I am standing in a giant wicker fruit-bowl looking out onto a lush green field on the edge of the school grounds. We’re not supposed to come here without a teacher but it’s after school now and Mum’s around somewhere. Kids are swarming around, hoping to stand out from the crowd and be selected. This time luck was on my side. The determination is etched into the small faces of my sister, my friend and I. We start to hover over the field and the kids’ bobbing faces become smaller. A roar sounds above my head and I duck instinctively. The pilot is pulling on the gas and sending us skyward. I’m terrified. All I could think was: ‘oh golly gosh, my hair is going to catch fire’.
This memory flashes back as I gaze into the Melbourne sunrise and watch hot air balloons saunter across the sky. It reminds me of home. Balloons floated into town at the same time every year, just as summer gave way to autumn. The mornings were crisp with dew covering the grass. They used to fly over the house and we’d run outside and wave. Sometimes, when they were flying low, they’d wave back at me. Once, a balloon landed in a field across the road. We went straight over and had a chat, of course. It turned out there was a film crew shooting footage for a television show. Their host was famous and I was immediately star struck. She was all very professional despite the rather sudden landing across the road from my house. I trotted back home with autograph in hand.
At the end of our city’s annual Balloon Festival, we would have a Night Glow. It was quite an event, too. I loved it, large Bunsen burners glowing orange into oversized pillows against a pitch black autumn sky. The atmosphere was consistently jovial and there was plenty of delicious food to accompany the entertainment.
Back to my experience as a nine year old in the hot air balloon, a treat every kid coveted. It was the highest honour a nine year old could be bestowed. Bragging rights were guaranteed. And I was inside a balloon. Except We only made it a few metres from the ground. I still got my magical moment in a balloon. I smile at the memory. Not a hair on my head was scorched in the process either.
Silver holograms cascade into circular patterns. The swirls catch the light and project rainbows over the covers of my childhood travel diary. It’s slightly dog-eared after more than twenty years of following me between houses, cities and countries. Recently, I’ve pulled out my diary and discovered some intriguing eight-year-old thoughts. The diary spanned the length of one family trip from the North Island of New Zealand to the South Island. I carefully used a different colour of ink on each page with the help of my trusty Wiggle Writer pen.
In the last decade I have put my studies behind me and focused on my career. Now I’ve got more time for writing. When I told Mum I was attending travel writing courses and creating a travel blog she was a little nonplussed. I was quite shocked that she found my behaviour so predictable. It was when I re-discovered my travel diary from childhood during spring cleaning that the penny started to drop. I found evidence that from as early as eight years old, I was able to combine two passions: travel and writing. Mum knew all along.
I was going through a “Dear Travel Diary” phase where I always ended with “but that’s another story.” It’s a bit of a clichéd ending but a solid effort for my younger self. The things I wrote about in the diary weren’t surprising. A highlight was visiting Dunedin’s Cadbury Chocolate Factory. I’ve always had a sweet-tooth. Here’s an excerpt from the diary:
“Tuesday we went to the Chocolate Factory and got two baby Easter eggs and a mini crunchie bar, but that was only us kids. We got to press a button and a little chocolate land came to life. When Dad came out <of the factory tour> he was holding a bag with some chocolates in and some were for Christmas but that’s another story.”
Finding this diary reminded me that I’ve been on this journey for longer than I can remember and my Mum continues to support me. But that’s another story.
New Year is a code word, in New Zealand at least. What it translates to is an event, often celebrated in a small town, which temporarily converts to a concentration camp of sorts. People flock from all parts of the country to a few little places by the sea. This often results in overcrowding of holiday homes, overused bathroom facilities, blocked toilets, bed shortages, and excess alcohol, must I go on? It’s a recipe for disaster.
For years I have faithfully packed my things, all too often it has been for a camping experience (sorry to let my country down but I’m about as loyal to a tent as I am to the All Blacks). I dutifully forget a key item without fail, spend loads of money on petrol, food and the like, then arrive to find the hype wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
One particular New Year’s camping expedition comes to mind. We arrived to find that not enough camp sites had been booked. Despite the setback, tent city was great, for the first five minutes. That was before we felt mozzies at our ankles and became rather daunted about preparing dinner with caveman cooking techniques. We attempted erecting the tent, then found that our air mattress purchased that morning was in fact a single, not a double. To top it off, the air did not like staying in the mattress and we were touching the ground before we knew it.
That was enough for me. The next morning, I secretly booked us the last available motel room across the road. I mysteriously vanished from tent city, along with my partner in crime throughout the day to watch TV, cook a meal on a real stove, and have a warm shower. Our large group of fellow campers were none the wiser. Needless to say that come New Year, we were feeling more rested and festive and had a splendid night. Not as good as the married women with children though. After angrily quieting us down earlier on, they were the last up while their husbands watched the children. I drowned their girlish laughter out with a sleeping pill.
When you’re young it’s a thrill to experience freedom and fun over new years. When you get to my age though, it’s all been done before. For the first hours of a new year, I now enjoy celebrations of the minimal fuss variety then happily I retreat to the comfort of my own bed. Most times, I even wake up without a headache. I think I’ve finally cracked the code.
Story as published in the Geelong Writers Anthology 2012 – ‘Splashes of Colour’
I run out to the drive and there it is. The glistening green bike with white handle bars stands proudly in our back yard. The paint is peeling in places and the silver mud guards have patches of rust but that doesn’t matter. The wheels are small and thin with worn tread but that doesn’t matter either. My dad is taking me on a bike ride; no brothers, no sisters, no mum. I rush to the garage to retrieve my bike helmet.
The laundry fills the wall to the left and the tools and workbench cover the back of the garage. Our old clothes, toys, bikes, mum and dads’ old books and artwork consume the floor space in a semi-logical order. I push past dad’s latest batch of home-brew and his swapper crate to get to my helmet. It’s hanging on the wall on one of our coat hooks which is also filled with raincoats, lab coats from Dads work that double as painting coats, old jerseys and helmets. My one is cream with a dark blue stripe down the front and with blue edging and a blue strap. It’s called a ‘kid lid’ and I’m getting a bit old for it now.
Helmet fastened, I grab dad’s highlighter yellow helmet and head inside to find him. He’s in front of the television asleep. Dad works hard during the week doing far more than nine to five and consequently his favourite pass-time on a Sunday afternoon is to watch terrible television shows like Doctor Who, thunderbirds, and western movies.
“Dad” I yell as I shake him awake.
“Mmm, what?” he says barely conscious, he can sleep through anything, a good skill when you have four kids.
“You said we could go on the tandem bike”
“Ok, go get it ready and grab the helmets”
I irritatingly place his helmet on his sleepy head.
On go my red leather shoes with the fancy pattern and rubber soles, on goes my wet paint sweat shirt and I’m out the door to the tandem bike. The bike is on loan from the neighbour and it is a treasured, albeit temporary possession. Dad finally emerges from the back door and he straddles the front seat while I climb onto the back.
We’re off on our adventure around suburbia in the Sunday afternoon sunshine and the smile on my face is brimming from ear to ear. I pedal fast and hard and my little legs are moving at double pace compared to dad. I don’t have a chance against his large frame and his enduring stamina. He has biked from Hamilton to Whangamata several times already; a trip around the block will barely break a sweat for him. I, on the other hand, am puffing by the time we get into the next street. By the third street, I cotton onto the fact that the wheels turn whether I pedal or not. I drop my effort down a gear and enjoy the ride. We go up the university hill; it’s a steep one and I don’t do much to help. The old bike strains under our weight as we push further up hill. By small miracle, we make it up to the top then sail down with the wind in our faces.
My chest tightens as we pass through a busy roundabout. Fear grips me but I know my father will keep me safe. This is not our first bike ride together; he used to take me on the back of his bike in a kiddi seat and drop me at day care when I was two, his track record was impeccable. As we head towards home the sunlight fades, tired, happy and ready for mum’s dinner when we get home. We pull into 79 Grey Street and in I rush with all my remaining energy towards mum.
“What’s for dinner mum?”
“Fish and chips love”; “Rob, will you take her to get the fish and chips?”
“Okay – come on Sarah”
“I’m coming, I’m coming, Dad”
We take the slightly more modern mode of transportation; the family van. Fish and chips are a family favourite. It’s the only form of takeaways we have. Our regular fish and chip shop is Hsin Hsin, with a huge counter I can’t see over and old lino floors. There is a wooden bench seat for customers to wait for their orders and a few old magazines from the dairy next door with the front page missing, they do that so they don’t have to pay for the ones they cannot sell. Pulling up at Clyde street intersection; we come across a traffic jam. I am starving and will the traffic to clear so I can get my hot meal. We edge towards the fish and chip shop but as we do, we see the police cars with flashing lights.
“What is it dad?”
“I don’t know Sarah; it might be a car crash”
“Are they hurt?”
“I don’t know”
We creep a little further and the truth becomes clear. A Toyota corolla has a dent in its bonnet and it’s facing the wrong side of the road. People are gathered around something on the footpath on the left hand side. A man gets up to talk to a policeman and reveals an elderly woman lying still. An ambulance rushes past us and a paramedic jumps out with a first aid kit in hand. He runs to the scene and busies himself with questions for onlookers while assessing the woman. She is very old, especially to my ten year old eyes. She is wearing a purple long sleeve dress and there is a cane at her side. A police man is marking the road with bright pink spray paint. They do that for the crime scenes.
“That’s not nice, is it?” Dad asks, unsure what to say or how to make the shocking scene easier for my young brain to process.
“Will she die dad?”
“She might, darling. The biggest worry for unconscious old people is that they swallow their tongue; if they do then they die”
“I hope she doesn’t” I say a silent prayer for the old lady.
Back at home I make a chip buttie. The mood is sombre, I don’t know if she’s alive or dead. I never will.
The reality of weddings is that they are messy, imperfect, real. They don’t go as planned. The most important parts are beautiful memories that fill you with happiness, like:
- My husband leaning over and telling me I looked beautiful
- My husband’s vows that he conjured in the half hour that I was late to the ceremony, which made all us girls cry
- Walking between my brother and father down the aisle
- The beautiful readings my mother and mother in law gave us
- Having our sisters sign the register
- The real and the re-enacted giving of the rings by my sister and her then-sleeping son
- Eating fish and chips down at the wharf, looking out to sea, surrounded by our two families
- Slipping on the garter that my sister hand-made from my mother’s wedding dress
- Sipping Moet and doing last minute decorations the night before with my family in law
- Watching my little nephew sing and dance to his favourite song at the reception
- Spying my father sitting on the edge of the private wharf whispering to his beloved first grandchild
- Standing as a newly married couple surrounded by loving family and knowing that we joined them together
- Laughing with my new husband as we pose like models for wedding photos
- Being called sister by my grooms family
- Sipping champagne from the crystal glasses my mother in law gifted us, arms entwined, with my husband
- Eating a good, honest kiwi roast for dinner and looking out to the water and the reflecting lights
It’s not the end that matters, it’s the journey. It’s the entire first night dating we shared together talking until the wee small hours. It’s the meals I cooked him in his all boys flat, it’s the time we racked up telephone bills in the six months we spent living in different cities. It’s the laughs, tears and all that we shared on the way to our wedding day.
Last minute prep…
I began our wedding day at 6.30 am in the bathroom, blowing up balloons and trying to let my FH sleep a bit longer. We found ourselves creeping into the back yard of the reception venue early morning and hanging the balloons on the washing line – as you do. I’m glad we did as the overall result was stunning.
I felt more than a million dollars after hair, makeup, preening and pruning, then slipping into my gown. The process you go through with wedding preparations and beauty treatments is a journey in itself. All day, I swished around in my gorgeous lacy number, hardly believing this was me. It was a good attitude to have, as many things went wrong on our day. I forgot my bouquet for the ceremony and didn’t realise until the photographer asked afterwards. Someone took our car keys from the ceremony and we had to ride with the photographer. My husband forgot his belt and had to borrow his father-in-laws. I couldn’t get my contact lenses in and after instruction and encouragement from my father and sister; it was my lovely make-up artist that shoved them in my eye sockets for me. She had a vested interest to get the make-up started.
It’s traditional for the bride to be late, right?
As everyone rushed about in a panic around me, finishing outfits, fixing and unruly wad of hair, making snacks, packing bags, I was obliviously perched on cloud nine. None of that mattered as I was about to go and marry the man of my dreams.
Down the road my father and I whizzed in his convertible, listening to highway to hell (his choice), I was about to marry my sweetheart. What more could you ask for? My father and brother walked me down the aisle to my husband. We had a few hand-squeezes and good luck wishes then we marched three in a row. There was a marked improvement from the rehearsal the day before where we had my brother out in front, dragging me while my dad was dawdling behind and me in the middle being pulled in different directions. Some swear words and Dad’s army training came in handy and we seemed more graceful while chanting “hup, two, three, four”. My brother insisted that that wouldn’t do and we upped our game to silence. Finally reaching the top of the aisle, Dad slipped a lotto ticket and 50 bucks into my groom’s hand and said good luck. I quite agree; he needed it.
This will go down in history – well, my history anyway…
Now that we’ve got the wedding itself behind us, I feel there should be some sort of marker in history. Our wedding was a very momentous day for us. We have references in time like BC – Before Christ. I believe I need to refer to life before our nuptials as BW – Before Wedding and PW – Post Wedding. I guess the closest you can get in this day and age is by adding it to your Facebook timeline. If my idea catches on, people could describe their stress as Post Wedding Stress (PWS) Syndrome. That’s what honeymoons are for. Ours (honeymoon in Bali) went swimmingly, by the way.
New title, new name, new me…
I love the feeling of greeting my new husband and we call each other that all the time. We’re still trying to get used to it. Like a new jumper, you have to wear it in a bit before it gets comfortable. But for now, it’s a blissful novelty.
I’ve got a new persona, a new title, MRS, and changed my last name. It feels a bit strange but eventually when people ask the simple question of what my name is for a hair appointment, I won’t even need to pause and think. Perhaps I won’t even need to correct myself as I accidentally say the name I used the first twenty something years of my life.
To all those that have been part of our life journeys that have led to the moment when we became husband and wife – thank you. However big or small a part you played; you helped shape us into who we are today. Understand that we are not a traditional couple. It was common knowledge that we were eloping. Somehow, a few family members found their way into it. Earlier this year, we told everyone to keep their eyes peeled on Facebook and all their questions about our wedding would be answered. Now they are. Here’s hoping you’re all okay with it.
Here’s a little PW (Post – Wedding) Advice:
Everyone has an opinion; let them have it then do what you want anyway. Remember it is about you and your groom and at the end of the day you’re going home together. And so, I leave you with this advice, the smaller the guest list, the better.
“The lead up to your wedding is like becoming an overnight celebrity, and all of a sudden, everyone wants you to do an appearance at their dinner table.”
I’m not an attention seeker. Despite the plethora of in-home ballet recitals, plays, and karaoke shows that I subjected my parents to in my early days, I avoid the spotlight. Unless, that is, I am fuelled by a few too many alcoholic beverages and momentarily decide it is a stroke of genius to leap onto the nearest table and belt out ‘the summer of 69’ or the like.
And so, it follows, that I met someone else that is as understated as me. We both wrote on a piece of paper what we wanted in a wedding. The main priorities were that it had to be at a beach and it had to be simple. Every time I had a decision to make, I checked against our original goals and we have kept to them.
We touched down in our home country, New Zealand and madness ensued. We zigzagged across the city from appointment to last minute shopping to the dry cleaning shop. Errands all day long. The lead up to your wedding is like becoming an overnight celebrity, and all of a sudden, everyone wants you to do an appearance at their dinner table, to be their guest, they encircle you, and sometimes it can be hard to cut yourselves into enough pieces to go around.
Our game plan…
So, you want to know the details of our wedding? You and everyone on the guest list. If you have a small guest list then your options of the unconventional are limited only by your imagination. We will marry on a public reserve by the sea and then have a reception at a rented holiday home. Mum is bringing flowers from her garden; my father in law to be is supplying the old preserving jars which we will put candles in. My mother in law is bringing a bunch of fairy lights. The cake is one simple tier and one simple cake stand; with no royal icing in sight. Dinner is a kiwi roast coming from the local club.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked whether we have organised the grooms outfit. I am pleased to inform you that we went out precisely one week before the big day and purchased everything head to toe. I did have a bit of fun playing it up and explaining time after time that it was fine, because he had a tie and it was going to look great with just underwear, much to their horror.
Reality TV potential…
I could probably fill a tv show with wedding drama. The night before my wedding, I had to pop out to the car for something I’d forgotten. Unable to find it, I began the laborious climb up the winding stairs to our apartment. After the long day I had had, half way up the stairs felt like the full length and I trudged into the apartment exhausted and full of a list of things to do before tomorrow. That’s odd, I thought I left the lights on. I flicked the switch and ferreted into my bag and find a pen. What’s that? I wondered. The TV is on? My fiancee was watching something on the computer a few minutes ago. God, it’s loud. “Why is the TV so loud? Turn it down, it’s late and you’ll wake the neighbours”. No reply. “For god’s sake, why aren’t you listening to me?” I stormed over, angry by this stage, to give him a piece of my frazzled mind.
Two bemused faces were staring back at me from under the covers. Realisation hit me and I wasn’t in our penthouse apartment at all, I was in fact at – the neighbours! I had just turned the lights on, yelled at them and then stood, stuck, staring at them in their bed. No one spoke. Then I realised I had to get out, and quickly. With a trail of words behind me; namely “sorry” and “Oh my God”; my legs took me out the door. Before exiting, I kindly turned the lights off for them again and let them have the TV as loud as they liked. It was the least I could do.
Up to the top floor and into my own apartment I stood in the doorway in shock. Upon hearing about my stupidity, my FH (Future Husband if you didn’t read part 1 wedding blog) pissed himself with laughter and was pleased to have such a good story to tell the next day. Never mind his FW (Future Wife) sitting on the floor traumatised by her own actions. A note was duly slipped under the neighbour’s door profusely apologising (I actually got one back saying it was their fault for not locking the door). I was going to explain that I was a strung out bride-to-be but there really is no excuse for what I had just done. Also, the less they knew about me, the better. I signed anonymous. Better I didn’t drag my new last name through the mud before I got it.