So, as is befitting Valentines Day, I thought I should take a moment to finally share the news and the story of mine and Michele's engagement.
Which took place here:
Well, here to be exact. In that little silver car parked outside the empty pub:
(All subsequent photos from our evening stroll that day, our first as an engaged couple!)
Last September, Michele and I had two weddings to go to. One was in Madrid, one was at Lake Como. Both were between couples who had been together for a shorter period than us.
Now, considering that there's a good seven years between Michele and I (and consequently, the majority of his friends and their wives are a little older than me too), that's all fine. Until you consider the fact that after five years of being together, I still had absolutely no clue where this relationship was going in the long run. When I had previously tried to broach the subject of future-marriage (as in, 2022-at-the-earliest marriage), Michele had literally run away from me - down the mountain we were in the process of descending at the time (this mountain to be precise).
So I began to nag. And so did my Mum. I started to threaten to refuse to attend the September weddings (LOL that was never gonna happen, hello sunny holidays and abundant booze) and Mum started to point out what kind of ring I'd like in jewellers' windows.
Which is when Michele put his foot down. No. This was not going to happen.
Well not until...
"She has to propose to me first." He declared. "I'm a feminist!"
Well. Admittedly, I didn't see that one coming.
Since our relationship began in 2011, we have had many a debate about feminist issues. At first, Michele wasn't always sure why I was getting so heatedly passionate about topics such as porn and calling women "sluts" (even in a jokey way) and the characterisation of femininity and masculinity as innate constructs (read Cordelia Fine's absolutely kickass book, Delusions of Gender for more on this one). But over the years, he's become a super-feminist, calling out the sexism of other men and challenging his own behaviours at times too. I've always felt incredibly lucky to have somebody who is so open-minded and compassionate as a partner, someone who can look beyond his own perspective to appreciate the experience of others.
But suddenly, I saw that these traits had also thrown a huge spanner in the works in terms of our personal life. Damn.
Ever since that revelation, we couldn't walk past a jewellers' shop without him waggling his bare ring finger at me. "Where's my ring?" he would incessantly nag, as I dragged him past another glittering shop window, rolling my eyes and regretting the day I'd ever brought diamonds into the conversation.
And then it occurred to me that I could call his bluff and knock that proverbial ball right back into his court.
Shortly after our amazing anniversary mini-break in Lynton (in which we stayed in a hotel with the most gorgeous views and hiked some of the breathtaking South West Coast Path) we headed to Yorkshire with my family for the week. Whilst spending a morning wandering around the picturesque town of Leyburn, we spotted some lovely, unisex, hammered-silver rings in the window of Emma Sedman. At an incredibly reasonable £40 each, they were the perfect balance between sincere present and jokey oneupmanship and so I made a secret plan to procure one by the end of the week and present it to Michele as his "engagement ring".
On the penultimate day of our holiday, Michele and I bundled into the car and headed off to Leyburn whilst the rest of the family got ready for our day out. It was all going to plan as I steered him inside the jewellers' - and then panic struck. In the sophisticated calm of the jewellers, this suddenly began to feel like less and less of a joke. As I asked to have my boyfriend's ring finger sized (whilst I blatantly had absolutely nothing on my own ring finger), I began to feel very silly and very out of my depth.
(This was not helped by the fact that Michele had broken his ring finger a few years earlier, resulting in a rather difficult-to-size, lumpy finger and a dash to the jeweller's bathroom to try and persuade a particular ring to leave his finger, leaving me to make pointed small talk that avoided any mention of the elephant in the room with the jeweller).
My sense of humour about the entire matter was quickly deserting me - was the jeweller secretly wondering about this strange couple in front of her? Was this a step towards us getting engaged or just another joke in our silly game? More importantly - was this going to be our actual engagement?! All of these thoughts were running through my mind as I handed over the money - and turned to see that my Dad had arrived and was walking our dog, Bertie, outside the jewellers.
With the timing of a comedic veteran, Bertie squatted down and proceeded to do the biggest poo possible for his size.
"Oh that's nice." I tittered nervously, whilst the jeweller gift-wrapped Michele's ring.
And then, as I watched, my Dad patted down his pockets, looked a little concerned and then proceeded to march off again leaving the offending excrement exactly where it was.
"Oh dear!" The jeweller proclaimed, alarmed at the steaming, brown insult to this well-kept and picture-perfect village.
"Don't worry!" I replied, practically shouting with nerves, "It's ok, we'll pick it up!"
Which earned me a very odd look indeed as, of course, how could she know that Bertie was my dog and the offending man was, in fact, my father?
So after having explained exactly why I was taking responsibility for the black and white shit machine outside, I dashed around the corner after my Dad, leaving Michele in charge of guarding the steaming pile of crap on the pavement outside the jewellers just in case anybody went to step in it.
Upon finding Dad aimlessly wandering around outside some shops, I was about to tell him off when somebody beat me to it - namely, a very loud and very angry local woman who had seen what had happened and had driven around the block specially to shout at us about the poo around the corner. Oh, how everybody stared. It turned out that Mum had got the plastic doggy bags and Dad had absolutely no idea where she was (being averse to carrying a functioning mobile phone, or in fact any useful items, as he is). So the angry lady shouted some more and pointed me in the direction of a pet shop, where I promptly set off at a light sprint, zooming back past Michele and the offending pile.
By now, I was in a super bad mood. Not only had my little joke ceased to feel like a joke and was instead beginning to look likely to become the prelude to the worst proposal of all time, I had also been shouted at in public (one of the things I hate most in the world). I bought the bags quickly and ran back to Michele and the giant poo, only to see my entire family arrive simultaneously - plastic bags and all.
Apparently oblivious to the fact that I was, by now, practically violet with rage and humiliation and fear, my Mum asked if I was going to get down on one knee (right next to the poo) to propose to Michele.
I promptly told her where to go.
"No! This is not an engagement! This is not how it works! Here, take the ring!"
I batted the bag at Michele who refused it without a formal proposal.
"Go on, give him the ring properly and we can all go for lunch at that lovely pub around the corner" (which had Michelin guide stickers in the window and an awesome-looking menu to boot).
So we all got back in our respective cars and drove to another (cheaper) pub for lunch, in a little village in the middle of the countryside.
Michele and I arrived first. We pulled up outside the little, rather empty pub, which sat contentedly at the side of a little village green upon which a trio of cows roamed freely and happily. So I tried again.
"Here's your ring." I said moodily, dumping the bag in his lap.
"And...?" He asked, passing the bag back to me.
"And it's a token of my love." I replied, insisting once more that he take it.
"And...?" He pushed, returning the bag to me once again.
"FINE!" (My temper management really was not on form that day) "Here's your bloody ring. Do you want to, MAYBE, ONE DAY, IN THE FUTURE, POSSIBLY, get married?"
He took the ring from the box, slipped it onto his ring finger and began to coo over his new jewellery.
And then I was literally about to say:
"This does not count, this is not an engagement, this is all part of the game!"
When he retrieved something from his wallet. A rather sparkly something. A golden something with an actual, proper diamond attached to it.
I really wish I could tell you what happened next but I can't. I went into complete and utter shock.
The next thing I was conscious of was that there was a ring on my ring finger as well as his and I was asking him in rather garbled language if he'd asked my parents for permission. I know, proper feminist right here.
(Oh and also, I don't think I actually said yes in my shock either so you know, technically it's still pending).
At that moment, my family were pulling up in their car too.
"Come on, let's tell them!" He said, removing his seatbelt and sliding out of the passenger door whilst I sat there absolutely mute with shock.
"No! We can't tell anyone yet!" I managed after a pause, unable to fathom telling anybody about this most shocking turn of events whilst my brain could hardly process what the hell was going on. But it was too late and Michele was out of the car, happily showing my family his new ring.
"I have a ring!" He cried, and my family happily humoured him and our supposedly "fake" engagement with a chorus of "oohs" and "aahs".
I emerged shakily from the car.
"And... and I have one too!" I whimpered, holding up my newly-glittering left hand.
Cue screaming and handbags being flung through the air.
My Mum enjoys telling her version of the lunch that followed, during which I hardly said a single word and simply sat there in shock whilst we tried (and failed) to order champagne, settling for a round of prosecco instead (the absolute best, right?)
And at the end of the day, Michele and I took Bertie for an evening stroll through the golden fields down to the old ruins at Ravensworth, where the majority of the photos of this post were taken.
Of course, I've completely missed out one of the most important photos - the ring! Oh go on then, seeing as you asked...
Here's a close-up:
And here it is at the Lake Como wedding last September:
And that is the rather happy ending of our incredibly odd engagement story.