Friday, September 14, 2012

Past perfect - anniversary

It's our wedding anniversary today.  Twenty one years since we stood in the doorway of the Brynmawr Chapel at Betws y Coed, rain lashing the porch and the wind sending ladies' hats skyward. There wasn't a chink of sunlight all morning - we have no outdoor photographs - and yet it was perfect in its way.

Friends still talk of our wedding - for many years some actually asked to see the video! The highlight was Mrs Morgan (on the organ) who was stone deaf, wore a knitted bobble hat and played All Things Bright And Beautiful as the congregation sang Lord of all Hopefulness

Then there was the party who arrived late and got changed in the back pews. And a couple from Conwy who 
arrived by tandem - another did the same but rode from Northumberland. The minister forgot his lines and missed a page of the ceremony - and to cap it all, one of the bridesmaids was our dog!

If all this sounds wacky, it would give a slightly wrong impression. In many ways, it was quite a traditional wedding - but the delight of the day was the way it was so relaxed. The hymns were off-key, the weather was foul, some people were late - but no matter, it was wonderful.

I've often pondered about weddings since - not just at the expense, but the amount of time and effort invested in seeking a putative 'perfection' - as if one little hiccup will ruin the day, be an omen of disaster. Some cultures invest extraordinary amounts - I attended a Hindu wedding last year which had, quite literally, over a thousand guests, the celebrations extending to days. It was an amazing experience, and I don't want to criticise (I was delighted to go) but I was struck by the contrast to our own,  and wondered if we had missed out?

I don't think so. We hired Cobdens Hotel in Capel Curig for the weekend, putting up friends and family and asking others to make the trip rather than buy presents. After the ceremony, we served Cawl y Caws (soup and cheese),  before taking a walk (and getting drenched) in the mountains - in the evening we had a traditional banquet. I remember my father in law foisting drinks on the guests and fretting the whole affair hadn't cost enough! 

In fact, it cost about two thousand pounds - cheap even then, but more than I was comfortable accepting as a gift. The next morning we walked with friends and family to Cwm Idwal, before they departed: my family to the North, Jane's to the South; none of them lived in Snowdonia. That was why we had chosen it - and because we loved it too.  

I listened the other day to a reading on Radio 4 in which the narrator claimed our experience of time hastens exponentially as we age - that our first twenty years feel twice as long as the second, the next twenty, quicker still. I sense there's some truth in that - but it misses the point about happiness. Time goes more slowly when we are malcontent. 

Twenty one years - is it really that long? Of course, we row occasionally, we've had our ups and downs and countless other hackneyed descriptions of married life. But I never regret that day, not for a second - it made us who we are, as surely as our childhoods and our children.  It was, I know for sure, amongst the best that's happened to me. 

Happy anniversary Jane - I love you dearly.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Past imperfect 9 - a week of firsts.

That it will never come again
Is what makes like so sweet
Emily Dickinson

It's been quite a week.

On Monday I received the advance copies of my first book - Counting Steps, in case you didn't already know already, and available at all good booksellers or direct from the bike shed - mail me to order a copy for eight quid ( and I'll even sign it for you.

Okay, plug over. I'll continue...

It felt strange holding a copy, the weight of it in my hands surfacing mixed emotions. Not too small I thought - smart cover too; a sense of pride I'd written all those words and that persons I'll never meet might want to share them. But what of those much closer, those who know me; those intimately involved in the text?

I gave the first copy to Jane - she smiled and gave me a hug. The next I gave to my sons, praying they'd recognise the love and forgive me for laying bare their childhood - the older boys scrounged extra copies for their girlfriends; Dylan asked me to read some aloud. My mother was a worry; on the inside cover I wrote that I feared it would make her cry, but hoped she could see it in the round. She phoned the next day, tears in her voice - I've never been more proud, she said.

And with that came a feeling the worst was over - as if I'd climbed a mountain and had only the descent to negotiate. It felt like the book was in the past - which is strange because its life has only just begun, its impact entirely unpredictable. Later in the week I watched a climbing documentary in which the narrator emphasised that most accidents happen on the way down!

Then on Tuesday, I had another first - or more accurately a first and second. For I was awarded my second degree - a First Class Honours in Creative Writing. Jane went with me to the convocation and I insisted on the cap and gown, the posed photos with a plastic scroll, the walk on stage to be applauded by people who don't know me from...  Thirty years ago I had missed out on all this; I might be older than two-thirds of the audience, but I was determined to take part this time.

Walking back from the stage the certificate felt flimsy in its cardboard sleeve - not much to show for nine years work. The lady next to me, another mature student from the OCA, smiled as I sat down. "I'm glad that's over,' she whispered between the rounds of applause. And when I replied that it hadn't been too embarrassing, she replied. 'Not the presentation - I mean the whole degree'. For the first time it struck me that I was no longer student, that it was behind me too - part of my past, if only by a minute.

It was clear that many of the young people present were embarrassed by all the fuss, wishing their parents hadn't dressed as if going to a wedding. At their age, I'd probably have felt the same. But in the time between I've learned the importance of marking our achievements - be they a degree, an anniversary or simply reaching fifty years of age. The reason is that milestones not only mark the past, they look forward too. And as Emily Dickson put it, they 'never come again'.

So a perfect week for an aspiring writer?

Not quite. I spend the latter half of it drafting the annual report for my company. I usually enjoy this job, our results are... sorry can't say... and frankly I'm pretty good at it - but for the first time, I was saddened by the process. There's an established style in writing for the City, whatever the quality your results - and it's characterised by cliche, conditionality and at times outright obfuscation. The words I type leave me deadened, in a sort of slough of despond into which I sink under the sin of abandoning my writerly values.

But by Friday it's done, and when the report is published I'll be proud of that too. One day, if I'm blessed, I'll show it to my grandchildren - along with my book, a second one perhaps; a copy of this blog...

Your Grampa wrote these I'll say; they were a part of me then, the best I could do - a milestone in my life.