personal


Been a while since I updated here, and well overdue. The last couple years have been crazy busy, what with studying and getting the house sorted out. So a bit of an update post:

The house turned out not to be quite what we hoped. The electrics need redoing, which is going to cost, substantially, as it’s an old house, without the usual channels in the walls that the electrical cables run through. New channels are going to have to be drilled through, with replastering work following. So at the moment it’s a case of saving like crazy, and all redecorating work is on hold.

Michiel is now working. In some ways it’s the job of his dreams: he’s doing what he loves, for a company that treats him well, and he’s working (mostly) with other geeks. There’re drawbacks to it (mostly the commute – almost three hours every day at present) but I think it’s safe to say that he’s happy.

Study: the MA is almost complete. One more project to complete (5,000 words) and a dissertation (20,000 words) to do before the end of July. And then I swing into a PhD, which I’m really looking forward to doing, to getting my teeth into some really meaty research and grappling with issues. Should be a lot of fun!

Obviously time doesn’t really permit me to post much, and when I do post, it tends to be on a history-focused blog that I’ve started up. Or on Facebook! I think this blog has come more or less to the end of it’s natural life – I’m going to keep it ‘live’, if only because its good for me to see where I came from, but I doubt I’ll do much more in the way of updates to it, except perhaps the education page. I doubt too that many people read here still. If you do, and you’re not in contact with me any other way, or you would like the details of the history blog, please let me know and we’ll see what we can come up with. I might come back to do an update post every once in a while. We’ll see.

For now… it’s been an amazing nine years. I’ve gone from living in a pretty awful flat in Manchester, beset with antisocial behaviour problems, battling mental health issues and depression (largely situational), to attaining a whole series of qualifications, becoming a published author (oh, yeah, I wrote an article in an academic journal!), and owning my own house. It’s been an incredible journey, and it isn’t over yet.

Here’s to the next nine years!

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I think most people who read/have read here know that I am deaf; and I have explored some of my feelings about this before. Tonight a TV programme was shown, exploring some of what it feels like to be Deaf, rather than deaf.

Before you all think I’ve completely lost the plot, I should explain: for the Deaf community, there is a key difference between Deaf and deaf. Deaf means linguistically deaf, sign language deaf, culturally deaf. You may have grown up being deaf, learned sign language from your parents, but if not them, from your classmates, your deaf friends, at a deaf school, or later, at a deaf club. Friends are deaf, jokes are done in sign language, gossip in sign language, sorrow in sign language. It is a hidden community, almost, because a Deaf person, in isolation, on the street, looks no different to a hearing person: the linguistic differences are not visible until communication begins. Some of the Deaf may be almost militantly deaf, speak of deaf pride, proud of their language, their culture, their history, fight against things that they see as taking away from their community, such as Cochlear Implants. They celebrate when their children are deaf, as it means they’ll be like them. They see themselves as a linguistic minority, rather than a disabled one, and reject overwhelmingly the medical model, the idea of deafness as a loss. Its not hearing loss, hearing impaired. They reject disability negative language, and focus on pride. They are DEAF. In sign language, it is emphatically signed with two fingers held out from the hand, the rest closed in, and strongly, firmly, proudly placed on the ear, blocking the sound. There is no mistaking it.

This is all in opposition to the deaf, those who see themselves as having a hearing loss, perhaps going deaf as they get older, who wouldn’t dream of doing that funny handwaving in the air and making a spectacle of themselves, who prefer to quietly wear in the ear, invisible hearing aids, who might go to the lengths of attending a class on lipreading, but who would never dream of hiring a lipspeaker to interpret at important events. They focus on being as normal as possible, just a little bit deaf, they can talk and understand what’s going on and they absolutely are not DIFFERENT. They’re not DISABLED. They’re not like those poor mites who can’t talk. Just a bit… you know… hard of hearing. They won’t understand the Deaf community, any more than a hearing person who has had no contact with a Deaf person would; and will almost certainly emphatically reject any kind of association with Deafness.

These are two extremes, and I have deliberately polarised them from each other, almost as a caricature so, in order to demonstrate the differences between them. Its important to realise that Deaf/deafness is a spectrum, and that there are many people at many points along that spectrum, and that each person’s position on the spectrum is right for them: in other words, I’m trying not to criticise anyone for choosing where they lie along this spectrum, to criticise them for the choices they make in their self-identity. I am explaining this purely in order to explain some of the language I use in the rest of this blog post.

What has prompted this post is the programme I saw tonight. Grayson Perry, the artist, has made a series of programmes and artworks exploring the central question of identity, “who are you?” [4 On Demand has the programme here, but this will NOT be available after 4th December 2014, nor if you are outside of the UK]. He explored this through three groups tonight; the others were Northern Irish Loyalists, exploring their attachment to and celebration of Britain, of a Britishness that most people living in Britain today would struggle to recognise, and a group of BBWs (Big Beautiful Women), who are on the same path towards acceptance and equality that – as Perry said – gayness was a decade ago, that women were a century ago. And then there were the Deaf. He interviewed a family; Tomato and Paula, both in their late thirties, from North London, both … many might describe them as being militantly deaf. They have two daughters, both of whom are deaf, but the film showed Perry going with them to the audiologist when their youngest daughter’s hearing was checked over. Perry asked a key question: “how do you feel about the audiology exam, the language that the audiologist has used”, as the audiologist was saying that it was good that their daughter’s hearing had not deteriorated any more. Tomato explained that he felt it was almost abusive, because he remembered his own childhood, of similar exams, of watching his parents anxiously watching him, praying that there had been some improvement in his hearing, and wanting so much to please his parents, reading their body language and the audiologist’s to give a false reading, and the … joy of his parents, reinforcing the message that was given to him: your deafness is bad, a horrible thing. It brought memories back of my own in the same situation: of watching the back of the audiologist’s hand, of wanting so badly to be normal and to make my parents happy and the deep fear and sorrow when I felt that I had let them down.

Later, Tomato showed Perry the home made punk style hearing aid covers from his youth. These, simple metal covers designed to fit over a hearing aid, with a row of spikes protruding from them, like a row of mohican spikes, spoke eloquently to Perry, and to me, for quite different reasons. Tomato, evidently, had chosen to celebrate his deafness in his youth, to play up his hearing aids, to be, almost, ‘in-your-face’ about his deafness and his hearing aids. It spoke eloquently of a pride and a confidence that I could only watch, enviously. I think back to my own formative years, and while I was never into the punk movement, so would never have reached out for the same kind of imagery, I also cannot find an example of any way that I was similarly celebratory about my deafness.

Quite the opposite in fact.

I experienced my deafness through the prism of school. I mixed with other deaf people in deaf clubs for a very short while after leaving school, for perhaps a year or two, and then for around 5 years with people who were more like me – who spoke, who might know sign language but who came from hearing families and sort of straddled both worlds, the hearing and the deaf. And then I left it totally and had no deaf friends at all, no deaf contact. These days, when I think of my experiences with the Deaf, I think of school. And since I had a bad time at school, my thoughts about the Deaf, about the Deaf community, are pretty negative.

But what I was seeing with Tomato and Paula showed me, clearly, that they didn’t see it that way. And I thought about a conversation I had recently with someone who was hearing, but who had Deaf parents, and who had grown up in the Deaf community. I had talked to her about why I chose not to be involved in the Deaf community, about my negative experiences of it. I found it cliqueish, closed minded, unaccepting of anything different from the mainstream (ironically so). I detested that, so I left it. She simply said at the time that she didn’t see it that way, which I accepted – perhaps she instinctively understood that I wasn’t ready to see her world the way she saw it, I don’t know.

But now, having watched that programme, I wonder: have I, in rejecting the Deaf community so wholeheartedly, condemning them all for the actions of a few, dismissing them as being cliqueish, narrowminded, have I done damage to myself?

I don’t mean here, in terms of what I’m potentially missing out on, although that’s an element too. [I certainly know that Deaf Culture can be expressively beautiful and joyous.] I mean: in relating the term DEAF with something so overwhelmingly negative, what message am I sending to myself, about myself? Am I hating on myself, to use the American term, in a way that is doing overwhelming damage to myself? And even more key: if I hate, and am ashamed, and embarrassed about, and feel I have to excuse and make up for my own deafness…. how the hell can I ever expect anyone else not to? How can I expect, demand even, that other people step up to the plate and make the amendments that they SHOULD make, on the basis of equality? And in having such a negative image of the Deaf, am I setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy for when I do encounter Deaf people?

Again, this goes to the heart of a conversation I have had with one of my interpreters, who is turning into a good friend but who is also, slowly (bless her heart), helping me to see that the Deaf world does not have to be the overwhelmingly negative one that I was subjected to for so long. And I suppose tonight is the nex step along the path she’s been dragging me along for the last 3 years: that deaf people are people, that they behave both well and badly, that there are people who are good for you and bad for you, and that to reject someone on the basis of their chosen linguistic style and choice of culture/community, even by dint of just choosing not to interact with that culture even when multiple opportunities are laid in front of you, is wrong. It is disabilist in the worst way. And that’s something I need to stop doing if I am to develop a sense of pride in who I am, deafness, warts n all. If I am going to demand that people accept me as I am, deafness, warts and all. If I am going to demand that people give me the access to make the most of myself, deafness, warts n all.

I’m not sure where I’m going to go from here. But I think even just writing this, realising this, is quite a breakthrough. Perhaps the next step is to stop resisting joining the Deaf community, to reach out, see who’s out there, and to form some healthy, positive friendships with people who are good for me, and where I am good for them. Perhaps from that a new, positive sense of deaf self-identity can grow within me, and merge to join the rest of my identity, to form the whole that is me.

…. I freely admit that I don’t want this year to end.

Stepping over the threshold into 2014 brings the possibility of my university time ending that much closer. While I fervently hope and pray that I can get both the grades and the funding to pursue an MA, and then a PhD, the fact remains that at some point I will have to stop studying. Yes, its possible to keep studying privately, while holding down a full time job. Possible… and very very difficult. As a private individual you do not have access to Academic Journals or University Libraries. Such things are necessary to produce academic quality work – at least as a historian, where, in studying any new subject for the first time, it is necessary to examine the history of that subject as well – that is, what has already been written about it, and to analyse that corpus of literature. This is why academics remain working within universities, despite what some might see as the inconvenience of having to teach (and those, I think, are the fools, not their students. But that’s for another time). Its the access to sources of data, to the libraries, that enable them to conduct their research and to write their books and articles.

While I don’t know, at this point (no one does) whether MA study is possible, a number of tweets and Facebook posts by university colleagues, about – like me, the thought of their university time coming to an end – or the trepidation of actually graduating and being launched into the world – has been strumming in the back of my mind all evening, and I finally realised why I haven’t even touched my books all day, preferring instead to spend the day with Michiel. I don’t want my time at University to end. 2013 is possibly the last year I shall have spent entirely devoted to studying, with the clear, single minded purpose devoted to my degree. There’s a clarity to that, to answering as well as possible, the essay title set, researching the topic, of putting one foot in front of the other, eyes fixed firmly on the goal in front. Michiel said it very well a while back, that he envied me. Not the work or the subject, but my fixed vision, my very clear and identifiable goal. I know what I want and I’m working very hard to achieve it.

In the run up to Christmas has been ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ – and I freely admit, I’m a Strictly fan. You can keep your x-factor, your Britain’s got talent, your dancing on ice. Gimme Strictly any day. Many of the contestants have talked about the “Strictly Bubble” – and I think, in some respects, I know what they mean. Not the sequins, the make-up, or the tanning booth. But the Goal – the Strictly Glitterball Trophy – and all the hard work that people put in, all the small steps that they make, are all wayposts on their way to that final goal. It gives a remarkable clarity to life, a singlemindedness. And it is that that I shall miss, I think, if I do not manage to continue with my goal of first the MA, then the PhD. I’ll wind up rudderless, goalless – and that is a prospect that – at this point in time – is actually quite terrifying.

So.. no. 2014 isn’t welcome, not here. not now. Now I cling to the dying moments of 2013… cling to my singleminded vision of my future path… cling to some of the happiest years I have known in my life so far.

Few links to photo sets, and an update of our summer….

In June we drove to Germany to stay with Michiel’s parents for a couple of weeks. We daringly decided to drive, having just bought a car a few months beforehand. Michiel was a little apprehensive about the idea of me driving on the “wrong” side (as was I, if I’m honest) but in the even it went swimmingly, and I only had a couple of problems. Unfortunately when we were returning from a visit to the Netherlands to visit with his family a small deer ran out in front of us and I was unable to stop or swerve to avoid it. It was killed on impact, fortunately (and not running around the woods in pain). Fortunately there was very little damage done to the car, just a bit of dented bodywork – and a rather shaken me! We also visited Osnabruck, to look at the Cathedral and the Liturgical Museum which was amazing, had BBQs and went strawberry picking under a blazing blue sky. We had a fantastic time, having the car made a lot of difference to our freedom while there, and next year we plan to drive to the south of France to stay with his parents there (they have a caravan down there).

Holiday Photos

In July my mother’s church hosted a 24 hour “entertainathon”. I offered to make some cakes/buns for this, and we went down to help. I got roped in doing flowers for the church, doing an arrangement I was very pleased with, and I was pretty pleased with the varieties of cupcakes that I produced too! Took the opportunity to take photos of the fields surrounding Mom’s church, as well as photos of the event but I can’t post those on a public forum, alas.

Entertainathon Photos

In August Mom visited for her birthday and we went to Donington-le-Heath Manor house, near Coalville. The friends of Donington were hosting a “Donington at the home front” day, with lots of demonstrations of crafts and a live fire exercise from the home guard! Mum and I had a lovely afternoon wandering around the gardens and house, and jumping at the bangs coming from the demonstration, and talking to the various volunteers.

Donington-le-Heath

Just a couple days ago I visited St. Mary in Arden, a ruined church in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. its very picturesque and well worth a visit. I returned a couple days later with the camera, and these are some of the results. I’ve visited other properties but i keep forgetting to take the camera, so this is all the photos there are! I also visited St. Dionysus (the main church in Market Harborough) but the photos of that visit were hurried and not so good.

St. Mary in Arden

A mini update: In terms of my uni studies last year, I’m pleased with the vast majority of my work. I just missed out on a first across the whole year, but that doesn’t affect my final degree grade – all that is required from the first year is to pass (40% or above). Full details, as ever, are on the education page. With regard to my health and diabetes, my weight has been steadily creeping up again, and my blood sugar with it, so I have to make an effort to get that under control again. Jess is fine. Another dog attacked her earlier this summer, cutting the skin around her eye quite badly and shaking all three of us up and necessitating a trip to the emergency vets. But with antibiotics and lots of TLC she was soon back to normal. She’s getting old and slowing down, sleeping a great deal, but otherwise, is fine. Like many of Britains cats and dogs she contracted fleas this summer, so we had to deal with that too. She definitely didn’t like the scratching! The house is good as well. we settled in very quickly and have loved this summer, being able to sit outside in peace and quiet. I developed a little garden in the yard, out of a series of pots, which has been lovely to watch and potter around in over the summer as well.

Garden Photos

So on that note I’ll leave you to enjoy my garden photographs… till the next update!!!

 

 

Encouraged by the adventures of a mutual friend, Michiel was keen to try air rifle shooting, and when he found out that one of our local clubs offer a one hour taster session, we agreed to go along and have a go at it for an hour.

This was the second place we’d visited – the first was an archery store north of Leicester which we’d gone along to look at how much the equipment would cost for me, and then found out that they also did air rifle equipment, as well as having a range – but I was very very impressed with Kibworth. We walked in and introduced ourselves and despite not telling him, despite my hair being down (and thus covering my hearing aids), the man on reception picked up on my deafness and made sure to talk directly and clearly to me. The Instructor (Richard, lovely chap) was even better – positioning himself so that I could see him clearly, making allowances for my deafness (e.g. for safety, if a whistle is blown, we down guns – I asked him to tap me on the shoulder instead. Not needed, but it was good he was so deaf-aware) and I saw 2 people in wheelchairs so they were very disability friendly. Big plus to them!

The session itself was great fun! In the end we shot for longer than the hour we’d booked, and it absolutely flew by – we were given instruction in how to use the gun, the ones we were shooting were called PCP air rifles which use compressed air to propel the pellet – how to hold them, how to load them, use the sight, and so on. Very clear, very straightforward, then he let us lose on the range, encouraged us to go for a close by target first, then work backwards up the range. Each target was a steel cut out of an animal with a small circle cut out in the “kill” zone, when you fire through the circle, it knocks a piece of steel backwards, which you can then “reload” by hitting your next shot at the reload button at the base of the animal. Here’s a picture:

Normal steel target - the circle in the middle is the kill zone and when primed, the circle has a backplate to it that has to be knocked down by shooting the pellet through the hole.

You can see the circles where you have to shoot quite clearly. Once we’d done the nearest target, and reloaded it, we were encouraged to move backwards through the range, as the more distant targets present a different challenge:

The range

I went to the one right at the back and got the shot I wanted – which kind of startled Richard, a bit, I don’t think he expected me to get that one straight away! I then moved forward to a squirrel in the middle of the range with a really tiny circle…. and had a lot of problems with it, it was very challenging. Richard suggested I try one of the other targets instead and I glared at him and told him firmly “oh no, I don’t give up – I’m gonna get that bloomin squirrel if it kills me!”. He laughed, said “that’s me told!” and helped me by using the scope on his rifle to tell me where my pellets were hitting, and then set up a paper target to calibrate, to “zero in” where I was shooting and to adjust the scope:

Zeroing in - see how tight the shots are?

He was pretty impressed by this – good tight shots, all aiming the cross hairs at the scope. the target is around 20cm square, and this was shooting at 25 yards. tight shots is what you aim for – once they’re tight, you can adjust the scope, but if they’re all over, then you’ve got bigger problems. After this procedure he told me to try again at the squirrel, and to my delight, I got the bloomin’ thing!!!

That bloomin' effin' squirrel!

After that, he pulled out two 20cm sheets with 5 small targets on, set them up at 25 yards, and told us to shoot against each other – cue lots of joking about if Michiel wins, he’s walking home! – apparently this is the normal size of targets used for shooting competitively at 25 yards, so. five shots each, one on each little target. Here’s mine:

Competitive Targets

I won’t post Michiel’s (for that, you’ll have to look at his blog) but I can tell you that I scored 35, Michiel scored 28. So he got home safely. LOL. I think Richard was pretty impressed by both our shooting – although Michiel has shot before, I never have, only archery – which of course, has transferrable skills. It has, however, left me with a dilemma – I was going to take up archery again (its a sport I enjoyed a great deal as a teenager, and I was pretty good at it) and leave the shooting to Michiel but I did enjoy myself a great deal this afternoon, so while on the one hand, its good to know I haven’t lost my “eye”, so to speak, on the other, I am now very torn, and I have to decide which sport to take up over the summer. Can’t afford both, as they both involve expensive equipment. GAH…. I hate decisions like this!

Still, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and I look forward to Michiel, if not me, spending many happy hours at Kibworth!

Its a minor miracle I don’t have a hangover. I think because I stuck to white wine, but I certainly drank enough to get me quite merry!

We went, last night, to a French restaurant we’ve both been longing to go to for a while, which serves very very good French food. Le Bistrot Pierre, a lovely little bistro in the heart of Leicester… and which absolutely made our night. From the waitress (who was charming, cheerful, who seemed to display a sixth sense about when she was wanted and when she was not: thank you, Kerry!) to the decor, the food… it was not a cheap night but it wasn’t about being cheap. If we’d wanted that, there was a McDonalds over the road! We threw caution to the heavens, ordered what we wanted, and to my surprise, when the bill arrived, it was not as expensive as I had feared. Win-Win on all counts!

We arrived and were promptly shown to our table by Kerry (Michiel having booked ahead). The restaurant wasn’t busy – we were seated towards the back of the restaurant, sharing a room with one other couple, but that was perfect for us! Kerry advised us on wine selection to go with our food – unlike most restaurants I’ve been in, most of the wines on their wine list are available by the glass (and two sizes of glass as well, in some cases) as well as by a half bottle and a full bottle. This gives great freedom in trying wines, especially if you are new to the whole wine thing, as I am, which was lovely.

I started withSalade de betterave et chevre (‘Warm trio of beetroot salad, including honey roasted golden beetroot and striped ‘Candy’ beetroot, served with goat’s cheese, lamb’s lettuce and garlic croutons’). This was delightful – not at at all what I expected. The beetroots were sweet and tangy, which offset the tanginess of goat’s cheese wonderfully, the croutons giving a welcome crunch factor in a plate that would otherwise have been devoid of that element. Although its marked as a vegetarian option I would recommend it to non-vegetarians, its that lovely.

Michiel had Sardines Grillees (‘Grilled Sardines with confit red peppers, salsa verde and a dash of pernod’). This is not something I would have ordered at all (sardines being filled with tiny bones – which I have a horror of) and initially Michiel struggled with it, before finding the knack of lifting the meat from the bones without ending up with a forkful of bones! He said later that he felt a fish knife would have helped with this. He carefully picked out a small piece for me to try, ensuring it was bone free, and I was quite surprised how subtle it was. In the past when I’ve had sardines, the flavour has always been quite overpowering, to the extent that it was difficult to taste anything else. This was subtle, present, but allowed the sweetness of the fish to come through as well – and I had no difficulty tasting the salsa verde that he slipped to me immediately afterwards.

We were also served a basket of French bread and butter with the starter. In these days where french sticks are so easily available in the supermarkets its a joy when you’re reminded just how good GOOD french bread can be – this was soft in the middle, slightly crunchy on the outside without the dryness that you can sometimes get in inferior french sticks that makes eating it almost a journey in pain. They hadn’t stinted on the butter either: small packets of Lescurebutter, which gave a lovely salty flavour (without being over salty) that puts most packaged butter in the shade.

We each had a glass of Basa, Verdejo-Sauvignon Blanc (‘Telmo blends a little sauvignon blanc in with the local Verdejo grape. The result is subtly unconventional and delicious’) from Rueda in Spain which was lovely – not at all dry and without the crisp acidness that you can sometimes get with whites – I would happily have this again.

For our main meal, I had Supreme de Poulet (‘Chicken supreme with apples, Calvados, smoked bacon lardons and caramelised onion). This was delightful – I polished off every scrap, with the exception of the skin, which had been left on the breast (and which Michiel gleefully polished off instead). The apples lended a sweet note that wasn’t at all odd in a savory plate, and while I had expected the bacon to add a certain salty note, it didn’t do this at all – just a lovely subtle bacony undertone to the chicken, which was allowed to shine through as the star of the dish in a way that rarely happens. I had a glass of Sancerre (‘Aromatic, complex, lithe and elegant’) from the Loire Valley in France which was the only wine I didn’t much like for the evening. It had that crisp, acidic bite that many like, I suspect, in a white, but that I don’t. However, Michiel encouraged me to finish the glass at least and I’m glad he did because by the end of it I was picking up some of the other notes behind the initial tartness, which were quite lovely and subtle. But not a wine I shall be repeating, I think – although this is personal taste and certainly not in any way a ‘bad’ wine.

Michiel had Epaule d’Agneau (‘Overnight slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with minted pea puree and Roquefort butter’) and this was absolutely divine. Quite the star of the evening, it melted in the mouth, so unbelievably tender in a way that quite belied the fact that it had had a long, slow cooking – and wasn’t dry at all. The sauce with it made Michiel close his eyes for a moment’s concentration on the flavour, and when I dipped my fork in it, I did the same – the depth of the sauce was gorgeous. He had this with a half bottle of Cotes du Rhone (‘Grenache based blend with dashes of syrah and mouvedre. A lightly perfumed combination of pepper, spice and berry fruit’) from Le Pas de la Beaume, France,  which was the recommended red to go with the course (if you look at the menus, which are available on the site, you will see that some of the courses have specific wine recommendations which is a very very good idea, I think). This was a rich, deep wine with very little of the tannin bite that I dislike in cheaper reds, and complemented the lamb beautifully.

Both of us were served two little side dishes: a sort of Dauphinoise potato dish, which I think had some cheese in as well, and a red cabbage dish with a spice I initially struggled to identify until Kerry thankfully cleared the matter up: cinnamon. Quite surprising and very very nice.

After our main course plates had been removed Kerry cheerfully asked if she could interest us in the dessert menu. “ohhhh YES!” was the reply which earned us a merry laugh. I chose Cafe Gourmand (‘A platter of small desserts – mini citron flan, mini tart-tatin, raspberry sorbet and mini chocolate torte’). This can be served with an espresso coffee, but I chose to forgo that and instead indulged in a chilled glass of Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois (‘Sweet, fruity, floral and utterly unctuous’) from Domaine de Barroubio, France. This was glorious – a nectar I could happily drink for the entire meal, although it certainly would not go with any of the other foods! The platter was glorious – one difference from the description – the sorbet was a strawberry sorbet, not raspberry, but this really did not matter (and I only realised it when typing this just now). I tried the mini chocolate torte first – at first glance, it looked like a small, slightly bigger than bite sized chocolate cake, quite simple and unprepossessing. Cutting into it with my spoon though… the cake oozed a chocolate sauce that was hidden in the middle and I gleefully said “ooh Chocolate Fon-don’t!” (for the uninitiated, chocolate fondant has failed so often as a dish on Masterchef (the TV series) that its now called “Chocolate Fon-don’t”). Although small I wasn’t left feeling short-changed in any way at all – the rich, chocolate velvetiness was wonderful. Next time I shall certainly go for the Moelleaux au Chocolat (‘Chocolate torte with whipped maple and Grand Marnier cream’) which I think the mini chocolate torte is based on. Next up was the strawberry sorbet – sorbets can be a little wishywashy but this wasn’t. It was almost more strawberry-ery than a strawberry! Placed into a small bowl with a mint leaf delicately placed on top, the strawberry flavour refreshed my mouth and left it aching for more – which I found in the form of the mini tarte-tartin, which tasted almost like a toffee apple, deep, rich, and unctuous – of all the four desserts on the platter, this best matched the wine, I think, although all went well with it. Finally, the mini citron flan – lovely and lemony, not tart but not oversweet either – that balance is so difficult to get right – with an unexpected crisp layer ontop of the tart, where I think a blowtorch had been run over to create a sugared layer to give a lovely crisp snap in the mouth. Gorgeous. My only gripe is that I wanted to order it all over again and I didn’t have room in my tummy!

Michiel ordered the Plateau de Fromages (‘Our typical rustic French cheese board of: Brie de Meaux, Tomme de Savoie and Bleu d’Auvergne, served with biscuits, celery and red onion confiture’), which he had with Quinta do Crasto (‘Intense, powerful and peppery port – ripe flavours of raisins and dried figs’) from Duroro, Portugal. The port was simply lovely – I got warned off taking too big a mouthful by a possessive Michiel! – and with the blue cheese, it was toe-curlingly wonderful, you simply had to close your eyes and wish the world away to concentrate on the flavour. I wasn’t too impressed with the Tomme de Savoie – the first time I have tasted this cheese – but Michiel liked it well enough and it was his meal! The Brie was lovely too but nothing could match the loveliness of the bleu d’Auvergne with the Quinta do Crasto, for me, after that – Stilton and port aficionados will understand the loveliness of that pairing, although this was more subtle, with more depth, than the average Stilton and port combo.

Would we go again? Oh.. yes. in a heartbeat. tonight, if we could afford it, which sadly, we can’t! The restaurant does special evenings though, ‘Soiree Gastronimique’ and ‘Dine with Wine’ evenings that may be a little cheaper for us than last night’s dining from the a la Carte menu, and I am sorely tempted to go and try their Breakfast or Lunch menus. Part of me is tempted to wait and try their Spring/Summer menu when it comes out. Quite when we will return I don’t know but I do know that we will!! Thank you, Le Bistrot Pierre for making our anniversary night so special!!

Every now and then a date comes by where you stop, sometimes just for a moment, sometimes for longer, and just think about where you are, where you’ve come from, where you want to go. We all do it, different dates for each of us, although some of us have dates in common, such as 9/11. Some dates are more personal. For Michiel and me, its today.

9 years ago today I stepped into his arms and whispered to him to never let me go. He never has. That sounds terribly romantic, but its not the sop to cupid that it sounds. That never letting go has meant heartache and pain and growth and love for us both. Somehow, we’ve clung on together, while the waves and tides of our lives have dashed us around, sometimes near the rocks, sometimes out to sea, sometimes into calmer waters, but always, always, we’ve managed to cling to each other, one of us always holding on even when, temporarily, driven to the brink by the pain of the moment, one wanted to let go.

We don’t stop, I think, he and I, to consider the beauty of that, or to honour and reflect on the strength and determination that has allowed us to maintain that grip on each other.

But today I want to change that. Yesterday, I stopped outside a lecture theatre and reflected on where I was 9 years ago – then, I was attending a friend’s wedding with Mom and Dad. It was a period of my life that heralded great changes: I’d just ended one relationship in very very upsetting and painful circumstances. I had to close down the home I was then living in, and I had no job, no future. Everything I had depended on up until about 4 weeks before that point had vanished, except my family and friends. I remember Dad driving us home that night and looking up at the moon and wondering where my life would go, reflecting on the changes that were to come. I suppose I could have been excited by the chance to change where I thought my life was going up to that point, but I don’t remember thinking that way. I think I was still too wounded at that point for that.

I’d met Michiel online a few weeks before we met in person. It was a friendship that grew into something more, although we both agree now that it was too soon, for me, especially. But despite the problems that came afterwards, in that moment when we met for the first time, a connection was forged that has withstood everything that’s been thrown at it for the last nine years.

In those nine years we’ve withstood a breakdown (mine), depression, unemployment, illness, antisocial behaviour from so-called neighbours that drove us both almost to the wall. We’ve withstood family problems, deaths (from my dad and grandmothers to his grandfather, to friends, who died far far too young), a cross-country move and the beginning of my studies. In that time we’ve both changed a great deal. I can only speak for myself here; but I’ve grown as a person and now bear little resemblance to the wounded individual I was nine years ago.

And its that connection, in many ways, that has enabled that growth to happen.

Thank you, Michiel, for never letting go. I love you.

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