Today is a special day. September 14th not only marks 25 days until we get married, but it’s also the seventh anniversary of the day I met S.
Phil over at Green Ink used the TS Eliot quote “in a minute/there is time for decisions and revisions which/a minute will reverse” to describe how she met her husband, and I’m going to steal it (if she doesn’t mind) as I think that it is also particularly apt when it comes to how S and I got together. There are a series of fragile coincidences that all aligned to create the moment when our eyes met over a plate of bacon, eggs and beans in a greasy spoon cafe.
It was 2003, I was coming up to the end of my university course and I was somewhat at a loss for what to do afterwards. My lovely friend Rachel suggested that I apply to work for a company she knew, who wanted volunteers to work during the Edinburgh Fringe at two venues they ran there. It sounded different and exciting, so I applied and was accepted. By the time August rolled around, I had in fact been offered a “proper” job at a concert hall, so I was working, but still decided to take the week off and go. I was nervous – Rachel had hurt her foot and couldn’t come with me as planned, so I was all on my own and apprehensive about what might happen. I remember my housemate straightening my hair for me the night before so at least I would look good, even if I didn’t feel it!
I ended up having the best ten days of my life. The people were amazing, the festival brilliant, and I loved every second, even the (self induced) sleep deprivation! Whilst I was there, I became friends with a girl named Jenny, who had also gone to university in Cardiff, which created an instant bond between us. Jenny was great fun – she introduced me to stand up comedy, and to the second greatest love of my life, the comedian Adam Hills.
After the festival finished, I went back to Cardiff and took up my new life there as a member of the working public rather than a scruffy student. I kept in touch with a lot of people from Edinburgh though, including Jenny. In September she said she was coming to Cardiff for a party on a Saturday night, and did I want to meet up for breakfast the next day? We arranged to meet at a certain cafe on Sunday, but when we both got there, it was closed. We therefore decided to decamp a few doors down the street to Ramon’s, a legendary greasy spoon well beloved by Cardiff students.
Jenny and I had finished our breakfast when a group of people came in – all her friends from the party the night before, who came over and joined us. About 20 minutes after this, a tall, dark haired guy came into the garden – another one of the group. The only seat left was next to me, so he slid into it. He was later than the others as he’d been out early morning surfing in the Gower. I’d just got back from a windsurfing holiday with friends (it was a summer of holidays!), and was really interested to hear about surfing, so we ended up chatting for quite a while. He was a lovely guy, and although I was a little curious about the marks on his arms (in hindsight my initial thought he might be a self-harmer is so hilarious – if you meet S, you’ll know he is the absolute last person to do anything like that), I thought he was really easy to talk to – not to mention good looking. Eventually the group started making moves to leave, so I said my goodbyes and headed off to the park to meet my housemate. For the rest of the day, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.
Jenny was back in Cardiff a couple of weeks later, and as we were having a drink together, I – in an oh so offhand manner – mentioned S. She said how nice he was, and that he was always up for teaching people to surf, and that if I was interested, she could pass on his email. On Monday at work I spent ages composing a “casual” email, asking if he was interested in taking me surfing in return for some windsurfing tuition. In fact, a little digging through my inbox archives reveals the original email I sent him:
> Hi, > > I don't know if you remember me, but I'm that mate of Jenny's who you met > in Ramon's a few weeks ago. She emailed me your address after a random > discussion on surfing this Sunday, and the chance that you might take a > total (and very clumsy beginner) out one day. If you're ever passing by > Cardiff I'd love to go, and I can even teach you the basics of > windsurfing in return if you like (what a bargain!). > > Helen - has wetsuit, will travel.
If you’d told me I was penning an email to my future husband, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you! I’m also quite impressed by my boldness in initiating our meeting.
He emailed back almost straightaway, and we set up a date – 1st November – to go down to the Gower together. That first trip was amazing. I felt so comfortable with him straightaway. I wasn’t brilliant at surfing, but I had a great time and S seemed to as well (although he told me a year or two later that I smacked him upside the head with the fin on the board and nearly knocked him out!).
Afterwards I offered to take him out to dinner in Cardiff to say thank you. He ironed a black shirt he just “happened” to have in his bag (admitting later he’d put it in in case anything like this was offered!) and I threw on some other clothes, not even bothering to wash the sea salt out of my hair or the neoprene smell from my body. We ate pasta and pizza at my local Italian restaurant, conversation just flowing all the time.
And the rest, as they say, is history. The first year saw us in a long distance relationship where either I would hop on the train to Bristol on a Friday night, or he would drive over the bridge to Cardiff. Four months in, I was offered a place at University of Toronto to do my Masters, and spent the next few months debating about whether to go, to leave my lovely life, good job and most importantly, my new boyfriend. I was so torn; it took me a lot of heartache, soul searching and tears to decide. S was nothing but supportive; he promised he would wait for me and try to make it work across an even longer distance. He did and we did – I don’t regret a single minute of my time in Canada, as it changed me as a person for the better, giving me confidence, intimate knowledge on the novels of the Bronte sisters and some of the best memories of my life. Through all the long winter, the essays, the homesickness and the piles of doughnuts from Tim Hortons, S was always there for me, either at the end of the phone or on a computer. He kept his promise and waited, very, very patiently, so as soon as I finished the course, I moved back to the UK and to Bristol to be with him. We’ve been together ever since, and he made me the happiest person ever when he proposed on a Barcelona rooftop in October last year.
So many decisions and revisions which so easily could have been reversed. If Rachel hadn’t suggested Edinburgh, if I’d chickened out when I found out she wasn’t going, if Jenny and I had had breakfast in our intended cafe… who knows where I would be now? Instead, I am here with my lovely boy, finalising the seating plan and dreaming about our wedding day when I will become his wife and celebrate our relationship in front of all the people I love best in the world.