highly entertaining. Except for Grandma who accepted the concept without question, laughed that she wouldn’t have to dress up and promptly settled herself into an armchair with a glass of sherry.

I got so carried away with the idea of my joke wedding that I managed to convince myself that any alternative would be a disappointment. When it became apparent it was less of a joke than it had initially seemed I received strong feedback from people, fiancé included, that an undead wedding really wasn’t a great idea.

I realized I could maturely respond to wedding excitement had two options:

1) I could find a new fiancé, friends and family that might be onboard with the wedding/judgement day of my imagination.

2) If I wasn’t allowed that wedding I’d have to engineer a situation whereby any wedding seemed wholly unfeasible.

I chose option number two, moved to Geneva and made the poor fella quit his job and follow me to one of the most expensive cities in Europe where we couldn’t afford a wedding (zombie or otherwise) even if we wanted to.**

How d’you like them (rotten) apples, eh?

 


*This is a good test to see if the fiancé actually reads my blog or just pretends to and if he does read it how much trouble I will get in for writing this!
**Please note I may or may not have moved to Geneva for reasons other than avoiding/stalling my own wedding

Strangers are friends you haven’t yet met

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When I was about seven we moved from Surrey to Oxfordshire and a friend of my mother’s presented her with a plate with the words ‘There are no strangers here only friends you haven’t yet met’ curling around the edge and a picture of two presumably stranger friends in the centre.

plate

To my seven year old brain this just didn’t make sense. For one thing I’d had it drummed into me from an early age that you don’t accept sweets from strangers* but if strangers were just friends in the making could you still not accept sweets from them or did that mean you couldn’t accept sweets from friend’s either?

But mostly the plate’s advice just seemed impractical. There are an awful lot of people in the world and most of them are strangers, if they were to become your friends how would you possibly remember everyone’s name and if they don’t become your friends then is that just a massively wasted opportunity? Granted new friend’s made since the tender age of seven have started off as strangers but surely that’s no reason to try and befriend everyone you’ve never met?

I learnt another saying at school that all medicines are drugs but not all drugs are medicines. Now steering clear of debates around benefits of homeopathic remedies this one actually made sense to me and could perhaps be adapted for the plate’s purpose? Something like ‘all friends start off as strangers but not all strangers are your friends’?

Or perhaps the plate just needs a couple of additional lines of text to complete the phrase ‘There are no stranger’s here only friends you haven’t yet met, except for the weirdo’s you should definitely avoid rummaging through the bins looking for razor blades and laughing hysterically at anything David Brent says’ (there go any potential Office fan friends I could have made).

However, last week I was forced to concede that the plate may have a point. The fiancé and I were invited to a wedding in the Algarve, the groom-to-be being a good friend of my fella’s. Aside from the man I’d packed in the suitcase and bought with me, I was going to be spending the week with eight to twelve strangers in our villa and an additional ten in another villa a few minutes down the road.

We arrived a few hours after everyone else to be met with a barrage of people whose names I thought I’d never remember. Afraid of potentially awkward small talk after a long journey and general bewilderment and, being a lover of all things watery, I decided to go for a dip in the pool.

As I bombed into the water and started swimming a few lengths in the cool waters on that first evening, marvelling at the sun setting behind the awesome pine trees fringing the golf course view, I was unsuccessfully trying to pretend the others didn’t exist whilst being overtly conscious of not knowing anyone.

Fast forward to the end of the week and my final swim. That last swim in the fading light, at the same time of day as the first, with the same light shining through the same trees, I couldn’t help but reflect on how different I now felt. I compared that initial awkward swim amongst strangers with the much more enjoyable relaxed swim in the familiar surroundings of the villa where I had shared so many happy memories with new friends.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I had shared a wonderful week, including the most intimate wedding I have ever attended, with all those people I didn’t know who became my friends.

I believe that there are different friends for different times of your life (see ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’) but that doesn’t take away the significance of these friendships. Some of those friendships made will last and some won’t but it doesn’t matter as all of them were important. This particular bunch of strangers actually were all friends in waiting I’d simply not met before.

I like to see the best in people and like to believe that hidden within everyone, admittedly deeper in some than in others, is a decent person. And that is pretty much the same as the plate would have me believe.

So maybe all strangers are potential friends we haven’t yet met or had the chance to get to know properly? Perhaps there is simply more truth in chinaware than we realised? But then again those razor blade hunting bin people do seem pretty weird. Maybe I should get that printed on a plate?


* Interestingly that rule completely goes out the window once you hit adulthood when you can accept all sorts of random things from complete strangers without any qualms. Even where those strangers are obviously trying to influence or entice you in some way: free pens at conference/cereal bars outside stations/ free gifts when you spend a certain amount ring any bells for anyone?