Tom and I meet at The Greenhouse, the vegetarian cafe where he works as a Volunteer Coordinator and Project Developer. I think I met him for the first time on the evening of May 31, when I came to The Greenhouse for an evening dinner, and he thinks I had come to The Greenhouse once before to ask about volunteering. Maybe we'll never know.
After a few bumping-into-each-others at The Greenhouse and a live show at a local pub, I end up at his house for dinner with his brother and another friend. A few days later I make him dinner (in his kitchen, of course) to say thank you. And then we lay on his back lawn and watched clouds roll by.
We tip-toe through our first month of couple-dom, dodging boy- and girl-friend questions and stealing kisses. We make each other meals (vegetarian, dairy- and chili-free) and visit art exhibitions and talk and not talk. I tell myself I can't take a picture of a man I've only been seeing for a few weeks...but when his parents visit for a few days we spend some time in each others' company. I think they approve. Of me. Of us. In the preliminaries.
Katherine Cofell's leaving do at an Indian restaurant and an English provides the excuse for picture taking. Our first couple shot, with hands gingerly placed on shoulders and chins dipped in shy excitement.
I visit a field in Suffolk for Buddhafield East, a gathering of meditation, yoga, communal meals, and sans Tom. He welcomes me home with a chocolate nougat cake, the same one he wooed me with on the night we first kissed.
And then later in the same month, our tentative two month anniversary celebration with dinner at Cinema City. I bought him a box for his collection of teas, from green tea with echinacea to lemon and ginger to nettle to Malay rooisbus chai.
Our first vacation - all the way to Brighton on the southern shores of England. I say to his mom, Bridget, "It's one thing to be living together in the same city in your usual routines, but if we can travel together...that's compatibility."
Walking on the pier I play him Artists Are Boring by Kingdom Flying Club, skipping and dancing with one earphone in each of our ears.
On the beach I play him Peter Bjorn and John's Paris 2004: "I'm all about you, you're all about me, we're all about each other"; "While I'm sleeping/You paint a ring on my finger with your black marker-pen";
"We need this precious time just to comprehend."
I go on my first Buddhist retreat at the beginning of the month, and celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving in the middle. With a collection of Buddhists and Brits (not mutually exclusive labels), we have a bring-and-share/pot-luck dinner with vegan perogies and cabbage rolls for my Ukrainian roots and steamed green veggies and potato bake for my new English ties. Bridget and David come back to Norwich for a visit, and the four Loudons (brother Ben, dad David, mom Bridget and my dear Tom) plus this Canadian kid head for dinner to The Last Wine Bar. We all approve of each other.
I always think of it as my month because my birthday's in here, but this year I share it. Tom organizes a trip to London - dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, museum visits, drinks at a pub with all his old friends, now to be my new ones. He buys me a most perfect green coat for the winter that's hinting hard at coming on soon. We head to Whatton, his hometown, for down time with the folks and English countryside walks.
A mixed bag, really. A retreat finishes at the beginning of the month and makes a better impression than the first, but I'm still not running to sign up for my next one. Another trip to London peps me up: this time to see Les Miserables, Tom's favourite novel brought to stage in his guilty enjoyment of a West End musical. We make up for it by viewing the indie production of Barbershopera, the creation of Tom Green and Rob Castell, two of Tom's classmates while he was doing his playwriting MA. (You can join their Facebook fan page here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Barbershopera/155504540230). Then comes Christmas in Whatton - the family of five is four for a lot of the time due to fractured pelvises and hospital stays, but we triumph over the wintertime blues, Bridget roasts the potatoes in oil instead of goose fat, there's turkey for them and a mushroom tart for me. Happy English Christmas.
We spend my favourite New Year's in 27 years at Frank's Bar with all my workmates and their significant others and a whole lot of other super significant people (most whose names escape me). We dance; I drink Dandelion and Burdock and remember there's too much sugar in it for me half way through the bottle and then switch to coffee; we come home at half two and watch It's A Wonderful Life; I wake up at seven and practice yoga in the garden as the world wakes up to a new year.
At the end of the month we venture to Cambridge. I forget my camera, or my camera runs out of batteries, so there are no pictures of the day we got engaged. There's sunshine and a picnic and a reading of Alice in Wonderland, but none of them really have anything to do with each other. But "yes" means telling people, and so to make sure we're not kidding we walk straight from the train station into Frank's Bar, tell everyone who's working, and have elderflower cordial with sparkling water to celebrate.
On the second I turn five and he knew it was coming so he bakes me a cake: all organic and all sugar, with beetroot juice to make the icing pink. We head back to London for Avenue Q in the last days of its run at Noel Coward Theatre, and then head up to Portobello Road in search of a wedding dress. I have a vintage prom dress in mind, but instead we find From Somewhere, a shop which "up-cycles" clothes by sourcing discarded material from the garment industry and sewing it into new creations. The girl in the shop shares her enthusiasm for the fashion and the ethos, and we're sold - on the concept and on a knee-length dress coupled with a cape.
We begin the lead up to the day. Emails, invites, cupcakes, Certificates of Authority (required for foreign nationals to marry British citizens). Tom books honeymoon train journeys.We take solace in days of walks in spring sunshine and bringing old friends back up to speed with our new life. In a lot of conversations and emails in which I tell people I'm engaged, they answer back, "Congratulations! To who?" We revel in the aloneness, but the planning frenzy seeps into even the most well intentioned laid-back, eco-friendly, low-cost affair. We enjoy Norwich's cinema offerings, 103's dinner menu, Take 5's crypt entertainment. We say so long to our good friend Cat Spurden who goes off to seek her fortune in the Youth Hostels of the UK. I take off in the last week to Taraloka, a women's retreat centre on the Welsh boarder, and come back refreshed.
The last month of singledom - and sanity. We keep saying "we're basically done, we could get married tomorrow", and it's kind of true. At the end of the month, Jackie and Sam visit from Tokyo and we get to have a trial run at showing off Norwich before our families descend in a few short weeks. My first experience of my worlds colliding in over a year - not just those of past and present but of fellow partners and housemates. Between the delicious meals, hanging out at home and on the streets of Norwich, in the sunshine cobblestone streets and the grassy knolls of the Plantation Garden, outside the boxes of crossword puzzles and on top of the squares of a giant chessboard, we managed to all get along just fine.
A few months ago I asked to become a mitra at the Buddhist Centre, and Tom lovingly accepts my invitation to attend and share this important public commitment to my practice. The following week we celebrate his birthday with a trip to Sheringham and a choo-choo train ride to Holt, with lunch at the famous Byfords and a surprise chocolate cake waiting back home at Frank's Bar. We count down as the family arrives - Mom and Tara via London on Wednesday, May 13 and then Mair, Dad, Bridget and David on Friday, May 15.
May 18, 2009
post-May 18: honeymoon highlights
In Paris, at a sidewalk cafe
somewhere along our 26 hour train journey to Sicily
on the ferry to Milazzo
the view from our apartment on Salina
...mine a bit more than his
the cove we found on the west coast of the island
at one of our many pasta dinners
practicing yoga and Tai Chi
view from a the top of a mountain
through Rome on the way home
...it's not a honeymoon without Paris
Namaste, Andrea Lauren (Loudon) Campbell