Forget Venice, shun Paris, chop up the roses and don’t even think about mentioning sunsets. This year, I am the Valentine’s Grinch.
14/02/2017 will be a most unromantic day for my new hubby and I, as we are both on shift at our respective jobs all afternoon and evening. This is, obviously, less than ideal on our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, but it is fun to watch Valentine’s arguments at work. We used to stand smugly by and watch them unfold when we both worked at the Royal Albert Hall, satisfied that we were all loved up despite being at work. It was oddly romantic. Schaudenfreude shared can be all the sweeter.
So in the spirit of all things unexpectedly lovey-dovey, I have put together our top 5 times that were weirdly romantic even when the circumstances really weren’t.
INDIA – THE BATHROOM
As a couple, we have visited India three times, running to a total of two months. In that time, we have been unusually lucky when it comes to food.
Despite street food tours, questionable buffets and litres of chai from cups that were less than sparkling, we have avoided the dreaded Delhi Belly. Or at least, we had until our last visit.
Chugging through Jaipur in a tuk tuk, bound for the fanciest hotel we have ever indulged in on the subcontinent, my tummy started to twinge. When we reached the reception it started to rumble. I was starting to worry that the worst was coming, when Karl ran off to the bathroom.
We checked into our room and the most horrendous day of tag-teaming began. I will spare you all the goriest details but let’s just say there was a moment when Karl was throwing up into the shower, and I was throwing up into the loo. As I looked over to him, I thought “Well this is a weird bonding moment”. After that, I knew we could get through anything together.
UKRAINE – THE NUCLEAR DISASTER
Karl and I share a love of dark tourism. We enjoy the odd preserved former leader, a crypt or two and love a war memorial. So it was, we took a trip to the 10 mile exclusion zone around the ruined Chenobyl Nuclear Power Plant. We were all given Geiger counters to keep and eye on during the day trip. We explored the deserted town of Pripyat complete with creepy fairground and soviet propaganda posters, due to be used a day after the disaster.
We were then driven to the Red Forest. Stepping off the coach we noticed a jump in the Geiger Counter’s clicks. The wind rustled through the trees carrying potentially deadly radioactivity with it. In the distance, wild dogs howled. It was creepy and calming all at once. I reached over to Karl and he took my hand, mesmerised by the rippling branches. How was he to know that I just wanted to check the Geiger Counter?
HONG KONG – THE FEAST
I am a dim sum nut. I love any food that comes in teeny tiny portions meaning I can eat lots of different things, tapas, sushi etc but dim sum is my absolute favourite. Little pillows of roast pork, slippery parcels of prawns, they are delicious. It is lovely to be able to share food with your loved ones, quite intimate. Strangely, I don’t mind sharing like this but come near my box of pizza and I start growling.
We gorged ourselves on dim sum in Hong Kong. The scene was one of dumpling devastation. In Din Tai Fung we merrily dribbled xiao long bao down our chins and crammed whole translucent blobs into our mouths. Not dainty, nor delicate, certainly not romantic.
Sat across from Karl in Tim Ho Wan (the dim sum restaurant run by a Michelin-starred chef) I realised we had a problem. All our dishes were coming in potions of three. There was an awkward moment when single dumplings sat forlornly in their baskets and tension sat heavy in the air. Who was going to claim them? I made a reach for the har gow just as Karl’s chopsticks moved to the BBQ pork bun. It turned out that we favoured different dumplings and so it worked out perfectly. I knew we were going to be OK.
LONDON – THE RIOTS
In the summer of 2011, London experienced some of the worst riots it had seen in a decade. Anger sparked when a teenager was shot dead by police. Peaceful protests escalated into violence and, caught up in a summer madness, people began lash out at the government by distorting their neighbourhoods. Buildings were gutted by fires, people were robbed and shop after shop was looted. It spread across the country. Manchester, Nottingham and Brighton all had their share of trouble.
Sitting on my bus home, I was completely unprepared to find it driving into a riot. Leafy Ealing, as it is known, is in West London. It is quite a nice area and so I naively thought the problems wouldn’t come to us. As my bus rounded the corner onto Uxbridge Road, I heard an alarm going off and smelt smoke. The road was full of people in hooded tops running around in small groups.
Karl said he would meet me at the bus stop but when I hit the bell and the doors open, I couldn’t see him. I panicked. Should I get off the bus anyway? Everyone was staring at me like I had gone seriously bonkers. Just as the doors were shutting I saw him so I yelled to the driver to open them again and got off. I couldn’t have been more conspicuous if I had tried, coming home from a dance rehearsal, clad in a fifties sailor coat and pink rucksack. Karl took me by the hand and we walked at a steady pace through the hoards smashing windows and leering. Somehow a bubble of protection had formed around us. I was so grateful that he had come out to protect me.
NEW YORK – THE PROPOSAL
Our friends Daniel and David needed to travel to Chicago for a friend’s wedding, and so we all headed Stateside. We spent a just under a week in Chicago and then moved on to NYC. Day 8 of our 10 day holiday was WET! People had warned us of New York’s July weather. It’ll be fine, we told ourselves, we’ve been to Singapore! But wow, it was sticky. When the rain came, it was torrential. We hid under umbrellas, on buses, and even in an awesome pinball place which kept us busy for an hour. We were meant to get rush tickets for a show starring Kristin Chenoweth (one of my favourite Broadway performers) but Karl decided it was too expensive. Feeling hard done by, I trudged after him towards Central Park.
Karl had mentioned an art exhibition about New York’s parks that he wanted to see. Although we had agreed to try and see some new things (this was my 9th trip to the city) I thought that an art show was a good enough excuse to head back into the park. My hair was a mess, I was super sweaty and I needed a wee. I wasn’t feeling like a polished New Yorker. The humidity was stifling and the darkening sky was threatening to send us another storm.
“Let’s get a boat out on the lake” Karl suggested.
“No way” I retorted, “its gross today”.
“Come on, it’ll be fun” he pressed.
“You get a boat and I’ll sit in the boathouse, drinking a bottle of wine and watch you”.
If only I’d known what was coming!
To be fair, the lake wasn’t hiring boats because of the weather so I was right. Suffering a small strop, and in a bit of a bad mood, I had to use the foul public loos in the park which were even hotter and stickier than the world outside. I wanted to get going and do other things and so when Karl suggested walking up one of the hiking trails I looked at him in complete disbelief.
“I’m wearing jellies!”
However, he was so determined that we strode off up the bark chippings in search of who knew what. We stopped overlooking another lake and Karl got all weird. He told me to put my phone away, which I did after some grumbling. Seriously, I was acting like a bored teenager. And then he smiled.
All of a sudden I realised what was happening. He got down on one knee and I did A LOT of jumping around, and now we’re married! It’s an absolute miracle that he still proposed on such a gross day, when I was in such a gross mood.
So there you have it, you can find romance in the most unlikely places so don’t fret if you don’t have the trip of a lifetime planned this February. You don’t need the chocolates or the flowers (although please note that they are nice any day of the year) or an overpriced, under cooked meal in a crowded restaurant, or really any of the trappings of the Valentine’s festival. Just grab someone by the hand and have a little moment together. They are the ones that count.
And for a bonus point…
During our trip in Peru, theoretically the most romantic holiday of a lifetime, I fell off a sand board and bruised my coccyx pretty badly. I was in too much pain to lie down, get in and out of chairs alone or do anything really. SO unromantic!