Or, as I call him, Alistair.
We've dealt with the blondies (8yo and 5yo), so now it's time for the big blondie himself, Alistair.
I still remember the first time I saw him. It was May 1994, and I was skiving off school (see here) to help out at the family business in the Fens (remind me to tell you about that sometime, not many people grow up in a former PoW camp). My sister-in-law and I were lugging curtains and bedding across to the new accommodation building and as I went across, I became aware that a young man in jeans and a checked shirt was watching me from the new shower building. Smoking a cigarette, he was clearly observing me from a distance.
This wasn't something that happened to me. I was ok-ish looking, nothing to frighten the horses, but ranked against my friends at school, I was not popular with the boys. I'd had perhaps two boyfriends – nothing serious or meaningful, one of them lasting only a few weeks, as dalliances do at that age. My sister-in-law looked in the direction I was gazing in, and remarked 'He's been watching you all afternoon.' Of course, I was all 'No he's not, sturrrp it, no blokes ever look at me', whilst sneakily looking back. And he was. Definitely. But really, I was not the type of girl to turn heads, so I sternly told myself he was looking at my sister-in-law instead (who is/was genuinely stunning). But that memory stayed with me, because it was so rare. I just didn't get noticed by men. Still don't!
So there we are in the summer of 1999. Alistair has a job at my family business. I've been aware of him and his friends for a few years, and thought him a complete and utter twat. Loud, gobby, with horrible clothes (the lime green fleecy jumper still burns vividly in my brain, as do the far too tight jeans), and a knob that seems keen to make friends with the female population of Europe. He'd even asked one of my best friends for a slow dance one night. She'd accepted, out of politeness, but been mortified the whole time at dancing with someone in a mustard coloured polo shirt. He was just too Wisbech, too naff, too blokey.
But then... He moved into the room next door to me in the staff accommodation. And a few times, invited me round for a drink before the Big Nights Out we all indulged in. And each time I was taken aback by how nice he seemed. How he talked about his family, his childhood, what twats some of his friends were (I silently agreed). He seemed like a really decent bloke. And it just didn't compute that this laddish, knobby, blokey bloke could simultaneously be so nice, so easy to talk to, and yet be the utter twat I regarded him as. Talking one night, he mentioned he's done his work experience there. Really? When? Oh, May 1994. Did you wear a checked shirt? Yep. Oh. I remember you. I remember you. You were wearing a red shirt and black leggings with Doc's. How weird!
And then... One night, both of us drunk, back to his room
And afterwards, he held me in
his arms and said “Do you know what? I'd really love it if you and
I were together. I think you're beautiful, special and wonderful.' I
made him wait 24 hours before I agreed (I was in horror at the
thought of being associated with someone who had such bad dress
sense, a Fen accent, and appeared to the outer world to be an utter
twat. Yes, superficial, but also, I was 19).
And now, this week, it will be 14 years together. I think it's fairly safe to say that if Ali had had any inkling of what his future with me would hold, he would have run screaming for the hills (and being in Fenland, the hills are pretty damned far, trust me). But he didn't, and here we are, 14 years later, still not married and with two junior blondies in two.
And I love him so very much. More and more, as each day unfolds, he reminds me of how lucky I am. And yet, as I remind him, if we'd been on a matchmaking website there is no chance in hell we would have been put together. We shouldn't work as a couple, but we do. We just do.
Take words. I am a wordworm. Reading, writing, words are my lifeblood, I cannot live without them. I read and write obsessively, love to find new words, new ways of expressing myself. I lose myself in words, I revel in them, I love to look up etymology, dictionaries, linguistics. LOVE it. Whereas Ali doesn't read. Unless he's looking up a practical solution to something, reading is something to be endured. I finally allowed him to look at a few pages here (after he had totally outed me to everyone we know), and he forced himself through it. I'm still not convinced he enjoyed the experience, but it was possibly the first time in ten years he has read for, ahem, pleasure. We have over 700 books in this house. 6 belong to Alistair.
Our leisure activities are fairly distinct too. For me, leisure means 'doing sod all, except that which is nice', ie lounging around in the sun, with a book or a pen, listening to music, usually with alcohol. For Alistair it means planning and building a wooden playhouse for the blondies, or a hot tub (see here!). Perhaps cutting a 200 metre long hedge, or shooting Nerf darts at a wasps nest to destroy it. Maybe hosing down the terrace. He cannot sit still, not for a minute, whereas I embrace laziness like a long lost lover.
Messiness doesn't bother me. As long as I know where my stuff is (and it's always in the same place) I'm ok. But every Saturday morning, Alistair has a little shitfit, and the Blondies and I know it's time to cower and tidy, tidy, tidy. By dinnertime the living room will be just as messy as it was first thing, but we made the effort, so we get gold stars.
He's not a thoughtful person. I don't mean he doesn't do thoughtful things, I mean that he doesn't dwell on things in his mind. Whilst I brood on anything and everything I have experienced, he has this amazing ability to just shrug things off. It's what I most admire in him. He will have a shit day, come home, little moan, then he's fine. When he gets up the next day he has a smile on his face and the expectation that today will be a good day. I have never felt like this. In my angstridden mind, every single thing ever needs to be panicked about, worried about, obsessed over, is right there, extremely loud and incredibly close. But then, that helps when...
A crisis strikes. Weirdly, I stay calm, and Alistair is the one who freaks out. Talking to the 8yo today (who had remained massively cool in the face of waspish provocation), I realised that because I always anticipate the worst, when bad stuff happens, I am prepared. Ali, being of the more cheery persuasion is faced with the unknown and just freaks the fuck out. This is possibly the only area of personality clash in which I win. Each time I was in labour with the blondies I was the one who stayed calm (aside from shouting a lot of swear words very loudly). Ali just freaked out and I had to tell him what to do (the 5yo was born on the bathroom floor after a 43 minute labour. I had the foresight to make Ali two coffees, get the online contraction timer going, call the labour ward and then tell him to call 999 'We're not going to get to the hospital').
Music. Bloody hell, music. We disagree a lot on music. He likes all kinds of things I dismiss as naff – our first major argument was about Phil Collins. Then he finds a song we both like: 'Neapolitan Girl' by Divine Comedy. Him: 'Ooh, this is jaunty!' Me: 'It's about a prostitute in post-war Naples.' Him: 'Oh.' How can you like a song without listening to the lyrics? How?
But it works. It just works. Perhaps because my sour acidity is blunted by his happy optimism. Perhaps because despite the differences, we see the world the same way. We laugh at the same things (quite often at something Ali's said). We both love cricket (and if the kids aren't around, we shout 'TWAT!' when an opposing batsman gets out). The happiest days of my existence have been spent with him, he is the love of my life and I'm very proud to say that we complete each other. I love you, Alpha Papa. Thank you.