All Posts Filed in ‘From The Heart

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20 Years Ago Today

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I can hardly believe I’m writing this but 20 years ago today my mother died from cancer. I’ve been blogging so long I wrote about it when it happened and then 5 years later when I came to terms with her death and could put into words what it felt like and how it hit me. Not only did that article resonate with a lot of people, but I’ve come back and re-read it many many times over the years and it’s continued to give me comfort and perspective.

But 20 years. Twenty years.

When I was a kid my dad would often say “oh I haven’t seen him in 20 odd years!” and to me that seemed like an eternity. Now I’m at the ripe old age of 47 it doesn’t seem so long at all. In fact my mother died aged 61 – only 14 years away from where I am now. I still feel like my life has hardly begun and if I only had 14 years left I’d feel a little short changed to be honest. Looking back that’s the overriding sadness I have about my mother – I’d only just gotten to know her as a person rather than an authority figure and it wasn’t anywhere near enough.

I’m so young in this photo taken 9 months before she died. Just a kid really looking back as the middle aged man I am today. I had no idea the impact losing her would have on me over the coming years. Probably just as well.

My father never really got over the loss of my mother. Never dated again, certainly never re-married. She was the love of his life and he was a lost and broken man for many years, drinking too much, retreating into himself before he finally found a reason to carry on. And carry on he did alone. He’s still alive today but dementia has robbed him of a lot of his memories, although he’ll never forget his dear Jeannie. I spent a few hours with him a couple of weeks ago just talking about mum, showing him photos of the two of them when they were youngsters – it was lovely.

My parents when they were a couple of young pups!

It took me 5 years to learn to live without my mother and the article I wrote covers everything I felt at the time. But in the 15 years since while I have no longer found myself saying “oh mum would like that” before remembering she was gone. I haven’t felt the bouts of intense grief I used to feel, just now and then. Instead I have a sadness in me that is always there but I’m not aware of it most of the time. Sometimes she’ll pop up in a dream like she used to which is comforting. And sometimes I’ll play the one and only audio recording I have of her (where she was discussing with my father that she’d discovered she was allergic to a certain type of soap – I wish I had more) just to remember her laugh. Life does go on but the loss remains for the rest of your life. It becomes a piece of you, a scar that nobody can see.

It’s sad looking back over the past 20 years and realising how much my mother missed out on and how much my brother and I missed sharing our lives with her. I’ve certainly missed her counsel. But I’m always reminded that she felt the same about the loss of her mother who passed when I was less than a year old. She never got over it, would be sad sometimes and that was perfectly normal. It’s the circle of life. It sucks. But it’s the only one we’ve got. Some of us get to live into old age and some of us don’t. As I said 15 years ago, she wrote me a letter telling me to make the most of my life given how precious it is. I continue to do that to the best of my ability and I always will.

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Starting At The Bottom And Learning To Cook

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Back when I was a student I wanted to earn a bit of money so I could afford to do the fun things in life. Fun things like putting petrol in my car, drinking alcohol (not at the same time) and having a bit of spending money should I need a new pair of shoes. A friend of mine was a waiter at a local hotel and said there was a job going as a kitchen porter so I inquired and got it.

A kitchen porter is basically the lowest of the low in the kitchen hierarchy – the person who washes the dishes, pots and pans and is usually the butt of all the jokes. All of which was fine with me! I was earning money and that’s all that mattered. The status of the job didn’t enter my thought – work was work and money was cash money. It was hot work (those industrial dishwashers give off a lot of steam) but I enjoyed it and learned how to get every kind of cooking stain out of every kind of cooking implement you can imagine (something that has served me well since).

In time I became good friends with the rest of the kitchen staff and when at a later point I found myself working as a waiter there I found it surprising that while they were nice and respectful to me, they would always mercilessly tease, berate and swear at the rest of the waiting staff. Looking back I now realise I’d earned their respect. I’d worked hard, rolled up my sleeves, never complained, got the job done and earned my place alongside them. I’ve been trying to do that in the workplace ever since.

Your Job Isn’t You

I never judge people by the job they have. I know often the first question someone asks a person they just met is what they do – but it’s the last thing I ever ask anyone. I almost never talk work with friends and family as it’s not something that defines them or me as far as I’m concerned. It’s a means to an end. I also know that if my glamorous life as a software developer ends and I have to get a proper job, I’ll happily do anything to bring money in and never feel I’m “dropping down”. I’d be more than happy to roll up my sleeves again if I need to.

Being a Chef Is Hard

The other thing I learned was how tough being a chef actually is. You can watch someone like Gordon Ramsay do a TV show where he puts together an amazing meal and you think it’s easy. And for him at that point in his life it is. But believe me, to get to that point was a really hard slog. It’s a super tough profession and is so much more stressful than any job I’ve ever had by a long way.

It’s easy to focus on the obvious. An order comes in, you prepare all the ingredients, cook them and put them on a plate, then make that plate of food look beautiful and send it out. Easy right?

A selection of delicious treats from the tasting menu of L’Enclume in Cartmel

Not really. Everything has to be at the right temperature at the right time. So that bit is difficult enough as it requires perfect timing, organisation, consistent delivery and an eye for artistic detail. Except a chef isn’t just putting one meal together at one time, there could be a dozen orders of different dishes with different courses all going on at once from multiple tables. There’s no use having some of the dishes for some of the tables at the same time – each table needs to be served together. And the pressure these people are under to deliver is huge – it’s a very stressful environment to be in and my policy was to keep my head down, work as fast as I could and not screw anything up. If someone was angry, that’s fine, they’re under pressure. After the service was over and they could come down from the adrenaline high, then the next part started, the preparation.

Being a chef isn’t simply about putting meals together and sending them out. It’s about everything from picking a menu that results in the minimal amount of food wastage. To preparing before a service to make sure you’re not wasting time doing things that could be done beforehand. Trying to figure out what’s going to be ordered so you don’t over or under-prepare. And managing a team of people so that everything runs quickly, efficiently and smoothly during service under intense pressure. I certainly wouldn’t be any good at it, that much I figured out quickly.

Now when I eat out in a restaurant I know how difficult it is so I have a lot of sympathy if my food takes a while and am really impressed when delicious food is served quickly.

John Conners, Recipe Follower

Like many people I decided to start cooking once the pandemic lockdown started – I mean there wasn’t much else to do and dining out was no longer an option. Early on everybody I knew started signing up to different providers of food boxes – the idea being they ship you all the ingredients and recipes and you do the rest.

I’m the sort of person who can follow recipes. If you give me a recipe to follow I reckon I can make just about anything, no matter how complex. I’ve long been a fan of baking, largely because you have to precisely follow recipes to make it work. However give me a bunch of random ingredients and say “cook something John” and I’m completely lost. Without a recipe I don’t even know where to start. I have great admiration for people who can do that, but I am not one of them. With that in mind I signed up for Mindful Chef.

It gave me a little taste (haha, see what I did there?) of my old days working as a kitchen porter seeing the chefs work their magic. I was inspired to buy a set of stainless steel pans, proper professional quality knives, wooden chopping board, the lot! But a set of pro golf clubs does not a professional golfer make.

It took me quite a few meals before I started to feel confident in what I was doing. The recipes are well thought out, documented to just the right level for me and having the exact amount of ingredients to hand meant I didn’t have to think, just had to follow the instructions. I was soon comfortable having several pans and the oven on at the same time knowing that everything will be finished at roughly the same time (again, those well thought through recipes helped).

Almost all of the meals I’ve made from Mindful Chef have been delicious and it’s introduced me to a lot of things I’d previously ignored – like quinoa and tofu. Many years ago I tried cooking with tofu and it was a disaster. Thankfully I now know the correct tofu to use and several different ways to cook it. Heck I’ve even managed to buy the ingredients to some of the meals and varied them a bit (only a little bit) – which for me is giant progress!

But I’m no chef. If the meal is delicious it’s because the person who created the recipe and flavour combinations did a great job. I’m merely re-assembling their creation, standing on the shoulders of giants. Plus I can never quite get it looking as pretty as the professionally shot recipe photos! But I do my best.

Anyway, I’d highly recommend something like Mindful Chef or Hello Fresh if you’re afraid of cooking. There’s no such thing as “I can’t cook”. It’s just laziness because anybody can follow a recipe if I can! Rather embarrassingly though I only recently discovered that quinoa (pronounced kee-nwa) and quinoa (pronounced kwin-oh-ah) are in fact the same thing. 🤦‍♂️

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Losing My Best Friend

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After 10 wonderful years we had to put my beloved dog Billy to sleep and to say I’m devastated doesn’t come close to describing how I feel. I’ve been to more funerals of family and friends than I can count but the pain of loss I feel without him goes way beyond any grief I’ve ever felt before. It’s been over a month yet I shed tears every day.

Friends I’ve spoken to who’ve had and lost dogs understand and until I had Billy I never realised just how they worm their way into your heart and soul. Unlike humans, dogs are totally honest creatures – they hold nothing back in terms of who they are. They don’t try to be anything other than themselves and they love you with every fibre of their being. You do the same in return and it made me realise I could never love a human as much as I loved (and will always love) him. A friend told me:

“There’s something about their unconditional love for you that really tears you apart when they pass.”

Added to that he was the perfect companion. Well behaved, fun, endlessly happy to see me, playful, sociable, calm, lazy, a good traveller and without a doubt my happiest times were with him over the last decade. I got him just as I started working remotely and sat here typing out these words alone in my home office I realise his company kept me sane through countless meetings, late night coding sessions, pandemics, stressful software releases and everything else in between.

I trusted him completely and he trusted me completely. He knew what I was going to do before I did, we were completely in sync without having to say a word. He knew when I was stressed or down or if I needed a break and was sure to tell me! My entire life was built around him and I wouldn’t have had it any other way – the house I rent is far larger than I need but I’m here because the landlord allowed dogs (not common enough in the UK) and that was the only thing that mattered to me.

There are a thousand little routines we did together. For example when I’d go to bed at night I’d grab the fleecy throw that lived on my sofa and put it on my bed. Billy would then sleep the night there (right in the middle of course). So as soon as I got up and went to grab the throw, he knew exactly what was coming next, he knew it was time for bed. He’d either jump down (if he was on the sofa) or get up (if he was on his bed in my lounge) and start heading towards the bedroom. I’d put the throw on the bed then go and brush my teeth. Since he knew I’d do that he’d have stopped in the hall to stare at the bathroom, waiting for me to go in and then come out to bed. As he got older I’d lift him onto the bed rather than him jump up so he’d wait for me to do that. Then he’d sit and stare at me, waiting for me to get into my pyjamas and go under the covers so he could cuddle into me and instantly go to sleep, snoring away while hogging the bed. Heaven.

Now, every time I go to bed, I do so alone. I feel his presence, but I look around and he’s not there.

I still go on the same walks around where I live. I have memories of every tree he peed on, every place he’d run, that time he bumped into one of his mates and they chased each other around, him barking like a lunatic. And despite walking alone it brings me closer to him to relive those moments. I have videos of walking him and can wander along the same spots holding my phone in front of me and it’s like he’s there. It helps, but it’ll never be the same without him.

I know the best bet is to get another dog, and I’m sure I’ll have another one at some point since they are such magical creatures and I am most certainly a dog person. But while it’ll replace the lifestyle of having a dog and give me a new companion, it’ll never replace him. The person Billy was. Knowing I have to live the rest of my life without him is a tough prospect and while I have thousands of photos and videos of my time with him, I’d give anything just to have him resting his chin on my leg and snoozing away peacefully with me. Even just for a minute.

Or watch him running in the park, blissfully lost in the moment of running, something that dog was born to do and did right up until the end.

I like to think that somewhere on some other plane Billy is running around a park barking away. And then he’ll stop, look around and sprint straight towards me. We’ll walk off together, just him and me. Both of us totally content with our lot. I miss you boy. 💔

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An Experience Only Counts When It’s Shared

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I’ve always tried to have a positive outlook on life and make the most of it when I can. To that end I’ve made a point of spending as much time as I can doing interesting things be they climbing mountains, riding a mountain bike, sitting on tropical beaches, eating at nice restaurants (and some rubbish ones), going to see good (and bad) bands, fishing small rivers in the middle of nowhere, camping in beautiful surroundings, being torrentially rained on while camping and a thousand other things big and small. Rather than spending a life watching TV, staring at a computer screen (now doesn’t count as I’ll switch it off when I’ve written this), I’ve always wanted to go outside and live a life full of experiences.

But experiences alone aren’t what drive me. What matters to me is sharing those experiences with someone else and it’s something I’ve only recently realised I do.

Whenever I go hiking on my own my mind seems to switch into “training mode” and I use it to test and improve my fitness. I’ll have one earphone in listening to podcasts and push myself to my limit (to firstly see what it is) then I’ll keep pushing until I’ve gone to the top, back down and am taking my boots off at my car. I don’t even stop at the summit, I just keep moving along, resting when / if I need to. Sure I’ll take some pictures and admire the scenery, but to me it’s training – all physical and mental.

Contrast that when I do the same hike with someone else. This time there’s no earphones. No test of fitness. No pushing myself (unless I’m hiking with Nick who’s always fitter than I am). And I definitely do stop at the summit. When I’m on my own the objective is the mountain, but when I’m with someone else the aim of the day is to spend time with that person and enjoy that time with them.

Experiences only last a fleeting moment and they’re gone for ever. But the memory of those shared experiences is what stays with you and if I can sit having a pint with that person years from now and re-live them (like getting stuck in a bog and having to crawl out of it) and laugh then that’s what counts. That’s why I love taking photographs – you can capture a shared moment and relive it for years to come (click below to see a full-sized picture of ‘The Many Hairstyles of John’):

Team Photo Montage

I suppose it comes back to the way I make “important” decisions. I picture myself lying on my deathbed decades from now going over my life in my head while staring at the ceiling. When I need to decide something now I try to see it from that point of view – knowing that my life had been lived and I can dispassionately make the right call. In the same way I ask myself what memories will stand out for me? It’s not the mountains or the beaches or the camping or the food or the drink or the bands or cleaning out that blocked sink. It’s not the things themselves, it’s the people I spent those times with. It’s them I’ll remember and the places and events were merely a backdrop to that most important and easily overlooked thing in the 21st century – human contact.

So the next time we’re out for a drink or something to eat, hiking up a mountain, buying a new pair of shoes while I complain that my eyes hurt from the bright store lights or anything else, remember that it’s not a race or a competition for me and what we’re doing doesn’t matter so much. I’m living my life in the moment and sharing that experience with you. And to me that’s all that matters.

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Passengers That Ship In The Night

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This story goes back to my second stint working in Leeds way back in 2004-2005. The small village in which I live – Silsden – is about a 35 minute train journey from Leeds so I would generally catch the 07:56 or 08:04 train in and most likely the 17:20 train home at night.

Like most young, red-blooded males I’d play the “who’s the best looking girl on the platform?” game every day and over time I’d start to recognise pretty much everybody who got on at my station. I’d see Mr. Sharp Suit who always buys a ticket each day, cute blonde and cuter black haired girl who drive to the station car park together and put on their make-up on the train, Miss Always Running Late who day after day would have to sprint to the platform, student boy who really needed a haircut and then of course there was Silsden Station Girl.

She was very attractive. Small. Slim. Always caught the same train in as me and the same train home. She drove a silver Vauxhall Corsa. She had a really cute laugh when on her phone to her friends. She had a lovely smile. Beautiful eyes. Great skin. Fantastic taste in clothes. And for day after day, week after week, month after month we’d always catch each other’s eye, smile, maybe even say hello, but never actually have a conversation. I even found myself sitting next to her one time and she was reading some gossip magazine about Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston which was the perfect opportunity for me to use my trademark humour to strike up a conversation but I never did. I bottled it.

Silsden Station - the left-hand platform goes to Leeds

I was of course in the middle of a relationship with my now-wife (who usually took an earlier train) so I wasn’t exactly going to start running off with her but my in-built good manners made me want to break the ice and talk to her – we were both taking the train to and from Leeds every day, we might as well have someone to chat to. Maybe I was scared of rejection, or of the dilemma of us being unable to keep our hands off each other and what to do about it (remember, I said I was a young, red-blooded male back then – logic didn’t come into my thinking). Whatever the reason, I spent a long time wanting to talk to her and never taking the opportunity. I let friends in on my secret shame, even my long suffering girlfriend (as she was back then) knew all about her, who she was and what a wuss I was.

Eventually in late-2005 I handed in my notice and was to start working in another town. This meant I’d be driving to work and no longer taking the train into Leeds. This was my chance. I decided that I absolutely would talk to her and find out her name, I’d make her laugh describing how it had taken me until I was leaving Leeds to actually talk to her. Even though I may never see her again it was beyond a joke that I’d never said more than “hello” to her – it was time to be a man.

And you know what? I never got the chance!!

For the full 3 weeks of my notice period she never once took the train into Leeds or back again. Despite metronomically taking the same trains for the past year she’d vanished off the face of the earth. Even stranger, my good lady still takes the train into Leeds and she’s never once seen her in the 3 years since.

I missed my chance. I’ll never know her name. I’ll never know anything about her. On the plus side I think the poor girl probably had a lucky escape. However it’ll always sadden me that I’ll likely go to my grave never knowing who Silsden Station Girl actually was…

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Some Thoughts For Mother’s Day

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When I was on holiday on the Isle of Arran back in August of 2007 I sat down and wrote an article I’d written many times over the years about the death of my mother. I’d wanted to explain what the process of losing her had been like from the first days up until years later when I’d come to terms with it. But every time I sat down to write it I just wouldn’t be happy with it and hit Delete. Not so this time.

I never bought my mother flowers much but wish I could buy her some today

I hadn’t really thought about the loss of my mother for a while but for some reason after a day out walking on the hills I just sat down and wrote Losing My Mother (what I believe to be the best piece of writing I’ve ever done) in about half an hour. When I read it back to myself with tears streaming down my face I realised I’d captured the essence of what the experience of losing my mother and learning to live with it was and is like. I handed it over to my good lady (who knew my mother very well and felt the loss almost as much as I did) to proof read (she proof reads most of what I post here believe it or not) and she soon had tears running down her face before agreeing that it was “a lovely article”. Almost immediately I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders having put into words what I’d spent the previous 5 years learning to live with.

But it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I actually published the article here and was very tempted to just post it with comments disabled. Fortunately I thought better of it and left comments open and I’m so glad I did. If you have a look at the comments people have left you can see that I’m by no means the only person this has happened to and a lot of people have thanked me for expressing the same things they’ve been feeling and offered their own thoughts too. From my point of view it’s so nice to realise that I’m not alone with other people out there having gone through the same thing as me. It’s given me a great deal of comfort and those people have often said they feel some comfort from what I’ve written.

Friends often ask me why I have this site and why I talk about my life so openly and I can never really answer them other than to say “because I do”. But writing a very personal post for me more than anybody else on a subject I’d not often talk about in the real world (it’s not a good topic to bring up at dinner parties) and getting so much positive feedback, connecting with people I’d never have touched otherwise is a pretty damn good reason if you ask me.

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Thank You Sparkie

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My dad has had a cat named Sparkie for the last five years, since just after my mother died. Sparkie’s been his constant companion and given him purpose, routine and been someone to talk to who never talks back (only meowing back which is much nicer) for all that time.

We’ve had a few cats over the years but Sparkie was originally brought up on a farm before my dad got him from the cat protection league so was a bit of a wildie, fighting off the local cats, bringing in mice from time to time and jumping up on every surface in the house. Whereas my dad’s getting on a bit Sparkie’s always been full of youthful exuberance in the way that only a young cat is, which I’m sure has been good for my dad. I took the following picture of him a couple of weeks ago when I was home and he was just his usual lovely, entertaining self and being very friendly:

My Dad’s cat Sparkie

Unfortunately a few days ago little Sparkie died. Cut down in the prime of his life at the age of around 8 it all happened very quickly in the end. It’s such a shame as he was a wonderful cat with a fantastic personality and he did my dad no end of good – I don’t know how my dad would have coped over that last few years without him. But the real shame is that I could never thank him for being there for my dad when he needed him because he was a cat and wouldn’t have understood the positive impact he had – he was just being himself. So thank you Sparkie, you will be sorely missed.

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Losing My Mother

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My mother in her 20'sMy mother died just over 5 years ago from cancer and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. I thought it was about time I wrote about how losing her has changed the way I see the world, has changed me and what it’s been like trying to get my head around it all.

It’s true what they say, you can never really understand what it’s like until it happens to you. I once described losing my mother as like the sky suddenly falling down. My mother carried me for 9 months, gave birth to me, was the first sight I ever set my eyes upon, fed me when I was hungry, got no sleep for months when I woke her up crying at night, changed my nappies, watched me smile when I recognised her face, start to crawl, take my first steps, say my first word. She was always there for me, every memory I’ve ever had growing up has her in it. When I was upset she was there to cheer me up. When I needed advice it was her I sought out. And when I stepped out of line it was her who put me back in step. She was a strong, loving mother who I always knew was on my side, would do anything for me and my brother and gave us the perfect upbringing that made us the men we are today. I’d known her as my mother and as I became an adult I knew her as the woman Jean Conners with a devilish sense of humour and a certain innocence about her. She was the most wonderful person I’ve ever known. She had always been a huge part of my life and now that she’s gone I realise that I’d always assumed she would be.

You never expect the sky to fall down, the sky is always there and always will be. And that’s exactly how I felt about my mother.

When my father phoned me early one morning to tell me my mother was dying the first words I said to him were “you’re joking”. Obviously he wouldn’t, but my instinct was that it couldn’t be happening. Him phoning me again later (I can’t remember if I’d left to drive home or was just about to leave) to tell me she had died just didn’t seem real – I was numb. I arrived home before my brother (who’d been staying with me that weekend and was driving himself to my dad’s) and stepped into the hall. My dad came over to me and something I didn’t expect then happened. All my life my dad had been the one to comfort me in times of sadness but this time he was the one holding onto me and I was the one comforting him. It’s times like that you realise when you’ve grown up and become an adult. We were both inconsolable and if you ever find yourself imagining what a situation like that is like, imagine it a million times worse. And then when my brother turned up, well think a British billion times worse (that’s a million million). Even then, I still just couldn’t believe it.

In the months after her death I just couldn’t grasp that she was gone. I’d walk past an arts and craft shop and my first thought would be to take her there the next time she was down. I’d see something on TV that I knew she’d be interested in and I’d go to pick up the phone and call her before reality hit me. It was as though my brain just wouldn’t accept that she was gone forever.

Whenever I’d visit my father’s house I’d come down in the morning before anyone else was up and watch TV in the lounge like I always did. I’d be sitting there waiting for her to come in and sit next to me like she always did (we were early risers). I cried far more while she was suffering with cancer than after she died but on mornings like that I could never hold back the tears, sat there sobbing on my own waiting for someone that was supposed to always be there who I started to realise never would be again.

After some time – I couldn’t tell you how much – my brain dealt with things in a different way. I seemed to accept that she was gone and didn’t find myself about to call her any more. Instead she kept turning up in my dreams. Sometimes the dreams would be set in my childhood and it was only when I woke up that I’d feel sad, knowing I’d seen her again, or feel happy because it felt like I’d spent some more fleeting moments with her. More upsetting were the dreams where I knew she was dead in the real world, and in the dream she did too and I was just talking to her telling her how I missed her. Waking up would just take me away from her. If I were a spiritual person I’d feel comforted that maybe she was reaching out to me from beyond the grave, but unfortunately I know better and it’s my mind coming to terms with her death showing me what it thinks I want to see – or something like that. Odder were the ones where in the dream I saw her and was really upset knowing that when I woke up she’d be gone. I’d wake up with tears on my pillow but had left the sadness in the dream and didn’t feel upset at all.

The dreams started to fade away (although they do come back from time to time) and I found that my mind seemed to understand that she was gone. It was as though in the preceding years (and it took that long) my brain had been drip-feeding me little bits at a time rather than trying to get my head around the concept that my mother was gone all at once. It’s a good job I didn’t take it all in at once – because it’s such an utterly terrible thing to have to get used to and live with. I feel so bad for friends who lose parents because I know that it actually never gets any easier with time – you have to carry the pain and burden for the rest of your life. The only thing that changes is that you learn to live with it in your own way.

As I said at the start, not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. I still get upset from time to time but my mother was exactly the same decades after the death of her mother. She never hid the tears from us and as a result we were brought up knowing that it was perfectly normal to miss someone you loved and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

She wrote me a letter when she knew she wouldn’t make it and in it she told me she’s always admired my positive outlook on life and to make the most of life as it’s so precious. Every day that goes by that’s exactly what I try to do.

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The Power Of Love

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Steve and CarolineI had the pleasure of attending my good friend Steve’s wedding to his sweetheart Caroline at the weekend and it was lovely.

I was lucky enough to work with Steve in my first “proper” job (i.e. not for a University) and learned a great deal from him on both a personal and professional level. For anyone who’s ever heard me utter the words “phenomenal attention to detail”, you can thank Steve for drilling it into my head. His methodical approach to problem solving rubbed off on me and I continue to this day applying the same lessons I learned from him. Although I try to lose my temper and swear a bit less! 😉

I remember when he first met Caroline. They were set up at a wedding they both attended and he came back beaming about what a lovely girl she was. And he pretty much carried on talking about her from that point until the day he moved in with her! When I first met her I was taken aback at firstly how damned attractive she was and secondly what a lovely girl she was – funny, intelligent, genuine, a real catch. Steve had clearly been doing something right!

However the best was yet to come. Having moved down south to be with her, every time I met up with them again it was plain to see the positive effect she was having on him. It’s rare to see two people who become so much more than the sum of their parts. And great guy though Steve was I realise now there was a part of him missing until he met Caroline. To see the story have a happy ending and be there as they were married was a real honour.

Oh yes, and it was a good excuse to finally buy myself a dinner suit and learn how to tie a bow tie properly. Trouble is, I can’t think of anybody else I know who’s likely to get married so it may be a while before I get to wear it again. Although you can wear dinner suits to christenings can’t you? 😉 (And before you ask, I don’t mean for me).