It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to go on a date with someone I met online. Whenever I did I just seemed to meet weird men who gave me flowers in a Sainsbury’s bag or people that thought they were far superior to me and acted as if I was lucky to be in their presence… I was fed up.
It was about this time that John and I started chatting on match.com. After a few weeks of message chat John asked me to go on a date during my school’s half term break (I’m a teacher, not a student!) John couldn’t seem to wait the 5 days and kept pushing for a Valentine’s Day date the next day. I was not impressed by his pushiness and was about to tell him where to go. But my best friend told me I had nothing to lose, so I went. I turned up VERY late to the pub that was just opposite where I lived (a sure sign that I was not keen) and we hit it off instantly, bonding over cookies, practical jokes and our love of Lego.
We spent the next three weeks together with very little time apart and when my 30th birthday arrived, he took me for a romantic trip to The Shard and then the next day I thought I’d test him and drag him along to my parent’s house for a birthday tea and meet my ENTIRE family in one go. I was so surprised by how well he coped with all my family and knew there was someone very special there.
The more we spent time together, the more I fell for him. We had both been through some tough times individually and we seemed to find each other at the exact moment when we were back on the rise and ready for this new stage in our lives. I used to daydream that I would find someone who would be generous with his time whilst making me feel completely loved and protected. I didn’t ever think I would actually find that person… then along came John! I can remember the moment I knew I was going to marry him. I was dropping him off at work on the morning I was going away with a friend for a week and I couldn’t stop crying. Even though I was so excited to go on holiday, I couldn’t stop myself from feeling devastated about not seeing him for a whole seven days. I had never felt this way before about anyone and I think I shocked myself a little bit with how strongly I felt.
John and I come from very different backgrounds. I’ve been brought up in North West London and have had a lot of involvement professionally and personally in the Jewish community. My Jewish identity has been very strong from quite a young age and I think many people who know me always assumed that I would end up marrying a ‘Nice Jewish Guy’. I however never put that assumption on myself and have always said I would marry the person I fall in love with no matter where they are from. Little did I know I would fall for a ‘Bermondsey South Londoner’!
We may both be from London, but the North/South divide is very strong when it comes to London, never mind the religion! We both quickly integrated ourselves into each other’s families. My family was particularly surprised when John turned up one Friday night having learnt the Shabbat Blessings… From that point on he was firmly embedded in my family.
From quite early on we had discussed marriage and had a rough idea of when we wanted to get married. Things took a quick turn when I gained a teaching job in West London and decided we would move in together. For a variety of reasons we ended up living in a tiny studio flat near Twickenham. We thought if we could make it living that close to each other every day, then anything else would be a doddle. We made it through and last summer John went to a football match with my Dad (typical!) and asked him if we could get married. Luckily the legend that is my Dad said yes and two weeks later John took me on a surprise trip to The Shard again and proposed (surprise, surprise-ish!)
A few weeks earlier John had asked my cousin Jonny Leiwy Jewellery to reset a diamond that was from my Grandma and Grandpa’s engagement ring. However this was not quite ready in time, so John borrowed my Mum’s engagement ring and proposed with that in front of a crowd of people whilst overlooking where he was born and grew up. It felt like the most perfect location for us. It was where we began properly as a couple and, looking out over the whole of London, felt as though we were bringing together the two parts of our heritage. This is the feeling we are hoping to recreate with our wedding.
For me our wedding is the starting point for the rest of our lives together and should represent how we hope to live in the future. We want to be surrounded by our family and friends in a relaxed, fun setting and start to build our own traditions. We have always said that there is nothing ‘normal’ about us as a couple and that we want to do things the way we want to and not have to stick to rigid guidelines for our wedding or for the way we will choose to live our lives in the future. However I did have early concerns about how we would include my all-important Jewish identity into the wedding.
Before we even started looking for a venue I was researching Jew-ish weddings. I looked at loads of blogs and accounts of other similar weddings and we started to discuss what we wanted. I have always dreamed of getting married under a chuppah, and whilst I knew that I could have a blessing by a rabbi under one, it didn’t feel quite right for me to effectively have a civil wedding (without the chuppah) and then a Jewish blessing.
I know A LOT of rabbis who would have done this for us, but the more I spoke to them about what we could and couldn’t do under the chuppah, the more I knew I wanted a different type of ceremony. So after a bit more research, I suggested to John that we have a tiny legal ceremony before the actual wedding day and then create our own ceremony that will be Jewish inspired and represent us more completely. He agreed, although I am sure he didn’t quite get it at this point. And then we had to explain it to our families who found the whole thing even more confusing.
Everyone assumed I’d want a rabbi to do this ceremony for us, but that was not what either of us wanted and we started to think about who could ‘officiate’ our personalised wedding. We knew that we wanted a lot of involvement from our friends and family in the ceremony and we started brainstorming ideas. At this point my brother Josh called us from Toronto where he was working for a Jewish youth organisation and it just hit me that he would be the perfect person to captain our ceremony. We chatted about it and John instantly got excited about the ceremony for the first time and was totally on board with the ideas I was putting forward. We are still working on this together with Josh, and whilst Josh is going to take on board what we want to happen, he has also insisted that he is allowed to throw in his own surprise elements on the day. I am well up for that!
The next big decision was the wedding venue. Unfortunately just after we got engaged my family dog Monty passed away. Seeing as he was such a big part of our family, it hit us all quite hard, particularly for my parents. We had two weeks between our engagement and my starting back at school. So I decided to throw my parents into a wedding venue search with me to keep our minds off how challenging they were finding being at home without Monty.
John and I had envisaged a barn setting and had visited a location that we instantly thought was the dream venue. I took my parents back to see it and whilst we loved the style of the place, they were good at highlighting some key faults and encouraged us to keep looking. We looked at quite a few more venues with barns or interesting looking spaces and each one I saw I liked more than the one before. However the one problem that kept arising was the location. John’s family wanted it to be reasonably near them towards South West London and my family wanted it closer to them near North West London. John and I just wanted it to be reasonable for everyone.
Eventually we came across Stoke Place in Buckinghamshire and fell in love with this venue. Located equidistant from both of our parents, it has a slightly quirky dà©cor with beautiful grounds that I loved and had a modernized barn for the main function room. More than that, every member of staff that we met was delightful. After a bit of navigation around the Jewish holidays, we finally got a date, signed on the dotted line and had booked our wedding venue!
Now we get to the fun bit… booking all the fun bits! We want our day to be a bit rustic and crafty (I’m a massive craft addict). I may have gotten a little carried away in the early days and fell for our wedding photographer (Photography by Krishanthi) at a wedding fair and then quickly booking without John meeting them (he was not happy!) So from that point we agreed to discuss every key point to make sure that we were both happy with decisions. Now a few months down the line we have pretty much all the major components booked — although I am getting hounded daily about the things I haven’t sorted yet (invitations….arghhhh!) Over the last few weeks my sleep pattern has changed and now I stay awake thinking of all the things I haven’t done yet and really need to do, and then I have dreams about dogs walking me down the aisle instead of my dad… who knows what that means?!
I am getting increasingly excited about the end of the school year next week when I can focus a little bit more on getting some exciting wedding details sorted, planning that ceremony and making our homemade chuppah together… more on that in the future blogs that I can’t wait to share!