The Vacuum at the Christmas Table

By vacuum, I mean unfillable empty space, rather than someone who can suck up a large quantity of food in very little time, although we will have one of those too.

Best Man is not going to be with us. Our family is lopsided, having one child permanently (my daughter) and one half the time (his son). This means that sometimes it feels as if we are a small rocking ship, periodically struggling for balance as we adjust to a member of the crew leaving, then getting back in as soon as the ripples have subsided. The transition gets smoother as time goes on and we grow more used to the rhythm of his visits, but at times like Christmas, the lack of one family member becomes glaringly apparent.

My Intended feels this most of all. At first, when we spoke of this Christmas, he would say ‘but we are not having Christmas until after Boxing Day, when (Best Man) is here.’ When I pointed out that Chief Bridesmaid would still be expecting to have Christmas on Christmas Day, we made plans accordingly (we’ll spend it with my family). Best Man will be sorely missed, although of course he’ll be having fun with his Mum and other step-family. It’s hard to know what the situation is like for him, but maybe it’s easier to be the one leaving rather than the one who is left behind…

My Intended sat morosely playing his guitar last night, and I became irritated by his gloom. Many angry rants were running through my mind (all beginning with ‘you’ and ending in ‘ruining Christmas’ and ‘always in a mood’), until he said to me

‘My Dad died on this day.’

Even after 5 years together, there’s so much I don’t know and so many things I never thought to ask.

Today, I direct my thoughts and good wishes to those who will feel loss and sadness this Christmas. Peace and love, I wish them…

Fighting body fascism and teaching the kids about feminism

As the wedding draws closer, I am starting to feel the pressure that I thought I had done well at resisting: – the pressure to look beautiful, slim, elegant. I am considering detoxing, waxing, and even omitting my nightly glass of wine. This is the result of trying on dresses almost daily in my search for one that I can imagine wearing in public. I realise that I never wear dresses, for the simple reason that they just don’t fit me. They are not designed for buxom women like me.

‘This kind of thing is harder for women,’ I tell my daughter, Chief Bridesmaid ‘we are under a lot of pressure to look nice in our wedding dresses.’

‘Well of course,’ she says ‘the dress is the main thing about the wedding.’

‘Yes, but the men don’t have to worry about that, do they?’

‘Ha ha, well that’s because they don’t wear a dress Mum!’ She laughs at my silliness for some time, before she is struck by a thought.

‘He isn’t worrying about his suit though, is he Mum?’

She is beginning to get the point of my observations. This conversation went better than the one I had the other night with Chief Bridesmaid and my future stepson, Best Man:

Watching an old video for Band Aid, I saw a sea of male singers,

‘Music was just like a boys club in the 80s, wasn’t it? There are NO WOMEN at all in this!’

‘Yes there are!’ the kids like to argue these points with me. When I challenged them to show me the women in the video, they shouted ‘there’s one!’ as John Taylor came into view. It was hard to convince them that any of the members of Duran Duran were male, and as for Boy George and Marilyn – impossible. They then proceeded to shout ‘There’s ANOTHER girl!’ every time a member of Bananarama appeared, until it seemed that Bananarama outnumbered very other band.

The androgynous pop stars of the 80s look very strange to our children.

Magazine cover from the 80s, with Duran Duran (top left) and Boy George (top right)

Magazine cover from the 80s, with Duran Duran (top left) and Boy George (top right)

It’s a different story today.

Magazine cover from 2012 with Rhianna, JLS, The Wanted and One Direction

Magazine cover from 2012 with Rhianna, JLS, The Wanted and One Direction

As more women have become successful in the music industry, gender differences have been emphasised. Women can look almost like caricatures of femininity; from eyelashes to nails, to footwear, they are decorated in bright, impractical colours, while the men are dressed in plain clothes – in the case of JLS, just a white vest in order to show off their muscles.

Brides seem to have always been caricatures of femininity, from the 80s

Princess Diana - the 1980s power princess look

Princess Diana – the 1980s power princess look

To the present day

Kate's tiny princess look

Kate’s tiny princess look

There doesn’t seem to be all that much difference between the two gowns – the Big White Dress look is pretty much the same, whatever the era.

Marriage is, of course, whatever you make it, but the wedding service does seem designed to bring the age-old pressures of a patriarchal world bearing down – I’m worrying about things I haven’t considered worrying about for years, in fact I’m having to work hard to prevent myself being taken back to teenage levels of body insecurity. On this journey with me is Chief Bridesmaid, who is already a little worried about her developing figure. In talking to her about these things, I try to show her that it’s not wrong to feel these insecurities; sometimes they are impossible to avoid. It’s how we deal with them that is important. I hope that she will learn to question why she feels that way, and in doing so avoid being helplessly swamped by external expectations.

The Wedding Planning begins in earnest,

So, now it’s time for some actual wedding planning, as opposed to vaguely musing about weddings. In November, on the 5th anniversary of our first meeting, my Intended and I visited the country hotel that I had fixated upon for a Valentine’s Day wedding. For some reason, it was of great significance to me to end my 30s with a bang a wedding, and wake up on my 40th birthday a married woman. I might have mentioned this once or twice, but my Intended wasn’t keen on the idea and so we were sort of haphazardly thinking about a June wedding (to call it’ planning’ would be stretching things a bit), until I splurged my feelings about it all onto these pages.

‘Let’s go and have a look at the hotel then,’ he said. I called to book a meal at the hotel, and told them we were thinking of having our wedding there. I rang back later with the afterthought that we could stay the night there, too.

‘We only have the Bridal Suite available, at £400.’

I told them we couldn’t afford that, and after a muffled conversation the receptionist told me that they had managed to squeeze us in somewhere. On arrival, we were told that we had in fact been upgraded to the Bridal Suite ‘free of charge’.

‘So much to do, and only an hour before dinner!’ I mourned, sinking my toes into the deep pile carpet as I surveyed the massive apartment with wood-burning stove, whirlpool bath, HUGE TV in front of the four poster bed, private garden…’We should have got here earlier!’

It was decided. We would have a small, intimate wedding here, on Valentine’s Day, with a civil ceremony in the ‘Orangery’ with its view out on to the frost-covered hills, and spend the evening by the enormous log fire upstairs. I am swept away by the romance of this: the log fires, the hills, the escape to a country retreat – but most of all, the date. I never expected my Intended to change his mind and move the wedding forward, and the fact that he cares about my happiness – enough to indulge this whim, so silly but so important to me – feels like the most romantic thing of all

So, now we have 8 weeks to plan our romantic wedding. The invitations arrived today. I have 3 mail-order wedding dresses under my bed ready to try on when I get a private moment. Venue – check. Guests – check. Dress – we’ll see. Anything that isn’t done, won’t matter soon….