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A blog for Ben

August 28, 2013

Today Ben and I are celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary, and the fact it is exactly 16 years since we first ‘got together’ – an auspicious occasion that involved a few pints of strongbow and a moonlit cruise on the back of a friend’s boat. I was just eighteen years old, and Ben a strapping 24; it was the summer that my friends and I celebrated the end of our A-Levels, where we’d partied in Ibiza, been to our first music festival (I have a vague recollection of telling Justine from Elastica that one day I would marry her boyfriend), pulled pints at a local pub for our cider money – and met a bunch of lads who lived on knackered old boats and who one day walked into said pub and asked us if we’d like to come see their kittens.

A ruse that worked, disarmingly so (my mother should have taught me better), and which led to Ben and I, after a series of false starts and exes who shall remain nameless, to finally exchange the first kiss that would herald a change in direction of both our lives. Over the next decade and a half we would get through four boats, nine cars, travel round Europe and across the world, be broke, be broken, live abroad, get a cat, bury a goldfish, and, most importantly, get married.

We were pretty much the first of our friends to do so, and even though we took a while (seven years) it never felt that long, or even occurred to us to do it any sooner. Incidentally, we chose the same date as the date we’d started to go out, as neither of us could be relied upon to remember two different anniversaries.

The proposal wasn’t exactly romantic. We were on holiday in Turkey, and sat in a beautiful garden restaurant, under lemon and orange trees. It was a popular restaurant, and busy, and we’d been asked to double up with another English couple, to save on space. I don’t remember their names, but I recall he was an antiques dealer, and throughout the meal he regaled us with tales of people he’d ripped off through one scam or another involving dodgy Stradivariuses and veneered furniture. His wife would keep interrupting him to say he was telling the story all wrong, and he would bite back, telling her she was a stupid old woman and nobody wanted to listen to what she had to say.

The food was delicious – the company hell. Ben and I were torn between bolting our many courses quickly and leaving, or lingering over the pudding and hoping they would tire of their one-upmanship, and go. Eventually they left and we breathed a sigh of relief. I turned to him and said “If we ever get married, let’s NEVER be like that.” He took that as a proposal and, giggling, we paid our bill and wandered around the many late-night jewellers, trying on rings and pretending to understand what they told us about carats. We bought a ring and Ben took it back to the hotel, and asked them to keep it in the safe. For the rest of the week we were both on edge. When was he actually going to say the words? We’d be walking along the beach and I’d be tensed in case he suddenly dropped to his knees and proffered his hand. The week went by and nothing happened. It was the last night. Poetically, we’d chosen the garden restaurant. Ironically, it was again full – this time with a large party of Americans whose guffaws and wisecracks rather ruined the ambiance. Ben’s jaw was set firm. It was now or never.

When the proposal did come it took me by surprise (as it did another couple, who thought he was having a heart attack). This time, after our meal, we bought Turkish Delight by the kilo and stumbled, happy and excited, back to the hotel, eager to get home and tell everyone the news. We married a year later, in my mum’s back garden. We didn’t have the orange and lemon trees, but we posed under my Dad’s oak tree for photos, and I’ve never been so happy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage and weddings recently. Most of our friends have now found their partners and tied the knot, and it’s been lovely to see everyone so excited and happy – planning their big day and what would happen thereafter. I must admit to being a little bemused by the importance and attention to detail so many of them have applied to their wedding days – every last little thing being perfect. I’m sure I was the same (and I do remember almost having a meltdown when on the day of the wedding the caterers disregarded my request for simple white plates and brought eternal bow), but, looking back on it now, the things I remember were the bits that couldn’t be planned. The late afternoon sunshine breaking through the clouds that had lingered all day. Singing the words to our first song ourselves because the wedding singer didn’t know them. All my friends kicking their legs in a circle at the end of the evening to ‘New York, New York’ as our taxi waited patiently for 20 minutes until we were done. And getting to the hotel and ignoring the bottle of champagne laid out for us in favour of a litre of mineral water – swigged from the bottle in the bath – as we were far too drunk for any more.

Weddings aren’t perfect, and nor are proposals. Life after ‘I do’ isn’t perfect either, but it’s an amazing adventure and I cannot wait to see what the next sixteen years will bring. I anticipate more cars. Maybe another boat, definitely more travelling, hopefully less emphasis on the broke, and we’ll see about the cat.

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