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….

To the uninvited

We’ve known each other since we were 11 years old; you are like my sisters. The saying ‘Friends are like stars. You can’t always see them but you know they are there,’ was made for us. Although we can’t always see each other (and I think we’d all agree that that’s a good thing), we like to know that everyone is still there, sparkling away in their rightful place in the firmament.

Gone are the days when we drank cider in the park, giggling, rolling down hills, crying, hugging, pouring our hearts out, hamming it up just a little bit, as we sat in the park under the whispering trees, sharing secrets and cigarettes (‘My parents don’t love me any more’, ‘If you inhale with your head upside down it makes you go dizzy, go on try it’). Half way between childhood and adulthood, we were hungry to live, love and learn, and that is what we thought we were doing as we drunkenly lay in the fallen leaves, forming our sisterhood. We talked about our weddings then, do you remember that? We were going to walk down the aisle in Doc Martens, with each other as bridesmaids; we would wear red and give our children exotic names, and one day we’d sit around a coffee table drinking coffee, while they ran around together.

Those weddings in Doc Martens never happened, nor the multiple bridesmaids, but we did end up sitting around a table while all our kids ran around together – the oldest 16, the youngest 3 years old. It wasn’t a coffee table, though. And we weren’t drinking coffee. That metamorphosis into responsible sober adults still hasn’t happened – at least, not when we are together. We regress to those days when we never really had to get up in the morning, although we still have a curfew as the kids remind us once they start to get tired.

After years of falling out and making up, or just growing apart, losing each other, we are all back in touch and it feels like coming home to family. Like family, we hate each other get on each others nerves, 50% of the time, but we are part of each other’s universe. My twinkly friends, you are the landmarks by which I can set my compass, and it is a dark night when you are not shining.

Like stars, you are so polarised and so bright that getting you together in the same room is difficult. You sparkle from different corners, sometimes shooting sparks at one another, sometimes just sending them up into the sky like fireworks.

That’s why I can’t invite you all to my wedding. This is the occasion for a different kind of family reunion; a quiet celebration.

You’ll love the wedding party I’ve got planned for our return…

Thirty something bride? A confession

I am never going to be a thirty something bride. Just as I never wrote that novel before the age of 40, never became an astronaut, never battled the seas in the Rainbow Warrior to save the seals…I have come to terms with all of those things, but would it sound childish and pathetic to admit just how desolate I feel about never having been married before reaching the age of 40? How much of a failure this makes me feel?

In one of her novels, Joanne Harris writes about a proposal.

‘There it was in her hand. The small dream,’ as the character holds the ring. This phrase always stuck in my mind. The ring, the marriage, the happily ever after, is the small dream that women are handed as little girls. It’s in the books, the films, the lives of all the women who have gone before. A woman who has never been married is incomplete, a sad figure: a spinster. Big, bachelor dreams are for the boys..

As my 40th birthday hurtles towards me, the wedding plans just aren’t coming together. There is still no date set, no clear idea of the venue, no wedding dress ordered – and I know that I am going to be the 40-year-old bride.

I spent my 30th birthday alone, with an 8 month old baby. That day, to get myself through, I thought about my 40th birthday. I thought, by then this baby will be 10 years old. Work will be easier. Feeding her will be easier. I will be able to go to the toilet by myself. I will definitely be happier. There is no salvaging this birthday, but I will make sure the next one is better.

Now, to keep the promise I made to myself ten years ago – to be happier – I realise that I must stop defining myself, and my happiness, in relation to my status as a woman. On my 30th birthday I was defined by being a single mother, with all the pride and shame that burned in me because of that. Now, I am defining myself by my marital status – spinster at 40 – and I am allowing myself to feel shame again, and disappointment, at the small wish that I was never granted.

No, I will never be the thirty something bride, just as I was never the woman with a husband sitting by her side in the ante natal clinic. But these things don’t define me. There are so many other things I have been, and can be.

This year, my 40th, is apparently the beginning of the rest of my life. It cannot be another year of mourning for my abject failure to conform to anything like the ideal of a ‘proper’ woman. I hear my 30-year-old self calling through the years, and I can’t let her down. I would like to tell her, yes the baby is a 10-year-old, and she lets you go to the toilet on your own, she brings you breakfast in bed on your birthday and she has repaid you in gold for every sacrifice you ever made for her – the pride you felt when she said her first word is nothing to the pride you will feel when she comes out with her first bitingly sarcastic comment. You did well, 30-year-old self.

And to my future 40-year-old self, I would like to say – your 50th is going to be AMAZING!

The Dress Again

After my disastrous attempt at finding a wedding dress in a chain-store, I have made an appointment in a small boutique just around the corner from where I live. I think this is going to be much more enjoyable than the last visit, mainly because I will be accompanied by two friends as well as my Mum and daughter, and they are going to ply us with canapes and champagne. Now, that’s more like it. I have walked past this shop on an almost daily basis for the two years I have lived here with my husband–to-be. Sometimes I allowed myself to look in the window as I walked past, but usually I averted my eyes. You don’t get to thirty-something without having experienced some bitter disappointments, and cynicism is now a deeply ingrained habit for me. I will not allow myself to hope, dream or even think about something until I am 100% sure that it is really happening. But now, today, it really is happening. I am going to choose The Dress. The dress I will wear to marry the man I love.

How hard can it be?

So, I’m a thirty-something bride (39, to be precise) and I’m getting married next March!

Planning a first wedding at the age of 39 really gives new meaning to the term ‘life begins at 40′. I spent most of my 20s feeling cynical about marriage, and my early 30s struggling as a single parent and feeling cynical about men in general. I never imagined that I would begin my 40s as a starry-eyed bride. Yet here I am, enthusiastically launching into this optimistic enterprise, planning to end a promising career as an alcoholic and begin a new career as a wife (although the two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course).
I love the idea of promising to spend the rest of my life with partner (who shall henceforth be known as My Intended), and becoming officially a family with our two children. I thought I loved the idea of a wedding, but then I started to read wedding magazines and – worse – watch wedding programmes (like Don’t Tell the Bride).
In the past, whenever I imagined the occasion, I would see myself floating down the aisle in a white dress, looking adoringly into the eyes of my almost-husband who would be fighting back tears at my stunning beauty. I never gave a moment’s thought to whether I would need to hire chair covers with matching bows for the meal afterwards, nor what the flower arrangements would look like, or even what my ‘theme’ was going to be. Yet these details appear to be of vital importance in current wedding lore. Much as I enjoy looking at pretty pictures in magazines, and picking out colour schemes in my head, I cannot imagine that I would lose sleep over them. When I think of weddings I have been to, my main memories are of the bride’s dress, the food and the price of the drinks, and on that basis I am assuming that my guests will likewise be unable to remember what the table decorations were like after the event (particularly if I get the bar prices right).
Another scenario which never entered into my wedding day plans, was having both our respective children in the Bridal Suite with us. As chief bridesmaid and best man, they are an integral part of the celebrations, we love them dearly and wish to celebrate our union as a family – but we have shared a room with them before. My Intended almost stormed out to sleep in the car after a couple of hours of hysterical amusement over who just farted, arguments about whether we needed a nightlight, and complaints about the hardness of the pillows. To avoid a repeat of this on our wedding night (making it possibly the shortest marriage ever) we need Mary Poppins, or apartment style accommodation. How hard can it be to find one or the other?
I’ll be answering this question with hopefully a fuss-free, happy wedding day which doesn’t bankrupt us both and leaves us all with a warm glow rather than a simmering rage…