22 Years

February 14, 2021

Reading time: 8 minutes

It was February 1999, in a small Scottish town called Jedburgh (Jed, or Jeddart to locals).

A chance meeting

I was a 16 year old goth, taking media studies at the local college in Hawick, and spending my weekends sneaking into pubs with college friends. Colin, barely aged 19, had recently moved from Glasgow to spend a few months living with his dad before Uni. He bravely ventured out for a drink after 4 weeks, and met my best friend, J (who is still in my life, and still dear to me).

The next night, he came out again, to hang out with J. We met. We got on. We both liked alternative music, and had a few things in common. A few days later, we both asked J for each other’s phone numbers, and arranged a double date with one of my old school friends for the next Sunday.

The first date

That Sunday was Valentine’s Day. The double date was a disaster. I went a little overboard on the shots, and some random guy walked up to me and slapped my backside so hard that I ran to the bathroom crying. The Borders was a pretty rough place in the 90s… When I emerged, it was to Colin holding his arms out to comfort me, and that was that.

We spent the next day driving around the Borders, me showing him the sights. I remember him telling me his second name, and it taking about 5 attempts for me to take it in. He came home to my parents for dinner. I’ll never forget the shock on his face when dinner was a wedge of frozen pizza with broccoli on the side…

Colin and Ailsa are teenagers, standing posed in a hug in front of a curved staircase. Both are pale, and wearing long black coats. Ailsa’s brown hair is long and dyed black.
The oldest photo of us, spring 1999

Endless summer

What followed was a blissful, wild few months. Colin got a job as a barman at the pub where my dad ran a folk club (and still does), and I would meet him nightly after his shift. Unfortunately being nocturnal doesn’t go that well with college, and I dropped out. It was a hot summer, and the kind that goes on and on. We didn’t know what would happen after September, so those nights spent talking all night and watching the sun rise felt so important.

Colin and Ailsa are teenagers lying on a bed. Ailsa is leaning across Colin to take a selfie. He wears a dark jumper and she has on a black halter and a cuff around her arm. Both are smiling.
During the endless summer of 1999

Going the (long) distance

Colin moved to Cambridge that September, and for the next few years I visited every month or so. We spent Christmasses in Scotland seeing both families. On my 18th Birthday I boarded a train and moved to London, where we lived for a summer while Colin worked at a web firm. I’m still amazed we survived that summer with our relationship intact. We were flat broke, and couldn’t afford to enjoy London at all beyond the flatshare we were in. At the end of it Colin moved back to Cambridge, and I moved back to Kelso.

In 2002, Colin moved to the US for a semester at Valparaiso University, and then a road trip over summer. We were on-off, it being the days before decent mobile internet. By then I was back at community college, essentially finishing High School. I channelled Colin’s absence, and a dyslexia diagnosis, into getting straight A’s. I wanted to go to university to carve out my own future as an Egyptologist.

An unplanned move

My university plans didn’t quite pan out as planned, because of an English universities’ inability to understand the Scottish education system, and, as a result, my grades. I had to go through ‘clearing’, and choose a univerity and course three weeks before term started. In a blind panic, I choose Psychology at Anglia Polytechnic University (now Anglia Ruskin), where Colin studied. I moved into halls. Colin flew home from the US in September, with his California frosted tips, a single frat boy.

By October, we were back together and I was living with him. Blame Shakira.

Colin and Ailsa are sitting at a low table at a nightclub. Colin has bleached his hair blonde, and is caught pulling a face with his tongue out. Ailsa is leaning towards him wearing jeans and a bare-shoulder top. They are both holding cheap lager
Soon after Colin returned from the US, at Life nightclub in Cambridge on student night

Domestic life

What follows is the usual story. We rented a flat when Colin graduated the next year, and stayed in Cambridge until I finished my course in 2005. We considered a move abroad, but settled on going back north.

Colin sits on a rocking chair in a friend’s living room, in jeans and a tshirt. Ailsa is sitting on the floor between his knees, in jeans and a cream top. Colin’s forearms rest on Ailsa’s shoulders as he leans forward to listen to someone out of shot, with his hands clasped loosely together in front of Ailsa’s neck like a loose embrace. Ailsa leans back, relaxed and smiling. Both are tanned.
During our final summer in Cambridge, in 2004, just after Colin’s first trip to Barbados

In Edinburgh we could afford to buy a flat we loved, with a view of the castle, and be close to family. We got our cat, Schrödinger, a few weeks after moving. Over 15 years in Edinburgh we lived in three flats, and settled in to careers. Once we could afford it we travelled often, and we kept going back to Cambridge regularly to see friends. We accrued debt, and we paid off debt. We made the most of the Edinburgh Festivals, and went to dozens of gigs. We grew up. We don’t have children; neither of us have ever felt the need. We were happy in Edinburgh, but grew bored.

Ailsa and Colin are both wearing black and white striped tshirts, blazers, and a strip of duct tape covering their mouths. They are taking a selfie kissing through the tape in a crowded square after taking part in a flash mob during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
After a flash mob with The Boy with Tape on his Face at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

Not romantic

We are not romantic. Our Instagram isn’t filled with photos of us kissing at the helm or love letters to one another. We are content and comfortable in our companionship. But we did, eventually, after 14.5 years, get married. I wanted to be legally recognised as a family unit, and I wanted the same surname as my cat.

On my 31st birthday, a few weeks before a holiday to Barbados, Colin suggested we get married while there. There was no big proposal, or flashy ring, or lengthy engagement, because I never wanted any of those things. Marriage to me is a decision that should be made together. I wanted none of the connotations of a woman bought, and I wanted our wedding to be for us, and nobody else, and he agreed.

Ailsa and Colin sit on their sofa, taking a smiling selfie. They are dressed up after a fancy dinner .
Secretly engaged on Ailsa’s 31st birthday

5 weeks later, we flew to Barbados. Close friends from uni who were living in Virginia at the time and we’d discussed holidaying with, joined us. We married with just our friends, our local friend Johnny, his son, and our wedding planner as witnesses on Bottom Bay, on the day of a tropical storm. We told our families and closest friends later that day. A few days later, we dropped the news on Facebook, and then disappeared alone to Monserrat for 10, blissful, phone-free days.

Ailsa and Colin are on a beach, dressed in wedding clothes, and holding champagne glasses. They are both looking at the surf as it chases their toes,  and laughing as Colin helps Ailsa to keep her long wedding dress dry

And now, we sail into the sunset

And that’s it. That takes us to the decision we made a year after getting married, that we didn’t marry just to be apart.

We remain unromantic. No nicknames or hand-holding. No cards or tokens of our affection. Only the occasional present, as we prefer to “do things” over “having stuff”. Eating nice food, drinking nice wine, travelling, and adventures are our romance. Time spent together.

Ailsa sits at the front of a kayak with Colin behind her, taking a selfie. Both are wrapped up but wearing sunglasses. The kayak is on a quiet canal in Venice.
Kayaking Venice’s canals on our 20th anniversary, Valentine’s Day 2019

Over the last year, with lockdowns and working from home, we spend all day together. When we moved from Edinburgh to Kelso we purposely set up a joint office. We like to be in each others’ space. We don’t even take baths alone. It works for us.

Ailsa and Colin sit on a sofa, with Ailsa taking a selfie. She is wearing makeup and a red dress, and Colin has on a shirt as if they are going out. In the background is an iPad screen set up for them to watch a zoom wine tasting
Enjoying a zoom wine tasting at home during the first lockdown of 2020

Hearts and flowers are never going to be our thing, despite celebrating our anniversary on Valentines Day. Our thing is honesty, experience, laughter, dedication, and spending time together.

That should bode very well for being confined to a 45′ catatamaran together for what we hope will be many years to come…

Wishing everyone a happy Valentines Day, however you choose to spend it, and whatever your brand of romance is.


Ailsa and Colin are curled up on a sofa. Ailsa has a hoodie on, and half zipped into it is Schrödinger, their black cat. Colin is leaning his head towards Ailsa and smiling for a family portrait​
Family portrait, 2016