This is my 100th entry on this blog.
That means I've averaged damn near one entry a week over the two years I've been writing it, covering pretty much every aspect of my experience leaving Slovakia and travelling to Japan to take a job with JET.
This also means that regular readers will have followed my relationship with Haru pretty much every step of the way - everything has been recorded right here.
The day we first met at Otsu Matsuri.
The day we 'officially' got together.
Our first weekend away, first Christmas, first Valentine's day (spent hanging around with snow monkeys),
even the day I proposed, and she said 'Yes'.
It's all on here, no wonder one reader once commented that reading this blog was like reading a 'romantic comedy'. A comparison I both appreciated and totally agreed with. Yes, this is a travel blog and it is the story of my journey, but that journey wasn't always about travel.
So, for those of you who have been following our lives on this blog I'm very happy to present - the wedding special :-)
This is where it's all going to take place. Masson Farm, on the hills overlooking Matlock Bath in the Peak District. I grew up near here and spent a large part of my youth wandering these hills. See that ruined castle across the valley, I used to have to run around that for PE, cross country running, when I was a secondary school student.
I always thought that if I got married (and for a long time that was a big IF), it would be a small, intimate, ceremony somewhere like this.
Of course, having been out of the UK for about 15 years now, keeping the ceremony small isn't a problem. I don't really know anybody here anymore. So it's just us, close family and three friends I've managed to keep in touch with since I was 16 - Nik, Jules and Chris.
Although it is possible to drive up to the farm, we've decided to take alternative transport, and are arriving by cable car (pure class).
Since I left for Slovakia, about 15 years ago, the four of us have only managed to get together about 3 times and the last time was about a year before I went to Japan. So it was great to have this chance to catch up, and regress to our idiotic 16 year old selves for a bit. After arriving at the top of the cable car we had a long walk through the fields to reach the farm, it was all very reminiscent of the caravanning holidays we took together during our collage days.
While we were still ambling down the hill, enjoying what Chris dubbed 'The shameless cash-in reunion tour', (dogged by paparazzi every step of the way, actually this is probably the first time I've done a blog entry where all the pictures were taken by other people), the other guests were arriving at the farm and getting seated.
We soon joined them, and the nervous hanging around began. Everything is ready now, but we're all still waiting for one very important person.
Haru and the bridesmaids are following us, also coming up by cable car, about 20 mins behind us. I guess that this is usually the most nerve wracking part, waiting for the bride to turn up - but I'm not too worried, I'm still holding her plane ticket back to Japan, so she can't run far :-)
Me and the boys in our suits attracted a fair bit of attention, but a beautiful Japanese woman in full bridal gear wandering through Matlock Bath and riding the cable car turned a lot more heads.
They may have gained more celebrity than us, but the walk down to the farm was a little more problematic for them. Well, we didn't have to do it in high heels, but being smart girls they took a change of shoes for the cross country hike.
If you've wondering how far it is, well this will give you a fair idea. By pure chance, the father of our wedding photographer was out on the other side of the valley with his camera and snapped a couple of shots - look carefully, that white dot on the left hand hillside is Haru heading down to the farm.
Then the wait was over, they had arrived and everybody went to their places. As Haru's father is quite frail, and wasn't up to the long flight to the UK, her brother is giving her away instead. Suddenly I realize that there are some details I want to know that I never asked about - like now, I don't know if I should turn to watch her approach, or if I'm supposed to stay facing the front until she is beside me??? I try to think back to weddings I've seen in movies, and before I know it she's beside me anyway, and I see her in the dress for the first time. Wow!
The actual ceremony is taking place in a building called Swallow Barns after the nesting swallows who use it every summer, and who we terribly inconvenienced by having our wedding there. Here you can see one of them waiting for us to leave so it can get to it's babies.
The registrar has been wonderfully accommodating, and the service was a mix of traditional parts and personal readings selected by Haru and me (I'll add the readings at the bottom). Nik is on best man duties, after years of loyal friendship and shared adventures he was the obvious choice, and I was glad to have him there. The ring won't go on my finger, but I'm ready for this - I heard it's quite common as your fingers to swell with all the heightened emotion of the day - so I just hold it on my fingertip until I can shove it on at a discreet moment later.
We even managed to arrange a fly-by of an old world war two bomber to perfectly cover up the moment Haru fluffed her lines - though I'm not sure it was an accident, as she skipped the bit about having to honour me!
Then we're signing the paper and the official part is all over, time for everybody to move over to the front lawn, and to stop disturbing the poor swallows. We've set up a small marquee in the field, and this is where we're moving now.
In keeping with the countryside farm theme of the wedding, and the small number of guests, we've requested a natural picnic basket style buffet lunch. Everybody can help themselves and eat in the marquee or out on the lawn.
At least that was the theory, one big worry about the day has been the weather. The couple of days prior have been really changeable and we really didn't know if it was going to be rain or shine. So far it's held out, but now the sky is glowering and really threatening to turn nasty.
Luckily it never came to anything more than a few drops of rain, and a chance to get that great dramatic photo, before clearing up again! So taking full advantage of the good weather it was time for our photographer, Sam, to get some more formal group photos.
One really great thing about Masson Farm as a venue is that, in a quite a small space, you have many distinct spaces - the barns, the front lawn looking over the valley, the rose bushes by the main gate (that were in full bloom for us) and a back garden full of wild-flowers including some really nice foxgloves. All this made a great backdrop for some beautiful pictures.
Our time at the farm was fast running out now, and everybody regrouped at the marquee for what turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the day - Nik's best man's speech.
Now Nik is known to all of us for being a generally quite quiet and reserved. So it's not exaggerating to say he went above and beyond with his speech, it not only covered all the formal thank-yous required, but was by turns laugh out loud funny and actually quite touching too. He certainly earned the proud smile he was wearing by the end of it, I was proud of him too!
It's time to start heading down to the main gate and the waiting cars now.
Just time for one last round of photos by the rose bushes and a confetti shower, then we're thanking our host, Denise, for a wonderful day in a picturesque place and getting into the car - but it's not quite over yet, we have one more surprise for the guests still to come. Something I haven't even told Haru about yet!
After a short stop back at the hotel for everybody to rest, as it begins to get dusky we head out to a local park. While we wait for it to get a bit darker we pop some champagne and cut the cake.
Then once it's dark enough my sister, Francesca, produces glow lanterns and marker pens for everybody. The idea is to write some personal message on the lanterns and send them off into the night.
It was another personal touch and a lovely way to end the day, Haru who had no idea why we were hanging around in the park was amazed and delighted. Watching those glowing balls receded into distant points of light somehow seemed like a metaphor for the journey we still had ahead of us - who knows how far we will go and where we will finally come to rest?
So that was our wedding, and, if we get it right, the only one we'll ever have. Sometimes it didn't go as smoothly as planned, but it was never a disaster and most importantly I think everybody had a good time. When I look back I think what I'll remember the most will be how beautiful Haru was, and how much everybody seemed to be smiling.
Thank you everybody who shared the day with us in person and made it so warm and friendly.
Thank you to my sister Francesca for handling most of the UK preparation in my absence.
Thank you Denise for providing a perfect romantic setting.
Thank you Sam (and Dave) for capturing the day for us.
Thank you Muro Sensei for translating the whole ceremony into Japanese for my in-laws.
Thank you Travellers point and everybody who has shared the journey with us through this on blog.
Here's to the future, I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't have a long lasting, and loving, life together ahead of us....
Hey, what did I do to deserve that??
Aahhh, yes! Oh, well, we'll see how it goes :-)
THE WEDDING READINGS
The Registrar's reading we selected
Louis de Bernieres, from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin:
Love is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.
My reading to Haru
Daily Afflictions, by Andrew Boyd:
Loving the Wrong Person
We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavours of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. It isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems – the ones that make you truly who you are – that you’re ready to find a life-long mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person – someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.”
Haru's reading to me (read in Japanese)
One with each other by George Elliot
"What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel they are joined for life – to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories."