Thursday, 14 September 2017

I'll Be There For You

I'm curled up on the floor of my living room in my comfiest clothes, watching a Netflix romantic comedy whilst one set of impossibly tiny clothes dries outside on the patio and another set flies about in the washing machine. I've just hung up the phone, having been chatting to a work friend for 40 minutes, and am waiting for the phone to ring again so that Dale can tell me he's free to pop out of work and meet me in Mothercare. I'm purposely ignoring the cries of the custard creams in the cupboard and telling myself I'll chop up some fruit in a minute.

It's a Thursday afternoon.


Welcome to maternity leave.


I've been incredibly emotional about maternity leave- as I imagine most people are, since it only occurs when your hormones are completely out of control, your life is about to change, you're somewhere between vaguely uncomfortable and unbearable pain twenty four hours a day, and you keep being told that you're going to experience huge trauma followed by the most love you have ever felt any day now.


But also- I love my job.


My job is my current baby. I was lucky enough to launch the education centre I work in. The day I started it was an empty shell with a couple of desks and a single phone. I went in in my leggings and baggy jumpers and got covered in dust putting computers together. I unpacked boxes of office stuff and spent days organising and reorganising where we were going to keep books and stationery.


I went through the first CVs, hired the first team, signed up the first member.


(Just to be clear, this was all with two other managers. I'm not taking all the credit.)


When Minnie Mouse was in labour, the only thing that stopped me tearing my hair out was the distraction of interviewing new tutors to run our centre. When Dale and I were living in different counties and could only see each other every other weekend, hanging out with hilarious children and saving up their quotes to tell him kept me sane. When I was given the worst news I have ever been given, I spent the day teaching children maths and English- watching their little faces light up when they got something right, watching them visibly inflate when I praised them for their attitude- and was temporarily relieved of thinking about it all.


That's the job itself.


Then there's the part that makes or breaks every job: the people.


I am fortunate enough to have worked alongside incredible people: managers, tutors, parents, and of course, children.


When we got engaged, my colleagues were among the very first people I told. The tutors contributed far more than I'm sure they know to the planning of my wedding, and I can't imagine having made it through this pregnancy without the input of some of the parents.


I went through a phase of telling people I was pregnant and being met either with a reaction along the lines of 'I thought so, you've been looking ever so bloated', or 'wow, was it a shock?' Neither were reactions that I particularly appreciated, and it got to the stage that I had heard little else.


Then I saw a particular member. She's nine.


"Can I tell you a secret?" I asked. "I have a baby in my tummy."


She threw her arms in the air, squealed, and cried 'amazing news! Congratulations!'


It was honestly the most grown up and heartwarming response I had.


Some of my proudest moments happened in that centre. From the moment the first child came in to tell me he had passed the 11+, to the time an eight year old member finally spoke for the first time outside of his family home. From the small, daily triumphs like watching a nine year old finally make the connection between multiplying and dividing, to watching a tutor excel following their training and go on to become a qualified teacher.


Every day was filled with small triumphs and hilarious moments, and anyone who knows me will know that my favourite things about this and every other job I've had are a) the ridiculous sentences you say when you work with children b) all the brilliantly funny things you hear when you work with children.


I could write a novel filled with them, but here are my favourites from my last week...


1) "I don't want to alarm you but do you know that there's a flip flop in your hair?"


2) "I think I should try and write this more perfectly, it really doesn't make sense." A six year old boy after reading back his sentence.


3) "And were you concentrating or were you sticking pencils up your nose?"


4) "I went to have a drink of water but it made my ear hurt so I don't think I can do any more." A (different) six year old boy trying to get out of doing his maths.


5) "See if you can guess my favourite dinner." Five year old girl. "It's a type of meat."

"Okay...roast dinner? No? Steak? No? Sausage and mash? No? I give up."
"It's chocolate ice cream!"

6) "It was my sister's birthday last year." Five year old boy.

"Last year? Was it? Are you sure you mean last year?"
"Yep, definitely."
"He means yesterday." His ten year old sister.

7) "I went to London yesterday, to see the Eiffel Tower."


8) "Do you think you should be blowing raspberries or doing your work?"

"Blowing raspberries."
Oh right....

9) "Then I had to stand up on the train all the way back from London to England."


10) "Why is she crying?"

"She asked her sister to guess her favourite pizza toppings. She got them all right. She didn't want her to."


Of course it wasn't all laughing at children and chatting with parents; there were times when the pressure got too much, or expectations were too high; when people were rude or frustratingly unreasonable. But there was never, ever a time when there wasn't an amazing person beside me or on the phone to remind me that people are occasionally awful and that that's not my fault.


When I had been doing this job for a year I looked back over what I had achieved and, more importantly, what I had learnt, and was both impressed and proud (in a self-effacing, British way, mind you) at how much it had given me in such a short amount of time. I remember thinking 'imagine where I'll be in another year.'


A year after that I had been promoted and was facing a whole host of new challenges- equally frustrating, fun and full of self-development, and equally impossible without the amazing people I had around me.


A year after that and here I am. Spending my afternoons writing, watching Netflix and eating. (Just so you know in the time I've written this I've had two squares of chocolate, a peanut butter cup and a hot chocolate. The fruit continues to sit sadly in the bowl on the kitchen table.)


My last few weeks in my job were emotional, to say the least.


Most days I arrived struggling to breathe as my baby is squashing my innards and the rush into the centre didn't help. I've been suffering so much with heart burn that if this baby comes out with anything less than a thatch to rival my Grandad Derek's (he has the most incredible hair, even as he trots through his 70s) I'll be highly disappointed. And I'm so, so tired. Absolutely exhausted, all the time. Which means I spent a lot of time thinking that these blissful days off couldn't come soon enough.


But then one by one I'd realise it was my last shift with a tutor, or the last time I'd see a certain child, or their parents. Or a child would make me laugh so hard that I couldn't breathe for different reasons. Or one of the other managers would say something so relate-able, or would find something as funny as I did, and I'd just want to sob at the thought of leaving.


In the last month we had a fourth manager join us, so that when I left they would continue to be the necessary team of three.


We, as a group of four, had a magic about us, I like to think, in that we were all so different in so many ways, but so similar in all the important ways. We spent a lot of time finding the same things funny, and the same things infuriating, which brings people together in such a special way, doesn't it?


I had worked with one member of that team for two years, one for almost a year, and one for a month. And in all that time had spent the majority of it communicating in Friends quotes, and making sense of everything (as I always have done) through Friends comparisons.


Which is why, when I left work on my last day as a team of four, I emailed Jo Whiley.


The radio 2 listeners among you will know that it's incredibly rare that they provide the opportunity for the public to request songs, but every weekday evening on my drive home Jo Whiley runs a feature called Taxi Service. This involves listeners who are on the road contacting her with the song that they want to hear whilst they are playing taxi driver, and let her know what or who it is that they are taxiing.


I sent the following email:


Hi Jo! 


It's the end of an era. I am about to taxi myself and my unborn baby home from work for the last time after 3 years in the most wonderful job with the most genuinely fabulous team- feeling so emotional! 


We will, of course, stay in touch and continue to bond over Popmaster and taxi service from afar, but if you could play I'll be there for you by The Rembrandts after 3 years of communicating in Friends quotes I'm sure it would brighten all of our drives home!! 


Thank you so much, love your show always, 


Rebecca 


I listened intently to Taxi Service. She read out a series of texts and emails that weren't from me, and eventually played No Scrubs by TLC-which was an excellent choice- just not mine. 


She then played another few songs before the news. 


The news finished, a standard BBC radio ad went out, and then the opening chimes of I'll Be There For You burst onto the radio. I, having managed to keep my emotions in check all week, promptly burst into tears and sobbed all the way through the song, before Jo came on and read out my email and said she hadn't seen it in time for taxi service but couldn't let it just go by. 


Safe to say all of us cried at the sound of that song that evening. One of the girls said that when it first started she thought 'it's a divine intervention, what are the chances?!' And then she immediately thought 'wait, I bet Rebecca's been in contact with them somehow.' And then she cried. 


It really was the perfect ending to my three magical years, and was made even better when, on my actual last day (for which only two of us were in), the other two managers, plus a manager from a different centre, turned up to surprise me with cake and presents and love. 


And now here I am, two weeks later, feeling wonderful for just having spoken to them again. 


So yes, I took so much from this job. Leadership and credibility and assertiveness and business sense.


But the biggest thing that I will hold onto from this job is that there are such incredible people out there. Children, who are hilarious, inquisitive, wise, kind and naturally thoughtful. Teenagers, desperate to make a difference in the world and full of life and enthusiasm for starting out their adult lives as role models for children. Twenty-somethings, still discovering who they are and changing and improving every day and being understanding, kind, hilarious and curious as they do so. Parents, comfortable enough to share their life stories with me and thoughtful enough to want to help me. Parents, who just want the absolute best for these little humans they've created, and who will fight tooth and nail for them to have the best.


I often tell my Grandma stories from work and she will say 'gosh you do meet all sorts working there, don't you?'


Yes I do.


There is very little that will surprise me about humans now.


But what I do know is that whilst there are scary things happening in the world, and whilst the media may be insisting that adults are greedy and selfish and cruel, and children no longer have any manners or respect, I can confirm that for the most part, this is not true.


I have met all sorts in my job, and whilst they are all different, they are all wonderful, and ultimately are just trying to do the right thing by the people around them. There are exceptions, of course. But they are exceptions.


And so as I pulled the shutters across for the last time on what had been an empty shell with a few desks and a single phone, and was now a fully functioning education centre filled with incredible people, stories and memories, I kept the tears at bay and let my heart fill up instead. 


I will continue to use all that wisdom from all those incredible people for this next adventure.


My actual baby. 


In the mean time, I'll be here for you.


Eating, mostly.


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Almost There

I could probably have written a post on pregnancy every month of this year, but a) I was aware of slipping into the trap of becoming a motherhood blogger and more prominently b) when I haven't been at work I've been asleep.

But there's so much to say that I absolutely cannot let this pregnancy go by without managing at least one post on the magical adventure that is growing a child.

I've found myself adding a preface to everything I say recently, and this is no exception.

Just so you know: I do know how lucky I am. And I'm not complaining in any way. Merely observing the trials and tribulations that come with pregnancy. Sort of in the same way I loved to moan about my ridiculous guests in Disney or the other people around the pool in Majorca. I'm not saying I wish I wasn't going through it, I just love a little moan.

In fact, I am so aware of how lucky I am that I spent the first half of my pregnancy in absolute disbelief. At my first four appointments when I was asked 'do you have any questions?' I answered 'are you sure I'm pregnant?'

Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 1: Nobody checks you're pregnant for TWELVE WEEKS. Everyone just takes your word for it that you've done a positive test, and there's no such thing as a false positive. I mean I'm not totally sure why you'd tell a lie for the sake of having to fill in endless forms, answer insane questions like 'and is your husband also your blood relative?' and have all kinds of needles poked into you, but even so.

Every time I asked whether I was definitely pregnant I was met with the same reaction. A laugh and an exasperated nod. But I'm sure everyone must go through that in those first weeks.

I had around three days during my first trimester that I didn't throw up, and for those three days I convinced myself that I had invented the entire pregnancy in my head and vowed never to moan about morning sickness again (Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 2: morning sickness is absolutely not limited to the morning).

Those days aside, I did throw up more or less every day between four and fourteen weeks though- and my love of Friends and various other tv shows means that I was more or less ready for that. What I wasn't ready for was just how hard it is to keep your pregnancy a secret in that time. I knew that people tend not to announce anything until they've had their twelve week scan, and I have always thought that I hope I don't find out I'm pregnant until as close to twelve weeks as possible to save me having to keep such a big secret. (I found out at three weeks.)

But what I hadn't considered is this....

1) You're really tired in that time. I mean, like a kind of tired I have never experienced before. And whilst a couple of irritating people have told me to 'wait until the baby's here if you think you're tired now', every other mother I have spoken to has said it's a different kind of tired. A special kind of tired reserved exclusively for pregnancy. A few people have told me that's how they've known they're pregnant- that awful, overwhelming, un-fightable exhaustion.

2) You lose your mind. Seriously. The reason I did the test the day that I did it was that I walked around 15 seconds across the education centre I work in to say something to a mum dropping off her son. As soon as I got there I had to apologise that I couldn't remember what I was there for. I followed it with 'I don't know if this is my age or something but this keeps happening to me and I've never had this before.' She leaned in and said  'perhaps you're pregnant', smiled, and walked away.

3) You're not just sick at 7am. You're sick all.day.long. I was sick if I got too hungry, which meant I had to eat regularly (not very easily done in my job), and was sometimes just sick out of the blue. I was sick outside a school, in the middle of a meeting with my manager, during a conversation with someone I manage, and at my mum's hen weekend seconds before a whole group of family friends walked into the bathroom.

All of this means that you're fairly useless during this time, which means that a) people guess (I had two mums from work guess and ask me outright during those first twelve weeks and it was so awkward), b) you want sympathy. You want twelve weeks off work and lots of sympathy, please, and c) you want everyone to know that you're actually not completely useless, it's just a phase. (Hopefully, anyway.)

Then on top of all that, it's really exciting! We were so excited- I've mentioned in a post before that I had to stop Dale buying the baby a bubble machine back in March. And when people mention babies/pregnancy/time off work/anything even remotely related to babies, you want to shout about it and keeping it quiet is SO HARD.

But we made it through that thanks to a combination of each other, a constant supply of custard creams, and my cousin Hannah (Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 3: It cannot be done without having an incredible cousin who happens to be an amazing midwife. She's the first person we told and the reason that we made it through that first trimester without going crazy. Honestly. She knows everything and I don't know how anyone does it without her), and then we were able to announce it. And that's when the real fun began.

The most striking question that I was asked- and I was asked by a surprising number of people- mostly (though with a couple of exceptions) people who absolutely do not know me well enough to ask, when we announced it was- "was it a shock?"

Well, no Barbara, because there's quite a specific process for getting pregnant and I've followed all the steps. Of course it wasn't a shock, but thanks for implying that this absolute miracle might have been.

The other one is "are you finding out what you're having?"

This is a trick question. 

If you're doing what that person would do, you're fine (though you will have to endure a ten minute lecture on why what you're doing is the right thing), if you're not, oh my goodness, strap yourself in for a long and tedious journey through Why Your Decision Is A Mistake.

Does it really matter to you, guest at my mum's wedding that I'm meeting for the first time today, whether I find out the sex of my baby before its birth?

(Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 4: Everything you decide about your baby seems to matter to everyone. For a couple of weeks I made the mistake of actually answering people when they asked me whether I had any names I like. People are brutal. Also naming a human is hard. There's too much to consider.)

And it only continues from there.

Because that's when the experts come in.

And by the experts I mean everyone in the world. 

If my amazing, experienced midwife cousin Hannah doesn't know, she'll tell me. So one of our conversations went like this:

"Hannah, do you think my wedding dress will still fit me in June?"

"I'm really sorry but there's absolutely no way of knowing. Every single person is different and sometimes the same person is completely different with different babies, so there really is no way of predicting it at all. Sorry that's not more helpful."

Hannah needn't have worried though, because all the office workers, cashiers, estate agents and teachers of the world were able to tell me with confidence. I had everything, from "there's no way you'll be able to hide it, you're so tiny, you'll be all bump" to "26 weeks? My sister's best friend's brother's wife didn't even know herself until she was 37 weeks, you'll definitely be able to hide it at 26 weeks."

And it is not just there that the experts stopped with their wisdom either....oh no....

1) Midwife: You really should monitor your intake of fish, as you could eat too much mercury and poison the baby.

Expert: Don't be ridiculous, what about in countries where they live by the sea and their entire diet is made up of seafood?

Excellent point, man who works as a driving instructor, but even so, I don't live off an entire diet of seafood and the advice provided based on the most up to date research and provided by the experts is to monitor it, so I'll be sticking to my eggs on toast today, thank you.

2) Midwife: Everything's looking really healthy, your bump is on the 90th centile so as long as you continue to grow along that line you'll remain low risk.

Expert: You're ever so small. That bump's barely there. Actually even my husband mentioned the other day that he thought you were a bit small for thirty weeks.

Even your husband? Even? You say that as though he's an expert, Deborah, but doesn't he work on the cheese counter in Morrisons? I don't really care what he thinks. Good to know you discuss my figure at home though.

3) Sonographer: Hm I've been looking at this screen for about fifteen minutes now and there is just no way of telling whether it's a girl or a boy. The baby has its legs crossed so there's just no way for me to tell, sorry.

Expert number 1: It's definitely a girl. I can tell.

Expert number 2: It's a boy. Definitely. I've never been wrong.

And then there are the just plain hilarious comments....

1) "So sorry but I have to ask. IS that a bump? Only I can't work out if you've just had a big lunch and I won't be able to stop staring until you've told me." From a teacher that I met for 2 minutes before I presented a certificate in assembly and left.

2) "Oh Rebecca is pregnant? I did notice but I didn't like to say anything because I know she likes a creme egg...."

3) "Ooh you are pregnant? I thought I saw a bump the other day but then I thought maybe you'd just put on a few pounds. I didn't want to upset you so I didn't say anything." Great job.

4) "You're pregnant? Yeah I thought so. You've been looking a bit bloated lately."

5) "Oh that makes so much sense. I thought you'd just eaten too many carbs."

6) "I know exactly how you feel. I've done it three times." That's really sweet, Man In Sainsbury's, but don't let your wife hear you claim that if you don't want a sharp object shoved somewhere intimate.

Whilst I text these ridiculous conversations to my mum and best pals, roll my inside eyes and learn to let it all roll over me like water off a duck's back (best piece of advice I've been given so far was from Minnie Mouse to use pregnancy to practise ignoring people because- I'm assured- they'll all be a million times worse once the baby is here), I have also been absolutely blown away by how kind people are.

I've been inundated with endless thoughtful gifts from everyone from my friends to my colleagues, the tutors I manage to the families I work with, Dale's friends to members of our own families. Strangers make sure I get a seat and will go without if it means I'm comfortable, everyone asks how I am with a little head tilt and genuine care in their eyes, and I cannot tell you how well a 'you look lovely' goes down when you feel horrendous. I had a text from a friend after a picture went on Facebook when I was 20 weeks saying 'look at your bump in that picture! You look beautiful.' I could have cried. Probably did, in fact. (Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 5: all you need is to tell a pregnant woman she looks nice. Save your pennies. Spend your words wisely.)

And so with just over 7 weeks to go I will continue to sidestep name questions, duck underneath nonsense comments about my size, take on (and feel free to ignore) everyone's well meaning advice, and enjoy this incredibly magical time with Dale.

I mentioned in the post about our engagement that every day felt a bit like Christmas Eve- knowing the best was yet to come, and actually being pregnant is exactly the same. Before every amazing thing that I have been lucky enough to experience I've had doubts that it will ever really happen. Just before I moved to Florida I remember thinking: I know I will one day be jealous of this version of myself- of the girl who is about to go and have the time of her life. Just enjoy the anticipation, and know that wonderful things are about to happen.

I keep reminding myself of the same thing.

Yes, it's hard, with the comments and the exhaustion and the worry and still working full time and getting everything ready, and the ridiculous cravings for Bold 2 in 1 Lavender and Camomile washing tablets, and yes, the baby being born is only going to introduce a load of new challenges that I hope to one day have the energy to write about.

But ultimately this special time is so short, as will the next adventure be, and before we know it we'll be facing a load of new challenges as we pack our little cherub off to school.

So I'm doing my absolute best to embrace every magical bit of it.

The bits I'm awake for, anyway.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Pursuit of Happiness

At my mum's wedding in April my cousin Katie used my favourite sentence of the year. She looked across at the table beside us and said:

"My ultimate aim in life is always to be as happy as Auntie Nick's happy friend Joy." 

We all laughed out loud. My mum's friend Joy and her husband Dug have always been the happiest people I know. For as long as I can remember they have filled every room with their joy- their smiles genuinely lighting up every occasion and their laughter always heard. This occasion was no different- it was their table that was laughing the loudest- and it both tickled and warmed me that my cousin had noticed their happiness throughout her life as well. 

I don't get to see Joy and Dug very often now that I'm an adult, but a lot of the things that they said around me when I was little have stayed with me, and I spent the rest of the wedding observing and chatting to them with interest. 

My cousin's aim to be as happy as them was an excellent one, I thought, and I was suddenly fascinated by all that they said. 

I was recently on a training course with work which involved looking at the life mission statements of famously successful people. They ranged from Richard Branson and Oprah to a successful American Headteacher and the founder of a soup company. The idea was that we looked at their ultimate aims in life and completed a series of activities in order to eventually be able to write our own. 

I had a fortunate head start here, as I had been on a different training course when I worked for a different company, which involved selecting one of many, many pictures to reflect what we wanted from life. 

I had selected the 'contentment' picture. That was in 2011 and it's stayed with me ever since.

So I wrote my mission statement and I won't go into too much detail but, as you can imagine, it involves lots about happiness. 

The conversations I had at my mum's wedding and over the next few days have stayed with me, internalised themselves along with those magical comments that Joy and Dug made around me as a child, and between those observations and observations of others around me during and since that training, I've come up with a few theories that may well be completely wrong as far as Joy and Dug are concerned, but that I have decided I think might be useful in the pursuit of happiness. 

The main thing is- and I truly do hate to sound like a preacher and/or cliche- you have to take responsibility for your own happiness...

1) Let the little annoying things go.

There seems to be a real culture of blaming everybody else for everything- as though every single move that every other person makes should be with your happiness in mind. 

Now I am- as I hope those who know me will already know- such an advocate of spreading the joy and taking action to bring happiness to those around you.

But I am also very much an advocate of making your own happiness. 

I'm not sure if this is the way the world has always been or whether it's a recent thing- I actually think the internet has a lot to do with the totally unjustified sense of entitlement everyone seems to have but perhaps that's a point to make another time. 

I recently heard a lady genuinely complaining to Sainsbury's customer service because the man who was filling the fruit crates up 'wasn't smiling.' 

Yes he was at work and perhaps that lady would have appreciated a grin flashed her way. But for goodness sake. Even when people are at work they are human beings. Perhaps he'd had bad news. Perhaps he had a tummy ache. Perhaps he was tired. Perhaps he was thinking about what he was going to have for lunch and was so deep in thought he forgot to smile at every single one of the hundreds of shoppers that would have passed by him that day. Perhaps his job is not to bring you joy on your Thursday morning shop, but to make sure the fruit crates are full. 

A few days later I popped to the bank on Chelmsford City High Street at 11am on a Saturday. 

Guess what? 

It was busy. 

Do you know whose fault it was? 

Nobody's. 

It's just the way of the world. Banks are busy on a Saturday morning because it's when the working folk of Chelmsford do their banking. 

Despite that, there was a man who stood behind me for no more than ten minutes before he was served, complaining. Loudly. For the first seven minutes he was moaning noisily to his wife- in front of his daughter who is learning how to behave from her parents, which is reassuring- that it was 'a bloody joke', 'absolutely ridiculous', he was going to 'move banks after this wait.' I'll let you pop in some particularly foul language wherever you think it might make sense. In fact, to imagine exactly what he was saying, pop some foul language in places it doesn't make sense, then you'll have a clear idea of what we were all listening to. 

For the final three minutes he stood in the middle of the bank declaring- so that absolutely everybody could hear- that he was leaving Natwest because it was such a joke and taking his banking business elsewhere. 

Firstly- if he thought that was anything but a relief for those members of staff who had to deal with him then he's even more naive than he originally seemed, and secondly- I wish him lots of luck finding a bank in a city centre without a ten minute wait on a Saturday morning. 

I'm not saying I'm immune to this, by the way. Just that I've noticed it's a concerning trait in society and something I'm working on not being a part of. A few weeks ago I went for a blood test at 7am (yes, it was just as fun as it sounds) and the lady who took my blood was grumpy to say the least. She said a maximum of four words to me in the time that I was there, just giving one word commands and raising her eyebrows at me. 

I started to voice this to Dale and then heard myself back and rolled my eyes. "I suppose it's not exactly her job to bring me happiness is it? Her job was to take my blood and she did that brilliantly. Barely a mark there now." 

"Yep," Dale nodded, "she's at work taking people's blood at seven am. I think we can forgive her for being less than cheerful." 

He's right. We can. 

There are parts of life and of people that can be frustrating but I don't think the answer is always to solve it. Sometimes the answer might be to just let it go.

2) Try to understand another point of view. If you can't see it, have faith that it's there.

I could probably write a novel on this topic alone: Being Offended. 

Honestly, you can barely order a coffee without offending someone. It's a minefield! But I think that the truth is that in the real world- i.e. not on the internet where people actually choose to spend their time offending people on purpose- very few people set out intending to upset anyone. I think that what people say tends to be a reflection of their own experiences/thoughts/that moment and very little to do with you. 

How often have you walked away and thought 'why did I say that? What an idiot!' Chances are others do that a lot as well. 

I've been keeping track of the ridiculous things that people have said to me in pregnancy. I am going to write a blog post on them at some point. I tell them to Dale, and to Jiminy Cricket and my mum. 

Then the other day I saw a video that another pregnant woman had made about the comments you get during pregnancy, and people were commenting funny things that have been said to them. Then somebody commented 'oh stop taking offence at everything, people have good intentions when they say these things.'

At which point I was mortified. 

Of course they have good intentions. With one genuinely nasty exception I haven't taken offence at any of the comments I've had! They're funny. It's fun to laugh at human nature. Humans are fascinating creatures and great joy can be derived from observing and commenting on them. The majority of successful stand up comedians are commenting on human nature. They're not offended by it, but they've observed it and are discussing it and it's funny. 

All of the comments that I've had I imagine are either a) the things that they wanted to be said when they were pregnant/imagine they would want to be said if they were pregnant or b) nonsense that comes out because they feel that they should probably make some comment about the fact that I'm pregnant but aren't really sure what to say. 

I can't imagine that any of them thought 'what can I say to upset Rebecca?' or 'I'm going to tell Rebecca what I truly think of her size today, she needs to know'. Of course not, they're humans with their own lives to think about and their comments to me are just fillers. It just so happens that my days are filled with fillers now because everyone feels they need to say something about the bump, and so I have a little collection of hilarious comments that have been made. 

In the same way that people have different opinions from me have those different opinions because they have led different lives, have different view points and different priorities. 

The day after mum's wedding I found myself speaking to Dug about a bird sanctuary. He was explaining that one person had been tirelessly fighting for the birds to be fed more expensive, organic food. It would stop them from pecking each other so much, and calm them down throughout the day so that they would have a better quality of life. 

When he explained it like that I totally agreed with him. That's exactly how it should be, I said. 

But then he said that the other person involved had been tirelessly fighting back because this food is so much more expensive that if they were to provide that they would have to house fewer birds. They'd have to get rid of some of the birds, and not be able to save any more. And so the balance was that they were fed this food that provided them with what they absolutely needed but was affordable enough, and were thus able to save more wildlife. 

This is a genuine story he was telling me, but what an excellent fable to remind us that the people who disagree with us have their own reasons, and that there might be an excellent reason that we can't see behind somebody's seemingly wrong or even evil decision. 

I spoke to Dug about a few similar scenarios- he also told me stories about people being angry, upset and offended by him (primarily at work). Between these conversations I came to the conclusion that he and Joy remain happy through their ability to understand and remember that everybody has their own reasons for their decisions, and also to remember that just because somebody is angry, upset or offended doesn't make them right. Plenty of people are angry, upset and offended when they really shouldn't be, and the person who has angered, upset or offended them shouldn't necessarily feel any sense of responsibility at all.

That's the part I'm working on now.

3) Turning the little things into big, heartwarming things.

Observe people. Take great joy in eating. Find the silly. Appreciate everything that everyone does for you that is kind. I am blown away by one kind thing that I witness every day, whether it's my friends offering to drive all the way home behind me so that they can empty my car and save me heavy lifting when I get home, or a seven year old girl bringing me a Maoam in the office and telling me it's because I've 'been working so hard.' I hold onto those moments and won't forget them for a long time. 


And so I will continue to strive to make my own happiness- by letting the little negative things go (car parked too close to mine, man not smiling putting his fruit out, receptionists being grumpy), turning the little positive things into big, heartwarming things (a kid saying he didn't go abroad, he just went to America, having a Dairy Milk with lunch, getting a video of my best friend's baby saying cheese cake) and, of course, by both spreading the joy to others and forgiving myself and others for not being a perfect human in every situation. 

And I'm good at being happy, I like to think. I'm definitely able to turn the little positive things into big heart warming things (I am particularly talented at taking pure happiness from my lunch), I'm improving at letting the little annoying things go, and am very much working on not automatically blaming myself and tearing myself apart over every second of everybody else's happiness. 

And I'm happy. Of course I am. 

I just hope I can take all of these observations and be as happy as Auntie Nick's friend Joy. And, of course, my cousin Katie. 






Saturday, 24 June 2017

After Twenty Four Years of Planning....

I get married in two days.

Tonight is the last night before the night before my wedding.

I imagine that most of you who have had a wedding will have found that you have very little time alone in the weeks leading up to The Big Day. When I haven't been at work I've been in meetings with various people, and when I haven't been doing that I've been with Dale/my cousins/my brothers/my parents/my grandparents planning and organising.

Today we had brunch with Dale's dad who has come to visit from abroad for the wedding, met my Grandma and Mum for last minute shopping, headed straight for a spray tan and then back home where my Dad, his girlfriend, her son, Chip, Dale and I finished off the last of the favours whilst discussing the last final details of the day.

And then they left.

Dad, his girlfriend and her son went home. Chip went to the gym. Dale went out for dinner with his dad.

And I was left alone.

For the first time in what feels like weeks.

The sudden silence was too loud for me, so I put Pitch Battle on (fantastic Saturday night background tv, by the way), where I was almost immediately greeted with our First Dance song.

And finally, after what Dale thinks has been seven months but has actually been around twenty four years of planning my wedding, I felt overwhelmed.

Not with stress. Not with the ridiculousness of how many times seating plans need redoing, not with the outrageous prices provided at the word 'wedding', or the difficulty of being asked the question 'which flowers do you want in your buttonholes?' (Absolutely no idea about flowers. As I demonstrated with the florist when I commented that the plant on her table smelt incredible and asked what it was, only for her to tell me that they were unscented, artificial flowers.)

Instead I was overwhelmed with the fact that this is really happening.

I haven't always wanted a big wedding. We're not particularly having a big wedding. It's going to be a relaxed family affair- one flower girl, no best man, no hats, no hen/stag events, no videographer. I would have been happy popping to Orlando and doing it in a strappy summer dress.

But I've always wanted to get married.

And more than anything- I've always wanted to plan a wedding.

Not even necessarily mine. Anyone's.

When I was a kid I used to tell everyone that I was going to be a wedding planner when I grew up. It was always assumed- to my absolute horror- that it was because of the Jennifer Lopez film.

It wasn't.

It was because of the film Father of the Bride. It was and continues to be one of my absolute favourite films, and I know it almost word for word. I watched it on the plane on the way home from the holiday that we got engaged on, and I will be putting it on again as soon as Pitch Battle finishes.

And I cannot believe that it's finally me.

I'm Annie. Granted I'm six years older than Annie and not living in my parents' mansion in LA. But that, ladies and gents, is where the differences end.

Tonight, when everything finally went quiet and I had a rare few minutes to reflect, a few things suddenly hit me....

1) I am no longer going to be Rebecca Ann Lund.

Obvious right?

Not really.

I knew I was going to change my name when I got married, but it's seemed so far away for so long. Then this evening I was filling in the form for my spray tan and realised it was the last time I'll circle the 'Miss' option, the last time I'll fill in that last box with 'Lund'. My brothers are Lund. As is my Dad. My Grandad, my auntie and uncle. My blog is Lund. My degree. My name tag. My Boots loyalty card. Twenty eight years, twenty seven days, four hours, twenty nine minutes of my life as Miss Rebecca Ann Lund.

And suddenly it won't be me anymore?

 I voiced this to my dad's girlfriend, who lightened the mood by replying 'and will you be changing your Facebook name as you walk back up the aisle or will you be leaving it until after photos?'

This is why I'm pals with her.

2) My parents could rule the world.

Seriously. I am, as I am frequently told, fiercely independent. Which means that whilst I will regularly call my Mum and ask her opinion on topics as wide ranging as 'what shall I have for lunch?' to 'what shall we name our baby?' and will quite often call my dad to rant about something stupid that happened during my day so that he can also be outraged on my behalf, it's quite rare that I actually ask them to take any action for me.

I wouldn't have done during wedding planning, had I not put a Facebook status declaring that I had asked all of the sources I had at my disposal and couldn't seem to organise a microphone and speaker for the singer, and asking whether anyone would be able to help. People had started to comment when my Dad- who is in no way a singer or DJ and who it had not even crossed my mind to ask- commented 'I'll sort it', closely followed by 'sorted it.'

Bit embarrassing.

Similarly, every problem I've mentioned in passing in front of my mum, she's managed to fix. She bought my wedding planning book, she's providing baskets, a postbox, and jewellery, suggested the venue for me, she came to the first viewing and the final meeting, has solved guest list/table plan conundrums, and knows the best places to buy crafts.

How lucky I am.

3) On Monday I am going to be a bride.

I LOVE seeing a bride. Have done ever since I was old enough to know what a bride was. A friend and I used to take turns in walking down the middle of the lounge to 'Going to the Chapel' holding my mum's artificial flowers when we were about eight. When I lived in Rome I used to drive everyone crazy by gasping, pointing, and jumping up and down in excitement, leading them to think I'd seen a new incredible building only for it to be a bride. And now I get to be one? Seriously? I actually really don't love being the centre of attention (hence the desire for a smaller wedding), but I am so excited to be a bride.

4) I seriously have the best people around me.

My parents, grandparents, best friends, brothers, cousins (especially cousins, actually) aunties, uncles, Hayley (who I regularly refer to just as My Hayley as she isn't actually related but may as well be), colleagues, parents from work, and even friends on Facebook who I haven't seen for years have all  been INCREDIBLE in helping my dreams come true and I am blown away by the efforts some people will go to for other humans every day.

5) Most importantly of all...

On Monday I am going to become a wife.

Earlier on my Dad's girlfriend said 'you're going to have a husband!'

For just a second I felt really, really grown up. I am going to have a husband. I'm going to be wearing two rings on my left hand, and I'm going to be able to say 'my husband,' and soon after that 'our baby.'

Then I looked across the room and remembered I'm marrying Dale.

'My husband' sounds ever so grown up and serious.

Dale was playing Cotton Eyed Joe for my Dad telling him he's going to organise for that to be played as we walk back up the aisle instead of the song I painstakingly chose that means a lot to us.

I had a flash back to the excitement on his face when he pulled out the blow up electric guitar he had bought and jumped around the living room with last week.

Remembered that when I was only eight weeks pregnant and telling him we mustn't get too excited, he was looking at nappies, suggesting names, and asking if it was too soon to be buying the baby a bubble gun.

Thought of the time we spent Christmas in Disney and he was jumping on the bed on Christmas Eve in excitement.

Realised that agreeing to spend the rest of my life with this guy is not as huge and grown up as it seems.

It's what was always meant to happen, and what I knew I would one day do on the day I met him.

Suddenly leaving behind my name doesn't seem so serious, and instead it seems that the absolute honour, joy and excitement that comes with selecting that 'Mrs' box and typing in his last name will never wear off.

So I will blink away the overwhelmed tears before they drip down my face and wreck my spray tan, put Father of the Bride on, and practise walking down the aisle in my lounge one last time. Planning this wedding has been every bit as magical and exciting as I thought it would be, now I only hope the day is just as wonderful. And I know that the rest of my life as Mrs Stark will live up to expectations.

I do :)







Monday, 29 May 2017

The National Curriculum of Social Etiquette

I've read and heard a lot of comments from adults saying that they wish that at school instead of algebra and Pythagoras, they had been taught life skills such as budgeting and working out taxes.

I don't particularly wish that I had been taught budgeting and working out taxes, I've managed to navigate those on my own. 

There are, however, plenty of things I wish I had been taught. In fact, the further into my twenties I get, the longer my list becomes. Because my list is not made up of finance lessons, but of social etiquette classes. 

I really believe that social etiquette classes should become essential around the age of twenty five; the age that I, at least, was suddenly presented with a whole host of new social situations that I had no idea how to handle. 

So I, ladies and gents, have put together my own Social Etiquette Curriculum. If anyone is available to teach me classes on any of the following, please let me know...

1) The bride and groom have requested money for their honeymoon in their invitation. How much do I give them? 

I've asked so many people about this, and nobody seems to have a clear answer. It needs to be at least twenty, right? But then thirty also seems reasonable. But then thirty is quite a lot. Twenty five? Is it different for an evening guest? A family member? If I'm a bridesmaid? 

My wedding season began in September 2011 and hasn't really stopped since. I've been a bridesmaid, a reader, a day guest, an evening guest, a family member, a best friend, an old friend, a family friend, the friend of a family member, and the family member of a friend, and I still don't know. 

Help me. Please. 

2) Someone has just done something far kinder for me than our relationship really calls for. Do I accept? How do I ever thank them? 

This actually happens to me quite a lot- I have a lot of ridiculously nice people around me. As I was typing that last sentence I received a text from Dale saying that his sister has just done something so kind and thoughtful for us that again, I'm not sure how we will ever thank her. 

The example I was thinking of though- that I regularly cringe at- was when I told one of the mums at work that I loved her nail varnish and she said I could have it and she would bring it in for me. I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times and actually couldn't tell you what came out in the end because I just had no idea what to say. Should I have just said thanks, I look forward to it? Objected and said just telling me where she got it from would be enough? 

I think the reason I'm often so awkward in these situations is if it's so unnecessarily kind I fear I may have misheard. 

Imagine if I had said 'ooh yes please, that's so kind of you to offer to bring in your nail varnish for me to keep' and she had to say 'oh no, I was just saying it's from Avon and it's called hot pink.' Or worse, then felt she had to give it to me even though that's not what she'd said at all. 

Similarly when people do really lovely things for me I always feel like I have to do something really lovely for them, but then sometimes that would be weird. Like one of the dads at work once bought a coffee for every single member of the team that was in that day just because. It would be so strange if I just bought him a coffee. Or anything in return really. But then how do I make him realise how much that meant to us, and that none of us will ever forget that kind gesture? 

I try my best to be as kind as that, and to do things in turn for others who I think would appreciate it, but that doesn't make me any less awkward at accepting kind gestures.

As I said above, I'm surrounded by lots of outrageously kind people so this happens a lot. Any thoughts?  

3) I've just realised that I've put my foot in it. Do I acknowledge it, try backtracking, or just completely ignore it? 

Obviously what would be really great would be a lesson in how not to put my foot in it. But a far more realistic fix would be how to deal with it once I've realised what I've done. I've just been going on and on and on about how much I dislike the name Talia. That I think it's a stupid, ridiculous name and have no idea why anyone would do that to their child. (NB: I've purposely chosen Talia because everyone knows it's actually my favourite name. I mostly manage to avoid offending people when I'm writing because I have time to think. Mostly.) I've just got to the end of my rant and realised that the person I'm talking to is, in fact, Talia. She shortens it to Tilly so I had forgotten. 

Do I tell her I've just realised and I'm so, so sorry? Do I backtrack and say, of course, it's beautiful if you're blonde, and tall, live in Chelmsford, have a sister called Holly, work in a bank....other completely unrelated things about this particular Talia....

Do I just leave a horrible silence whilst we both think about what I just said? Or speak frantically about a totally different subject. "Anyway, tell me about your new haircut, ever so lovely..." 

4) What I've just said hasn't gone down the way I thought it would. How do I save it? 

I was actually on the other end of this recently. A poor lady commented on how teeny, tiny I looked. I think she was trying to compliment me. I have a personal dislike of people commenting on my size anyway (such a strange thing to comment on I think, but maybe that's because I'm socially awkward), and what she didn't know was that I was twelve weeks pregnant and had been sick every day for eight of them and was actually acutely aware of my weight, and slightly concerned about my baby for it. What she also didn't know was that it felt to me like she was eight hundredth person to comment on my size that week, and I had used up all of my polite responses and said 'well I haven't lost any weight' in a manner most unlike me. Fortunately this lady, unlike me, is a queen of social etiquette and didn't miss a beat. She smiled serenely and came back with a perfect response that immediately calmed me. 

A few days later I was on the other side of it, and had accidentally said something that didn't go down the way I thought it would. I like to think that I also replied with a smooth, calm reaction and fixed the situation, and was temporarily proud of myself. But then I spent the rest of the day cringing that I had said the wrong thing in the first place.

So really, my question is not so much how do I save the conversation, but how do I save myself from worrying about it forevermore? And does everyone do that all the time? 

5) I'm going to a friend's house for a lunch/dinner/barbecue/gathering. I've offered to take something (right at the last minute because I am the absolute worst at planning and don't think about anything until I'm doing it) and they say no thank you. Do I still take something? 

Really I suppose my question is: is there a trick to knowing when someone is being polite and when they actually mean what they're saying? 

How am I supposed to know if she really doesn't mind what restaurant we go to or if she's just too polite to say? How do I know if he really doesn't want a coffee or is just worried about me spending my money? 

And are you always meant to take something to someone's house? Where does it end? Dinner? Barbecue? Coffee? Dropping in a birthday card? 

Also what are you supposed to take? Flowers? Box of chocolates? Wine? Is there a rule for which gift for which situation? 

Who is meant to teach me this? How do other adults know? 

6) What makes a good house warming gift? 

I don't think I have ever bought anyone a good house warming gift. When we moved in we got some gorgeous gifts- but I was so open with our colour scheme and I am so easy going that I think I'm quite easy to buy for. But how am I supposed to buy a house warming gift for someone who has very specific taste but rarely talks about their home decor choices? 

It's so hard. Help me. 

7) My friend's had a baby. How often do I call/text/turn up? 

When someone's had a baby I take it completely for granted that everyone that they have ever met will want to see them. Perhaps because I love babies, or because I have a close family, or because most people I know love babies. So I just assume they'll be inundated with guests and won't need me getting in the way. And they won't want to be bombarded with messages from me when they're getting used to the madness of parenthood and dealing with all these visitors and getting over childbirth. So I'll pop in when invited but will otherwise leave them to it. 

But then I read something recently about new parents feeling let down and lonely when their friends don't call/text/turn up. 

But surely doing it all the time is just as much of a pain? 

Adulthood is a minefield, seriously. 

When am I supposed to learn this stuff, and who is supposed to teach me? 

I could actually write an entire novel on this topic. I haven't even got started on eating meat when your friends have forgotten you're vegetarian, talking comfortably about death and illness, how to deal with having a serious dislike of your friend's boyfriend, or what to do when you realise you haven't been listening and your pal is waiting for a response. So for the moment, I will continue trying to Do The Right Thing and Not Make A Complete Idiot of Myself, and will use all my ridiculous mistakes as writing material. But as soon as you start offering social etiquette lessons- sign me up. 




Saturday, 11 February 2017

There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

For those of you who weren't already aware, I'm getting married this year. 

Within days of getting engaged I had made two promises to Dale's sister. 

I promised that I would a) not become obsessed with my wedding and talk about nothing else and b) never deny myself anything delicious in pursuit of The Dream Dress. 

With the exception of my long-suffering work colleagues who, before the engagement had to put up with my non-stop talking about Dale, our flat, and Disney World anyway, I think most people would agree that I am doing a fine job of sticking to my promises. 

(Just to be clear, they are top witnesses to the fact that I have not started denying myself anything delicious- although I really do need to face the fact that it's not Christmas anymore and we don't need cupcakes every day. But they would probably argue that I could talk about the wedding less. Sorry ladies.) 

Anyway, for one day only I'm going to officially break promise A and tell you aaall about it. 

(That was a warning. If you don't want to know, close this down and maybe do a Friends quiz? Or is it just me whose news feed is over run with Friends quizzes right now?) 

SO first things first. 

The Proposal

I won't bore you with the details that I bored my Mum with, but here are the key highlights...

Dale and I have always disagreed on our anniversary. By quite a lot. In that I say it's 14th August and Dale says it's 5th November. (Yep. A lot.) 

Which is why despite arriving in Orlando on 28th October, Dale decided to wait until 5th November to propose. How he waited that long with the ring sitting in his suitcase I do not know. 

Every Walt Disney World resort hotel shows a Disney Movie Under the Stars every night, and on our first date in mid 2013, Dale and I watched Up under the stars at Disney's Port Orleans Resort Hotel. We laid on a blanket outside and talked all the way through the film, eating a picnic and swapping life stories. 

It was every bit as magical as it sounds. 

On 5th November 2016 at 11am Dale and I popped into the Port Orleans resort to get a drink and look at how pretty it is. 




It never gets old. 

As we walked past the spot of our first date, Dale pointed out that there was a big, Princess chair and asked if I wanted a photo in it. 

I did. 

I got a soaking wet butt, not realising that the chair was still drenched from the previous night's rain, jumped up, checked how obvious it was (really obvious) and turned back to find Dale holding a ring and asking me the most important question I will ever be asked.

I will never stop being impressed that he managed to find somewhere in Walt Disney World that was not only hugely special to us in a way that it probably isn't to many other people, but was also deserted so that we felt like the only two people in the world for the big moment. 

I was then immediately whisked away to Animal Kingdom to see my favourite show in the entire world (The Lion King show) in VIP seats, before going to meet the cast. 

By the time I turned the corner to see the whole cast there waiting for us, having still not had a chance to tell anyone we were now engaged, I was totally speechless and, I'm fairly sure, left them thinking that I couldn't speak English.




I was whisked from there to my favourite restaurant in Disney World (and the real world, in fact), Be Our Guest, and then to watch The Festival of Fantasy, the most magical parade, and then to meet the main man- Mickey Mouse- who was, of course, delighted at the news. 

From there, Dale took me back to our hotel and told me to pack my bags, we were going on vacation from our vacation. 

To my favourite resort. 

Yacht Club. 

Yacht Club is my favourite resort for many, many reasons. 

But the main one is that when I stayed there for the first time there was a painting of a lady who looked incredibly like Dale. Seriously, it's uncanny. 

So you can imagine my absolute delight when I walked into our breathtaking room to find this on the wall: 


Uncanny. 

Potentially the best part of the day. 

I was then whisked off to VIP seats for my favourite evening spectacular, Fantasmic, in Hollywood Studios, before whizzing over to Epcot for what is always my dinner of choice, from the French Pavillion. We took it to go and ate it on the balcony of our hotel room as we watched Illuminations, the Epcot fireworks. 

It was the first time either of us had done all four Disney parks in one day, and it was the best day of our lives. 

It will take a lot for the wedding to beat it. 

Which brings us seamlessly to...

Wedding Planning

We were ever so good and vowed not to discuss the wedding until we got home, despite having agreed long before we got engaged that we both wanted a short engagement. (By which I mean I wanted a short engagement and Dale said okay.) 

I like to think I knew more or less what to expect when it comes to wedding planning. I'm the last of all my close friends to get married, and although I didn't have a huge involvement in planning their weddings I did lend an ear when chair cover and invitation thickness decisions got too much, and I have attended more weddings than I could count on my fingers and toes, so I know more or less what weddings involve, and also what I do and don't like. 

I'll not go into too much detail about what I do and don't like as I want some things to remain a surprise for the day, but here are the top things I've learnt planning my wedding...

1) Being Fearless has never been more important.

What a super time for me to have made that my new resolution. People are brutal when it comes to expressing their opinions on both your wedding and the weddings of others, and if you listen to them, you'll end up doing a lot of your breathing into paper bags and taking up daily drinking. 

Honestly it has shocked me how many people have felt the need to tell me everything they didn't like about all the weddings they've been to. What if I've already organised that? That lesson has actually really helped me with my promise to my new sister-in-law not to talk about it too much, because I really don't want to talk about it. I don't want any more opinions, thank you. 

Compiling the guest list is also a brutal task for a sensitive soul like me. 

Between us we have so many friends, if we invited everyone we love we would have a crowd to rival William and Kate, and as relatively shy people, we would both rather stick pins in our eyes. 

So it's a family affair for us, but it's surprising (and mortifyingly awkward) how many people openly say that they expect to be invited. 

I really hope that everyone finds this and we're not the worst people in the world for feeling this way, but we have had to be fearless with the guest list. Dale jokes that if it were up to me we'd be inviting the lady from the Post Office and asking guests to let us know when and where would be most convenient for them, and he's not far off the truth. 

2) It does not need to be as stressful as Facebook tells you. 

Seriously. Ever since the second we put our engagement on Facebook we have both found our news feeds filled with blogs, articles, videos, and lists of reasons telling us how and why getting married is the most stressful thing you can do. 

One article told me we need to put aside at least £27, 000 (if I had that much money to spare it would absolutely not be going on a day). I've read so much about the stress of choosing the right dress (bought the first one I tried on), choosing the right venue (booked the first one we saw), and choosing a theme (a no brainer for us). 

I have managed to find a human being, among all of the human beings in the whole world, that I like enough to promise to spend the rest of my life with, and he wants to promise to spend the rest of his life with me too! Surely I've done the seemingly impossible bit?! 

We started planning this wedding in December and finished planning it in January. 

It's been nothing but fun. 

3) There's one thing nobody ever tells you. 

Don't worry though chaps, I'm going to share it with you now. You think you know everything. You know about the dress, the flowers, the vows, the entertainment, the little touches. 

What nobody tells you is that if you get married in a registry office, there's a £50 charge. If you get married in a venue, there's a £525 charge for the registrar, plus a £70 appointment beforehand.

It's daylight robbery! Why does nobody ever warn you about this? NONE of the Facebook warnings included this. 

You have all now been warned. 

4) Getting engaged brings you closer to everyone you've ever met. 

It's been amazing how many people have been excited about our engagement, have wanted to hear about the wedding, and hugged and kissed me in congratulations. 

It means I've had special days out with my best friends and my mum that I wouldn't have otherwise had, and everyone suddenly has something to say to me. 

My favourite thing about every wedding I have ever been to has been getting to know the families of my friends and their new spouses. 

My favourite thing about our wedding is all my favourite people getting to know each other. Doing the table plans has been an absolute joy for that reason. 

5) Say Yes to the Dress is the best thing since Reese's peanut buttercups. 

Seriously. You get the expert help and undivided attention of an absolutely amazing professional with years and years of experience, they're incredibly kind to you, give you champagne and lunch, and I certainly ended up choosing a dress I would never have chosen for myself. 

I do not understand why you wouldn't do it. 

If you're yet to get your dress, I cannot recommend it enough. Even if you don't end up getting a dress I had the best day with my mum and my friends. 

Of course, the absolute best thing about being engaged is the excitement. 

Since the day we got engaged I've found myself overwhelmed with the need to tell Dale that I just can't wait to be his wife every single day. 

I think that out of all of the traditional milestones, being engaged has to be the best one. You're in a wonderful position and you know that all the best bits are yet to come. 

Like Christmas Eve, but for seven months. 

When I was away and all my friends were getting engaged I used to feel a little rush of excitement that I had all that to look forward to still. I like to think that I'll feel an equal warm rush of nostalgia every time I look back. 

Okay it's out. It's off my chest. This is my experience of being engaged. I'm getting married in four and a half months!

Promise I won't mention it again until 26th June, and I assure you I will continue to eat all my favourite things throughout the engagement and beyond.