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Hurricane Elsa wasn’t the first tropical storm we’ve experienced. The first was actually on our wedding day, 8 years ago today.
We had booked a holiday to Barbados and Montserrat in the January of that year. At the end of May, on my birthday, Colin suggested we get married while we were there. I had been very clear that I wanted to get married on a particular beach, in as low-key a way as possible. We were also agreed that we’d rather avoid any fuss and keep the news to ourselves.
We flew out a few days beforehand, and our friends Graham and El joined us a couple of days later. They are old friends from our uni days and were living in Virginia at the time. We’d already spoken about holidaying together in Barbados, so we knew they were likely to be able to attend.
The day before the wedding, memorably, we spent the afternoon playing at Dover Beach before taking a sunset catamaran cruise. We drank champagne and danced beneath a double rainbow. Andy Murray had just won Wimbledon. It was an incredible day, and we still had the wedding to look forward to.
I thought it might be fun to fish out my diary and see how that panned out…
The big day
We wake up early, and I haven’t slept that well. Not sure if it’s nerves or not, but even if we’d tried to have a lie in the wedding planner Celia called at quarter to 8. There’s a tropical storm warning, so we don’t know what to expect, so we go ahead with everything as planned.
It feels a little wrong, but we start the day doing laundry, whilst fitting in some sunbathing and reading. We’re both reading Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane. After a shower we have breakfast at the hotel bar, not knowing if there will be much time for lunch. Flying fish and scrambled eggs combine to make a very, very tasty toastie!
After breakfast, we drive to the hair salon for my appointment. It’s a bumpy start to the day – we’ve parked in a different car park than usual and Colin gently nudges a post… Colin leaves El and me at the salon, where Tina instantly makes me feel comfortable by offering me a beer. It takes less time than planned to put my hair up, so there’s time to fix a very untidy nail. We chat with Tina throughout, who came on holiday here from the UK 10 years ago and pretty much stayed.
After getting a taxi back to the hotel El plays look-out. The complicated plan is to kick Colin out of our room while I shower, and then out of Graham and El’s room while I do my make-up and get dressed. Everything goes pretty smoothly, and we’re ready on time, though all I have chance to eat is a yogurt. I feel very overdressed in the proper wedding dress I spent weeks trying to find in a hurry. El is in a beautiful tea dress with maps of Barbados and flying fish on it, and I’m wishing I’d gone more low-key, but white dresses just aren’t in fashion.
Get me to the beach on time
We’ve arranged for my old friend Johnny to take El and I to the beach. He arrives exactly on time, with his teenage son Dylan in tow. He even thought ahead and had a cool bottle of water and a towel to protect my dress waiting for us in the car, a white Toyota Camry which is apt. I’m slightly relieved that he no longer drives an open-sided Moke.
We set off at ten past 2. We’re not moving for long. First, we stop at Johnny’s bar to get champagne. Then Johnny runs over the road to Time Out to get glasses as he doesn’t have flutes. Next up is the hotel where Dylan is staying with his mother, to get his iPad. Finally, we visit the petrol station. El and I are slowly melting in the back of the car…
The big moment
When we arrive at Bottom Bay, everything moves very fast. Celia greets us and quickly leads me down the steps. I’m not quite sure how fast things will be and get a bit muddled. I’d said almost jokingly a few nights before that Johnny should walk me ‘down the aisle not really expecting it to happen. He’s clearly keen though, and it feels appropriate given I’ve known him for 12 years, he knows my parents, and he introduced us to Bottom Bay. I go with it, and we walk arm in arm across the sand.
Celia has created a small space for the ceremony. We weren’t fussed about anything, flowers or such, but she felt a marker would be right. Colin is waiting with the Reverend Ricky Orlando Kirton. I was dubious about having a religious officiant as we’re both atheists, but he keeps it God-free. The setting is perfect and the weather as beautiful as we have ever seen it there. A steel pan player is there, playing as I walk. Graham is wielding our SLR and has attached some GoPro’s to trees. Like us, he has family connections to wedding photography and we didn’t want a photographer intruding on our fun.
And then, we get married. Colin is asked to look after me and provide for me. I’m asked to support him and ‘honour him’ with my ‘attributes’. We’re less convinced about that part. I said ‘I will’ too soon, and many times after, and Colin grunts out some of his vows while trying to push my ring on and speak at the same time.
Fun and photos
After the ceremony, we sign the register, with much mirth at my previous status of ‘spinster’. El and Johnny sign as witnesses and Johnny cracks open the champagne. El keeps the cork safe, to keep with my 21st cork [I still have both]. We sip and snap for a while, enjoying the moment, glad that the forecast tropical storm hasn’t rolled in yet. The steel pan player keeps playing. We’d sent him some songs (Lucky Boys Confusion’s Fred Astaire, The Cure’s Lovecats, INXS’s Never Tear us Apart, and The Pixies’ Here Comes your Man) and he’d been working on pulling out some melodies. In the blur, all I could hear was nice tinkling music. [We worked out later that he was playing the background melody of Fred Astaire, which he’d known was our favourite].
Celia warns us about the impending storm but stays on the beach to play with her kid, and Johnny and Dylan say goodbye. We head to nearby Sam Lords Castle. Now burnt out, it makes the perfect location for photos and I’d had it in mind for a while. It feels totally normal to be standing in satin heels and a silk dress celebrating amongst the ruins, I like the contrast. We don’t stay too long, concerned about the weather turning as it’s a half-hour drive back to St Lawrence Gap. We stop at Chefette for milkshakes on the way – partly for the novelty value, and partly as the only thing I’d eaten since breakfast was the yogurt and it was after 5pm.
Spreading the news
Back at the hotel, I’m glad to change out of the dress which has become hot and nippy. I regret not spending more on the adjustments and having it done properly [in retrospect, I wish they had done less, they were obsessed with making it so tight and padded so my boobs would stay put!].
We Skype call family and texted a handful of friends, explaining that we’re keeping the news quiet for a few more days. We discuss possible options for a celebration. As we chat, housekeeping comes to the door to present us with a bottle of merlot, compliments of the hotel. We’ve also had a notice about the storm slipped under the door, so we fill water bottles, the kettle, and sink with water before going out.
We reconvene on the pool deck (now cleared of loungers because of the storm) and toast again, this time with Tattinger bought at Gatwick Airport. Then we make our way round to the Harlequin restaurant for dinner.
We arrive to find that the owner Keith, Johnny, and the hotel have all given special instructions for us to be well looked after. We’re so overwhelmed that it’s some way into dinner before we noticed that there are flowers, balloons, and bells put up around our table. I felt almost bad that I’ve removed my dress. There’s been some confusion over whether Johnny and Dylan are joining us so we’ve been seated at a table for 6. We worked out that this has come from the hotel thinking Johnny would be with us all day. They even keep another table free in case the weather forces us to move and ask our permission before seating another group there.
Dinner is delicious and I finally get a starter after being healthy all week. The storm doesn’t hit, but we get a little rain so the canopy is pulled down to shelter us. A pretty cat joins us and gets scraps of duck and kingfish under the table, and Keith checks on us a couple of times to make sure we’re happy. I’m flagging and getting tired towards the end. I’ve just finished sipping on a Kahlua when the lights dim and Cliff Richard’s celebration comes on (bad music haunts this wedding, last night it was Michael Bolton). A chocolate fudge brownie dessert with a sparkler in it is carried out, and after much cheering and shaking the hand of every staff member we dig in.
An unexpected treat
After dinner we begin the walk to Johnny’s, just for one beer, not knowing if he’ll be open given the storm warnings. We run into an American couple we met the night before. They tell us that Johnny’s is closed, but that there’s a turtle laying eggs on the beach! We creep along, peering into the shadows, and finally find her. We sit and watch her bury eggs/dig holes for almost an hour, knowing this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Sitting in silence with our dear friends, and nature feels like the most incredible way to end our wedding. Finally, I’m nodding off and it’s clear that the turtle will be there for some time, so we head home. Colin lets the turtle watch people know where she is, worried that she’d chosen the busy Dover beach. We go to bed feeling very, very lucky.
The morning after
[The day after the wedding we were under a storm curfew until noon].
We sleep in, which was wonderful, having expected to hear the storm through the night. The sky is grey but everything is relatively calm – we’re in the eye of the storm. We spend the morning pottering about the room and popping out to the balcony every so often to take photos as the rest of the storm passes over us. It’s too bad, but the sea looks wild. We’re glad the island gets off lightly but sheepishly sad we didn’t see anything more dramatic.
We went out in the rain to buy postcards shortly afternoon and found that most places were shut or only just opening. Luckily Best of Barbados was opening (removing sandbags from the door) so we managed to find postcards with Bottom Bay on them. From there, everything began to open up, and we could go about our day, though unfortunately the Segway tour we’d planned was canceled.
We finally made the news fully public a week later, just before flying to Montserrat and being offline for 10 days. I hadn’t realised that I’d actually given the game away days before posting a photo where Colin’s shiny new wedding ring was clearly visible…
And so on, and so forth
It’s funny reading this back. My memories of the storm, preparing for it, watching it, were greater. I don’t really think I did the experience justice. I think the way I write and record things has changed so much since then – there was less emotion then. I’m relieved that my brain can fill in the blanks. It was a wonderful, memorable day. I never say that my wedding day was the happiest day of my life, because that limits the future, and downplays all of the other wonderful moments in my life. Happiness can’t be forced or manufactured.
What I do know is that I have absolutely no regrets about the wedding itself. I slightly regret now the way we celebrated afterward. We held a big BBQ at my Dad’s house, but that meant me spending a couple of weeks apart from Colin to prepare. It also meant many people I dearly wanted there not being able to attend. In hindsight, a few separate smaller celebrations would have been more appropriate. And I regret not bringing my best friends into the secret. They know who they are. Maybe some of the stress of a ‘normal’ wedding may have been worth it to spend a night dancing with them. It just means that I now try everything I can to be together for those big life events.
The great thing about getting married on 8 July is that it means we’re usually on holiday. We do vaguely celebrate our ‘dating’ anniversary, which goes way back to 1999, but that falls on Valentines’ Day so isn’t a time of year or date that lends itself to unique celebrations. We don’t do gifts, as a rule. Certainly not romantic ones. Our gift to each other has always been travel and experience.
So, we made a decision to always try to be somewhere different or to do something memorable each year on our wedding anniversary. We’ve almost managed it…
We stayed in southern Tuscany in an agriturismo. We had originally planned to stay in multiple locations but our financial situation was dire – we were stuck unable to sell a property and had just gone rather nuts in NYC for my birthday. Instead, we went for a budget option and self-catered for most of the trip, and avoided paid attractions. On the day itself, we visited some hot springs in a forest and had a fantastic dinner in Pitigliano with an incredible cheese plate.
We had just moved house, days before. I’d spent the weekend getting the place perfect. Then we had contractors arrive to do some major damp proofing work. We’d come home from work the day before our anniversary, to find the flat completely uninhabitable. Our bed was behind a sheet of plastic, and the air was so thick with dust we couldn’t breathe. We threw random clothes into a bag and fled to a friend’s house. Very early the next morning we flew to Nice and spent the day wandering. After getting up at 4am and being on the go all day we chose to have dinner on the terrace of our AirBnB rather than going out, which was perfect. After a couple of days in Nice, we had our first weekend sailing around Cannes.
We were in Grenada, staying in a log cabin AirBnB full of cockroaches but otherwise beautiful. We spent the morning at Belmont Plantation enjoying a tour and then had an incredible lunch with chocolate in every dish. After a rest, we went back out in the evening for turtle watching at Levera Beach, where we saw hatchlings emerge onto the sand and a Leatherback laying. Later in that trip, we went on to sail the southern Grenadines for our Coastal Skipper qualification on Chao Lay with Grenada Bluewater Sailing.
We went to San Marino, somewhere we’d always wanted to stay after a day trip in 2012, for a couple of nights. Our hotel, La Rocca, was inside the walled city and had incredible views. We spent the day wandering the town and visiting the castle and then had dinner at La Terrazza.
We were in Saint Lucia, staying at Tet Rouge, a place I still daydream about constantly. We had a morning massage on our deck during a rainstorm, then lunch at Jade Mountain, which was phenomenal. Then we went to visit the local hot springs and mud pools for some DIY beautification. We had planned a private dinner on deck but preferred to be social, so we enjoyed a BBQ night with the other guests. After a week in Saint Lucia, we flew to St Vincent for our first bareboat experience.
We went to Guadeloupe and stayed in an AirBnB outside Deshaies. My mum was in hospice back home, and fading fast. She died three days later, but on our anniversary she was still able to speak. We went to La Tapeur, an aerial adventure, which felt oddly therapeutic. In the afternoon I recorded a message for dad to play for mum when she woke up. It was time for me to tell her how much I loved her and that she didn’t need to hold on through the pain. We ate dinner at Le Rayon Vert, with rain showers throughout. I ate food mum loved – crayfish and profiteroles, and a huge fell from a tree nearby. I took it home and treasured it until it was ready to eat – avocados were mum’s favourite. After 8 nights in Deshaies, we sailed for a week on a bareboat from Dream Yacht Charters.
And here’s where it gets dull. We had originally expected to be leaving the UK that month, so had hoped for a day out in Edinburgh, a trip to the theatre to see Heathers the musical, and a fancy dinner. Covid had other ideas. So Colin spent the day working from home, and I went to the osteopath and for a nice walk. We had our usual post-work walk up to the castle esplanade, then ordered pizza from our favourite restaurant and drank Lidl champagne whilst watching Fear the Walking Dead.
And this year, our 8th anniversary
I’d like to say we’d planned our day now we’re out here, but we haven’t. We’d hoped to be heading to Sandy Lane Yacht Club for dinner at Shenanigans but our pesky barrel still hasn’t been unloaded so we can’t leave Bequia yet. So, like last year, it’ll be low-key. We’ll both work all morning. We’ll have a little treat with a couples massage at Serenity Day Spa after work and might head to the beach or for a snorkel. Our friends are having a drink at the floating bar at sunset so we’ll meet them there, then we’ll head to Jacks Beach Bar for dinner. It underlines the fact that once you live in paradise, life goes on, just with a different backdrop.