h a r r i e t m a y

Category: Travel

Beside the Seaside

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“This is exactly what I wanted from a restaurant tonight,” I’m saying, looking around us. The tablecloth is red and white checked, brick walls lead up to wooden rafters, and the dimmed lights leave work for the candles on each table; it could be the backdrop for a rom com date scene. (Emphasis on the ‘com’ part of the equation, as the four year old at the next table begins a dinner-long tantrum.) I’m glad– Whitstable Oyster Company was not our first choice, but the Sportsman books up 6 months in advance, Salt Marsh was closed for a private function, and Birdies had no space for us.

On Friday Sam picked me up from work on his motorcycle, and we zoomed down the A2 to Whitstable, just over an hour east of London. It was the end of the summer, and we felt like getting away.

“Does the mackerel have bones?” I ask the waiter, suspiciously. “Yes,” she replies.

“And the skate?”

“Yes, but it’s really easy, I promise.”

“Ok, I trust you,” I say, feeling guilty for being the lazy landlubber who hates to work for her food. Sam, probably on a high from conquering his first oyster earlier in the day, has no such qualms, and confidently orders the whole plaice. “It’s going to have the head,” I say, making a face.

We had spent the day wandering between cafes and pubs, drinking oyster stout on the beach and then shimmying up to the four-person counter in Wheelers for fresh seafood. It may have been around since 1856, but Wheelers Oyster Bar is almost knowingly timeless; it’s easy to imagine the pink and blue storefront rolling its eyes at the news that Pantone has picked Rose Quartz and Serenity as the joint 2016 colours of the year.

“I’m so happy right now,” I say to Sam.

“Here?”

“Here, yes, but right now. Everything is just beginning.” We just reached the one year countdown to our wedding; I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about the direction of my career and have, for the hundredth time, decided to push the fear aside and act instead. I worry that I am not good enough at work. Sam is good at ensuring me otherwise: There’s loads of stuff about how women only apply for jobs they think they’re capable of, whereas men apply for senior positions because they just think they can, he Whatsapps me on Friday. I don’t want to be a victim of the confidence gap. I want to be a woman of Beyoncé strength and Sara Blakely smarts.

“Ok, I think I’m bored now,” I say on our way back to the Airbnb, a charming cottage once home to William Somerset Maugham. “I’ve really enjoyed today, but I’m glad we live in London.” It’s just gone 10pm and a couple in front of us have stumbled out of a pub playing 90s anthems and straight into an Indian takeaway.

“Well,” Sam replies, matter-of-factly, “then it was a perfect weekend away.”

Flying South

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The first time Sam came to Charlotte, N.C. with me we had been dating for six weeks. It was June last year, and it was a crazy idea, and not because we were in that first, uncertain phase of a relationship. “I want to come with you,” he told me, without blinking. “To Charlotte?” I replied, incredulously. I had to check several times. “You know it’s the south, right?”

Now, just under a year later, we have been to Charlotte together a total of three times. A month ago I woke up to several missed calls from my mother and a Whatsapp message that read: call me. My dad, 59, had suffered a heart attack and no one could tell my mom definitively whether or not he was dying. We booked flights for the following day; my dad survived.

This last time, we are flying in to Charlotte, then driving up to Virginia where Vanessa is getting married. It’s a five hour drive, which is nothing in the U.S. but if we were to spend that long in a car in England we could choose to go north and get to Newcastle or south to Newquay and span the entire country. We don’t have a car in England, though, only a motorcycle, and I have an annoying (Sam might say dangerous) habit of falling asleep as the pillion passenger, so there is no way we’d attempt such a distance. We don’t care much for leaving London anyway, where we can get everywhere by bicycle.

“What is a mason jar?” Sam asks at the rehearsal dinner, as Vanessa is having her bridesmaids write a final to-do list. The next day, he is not wearing the cowboy boots he bought when we were in Las Vegas, in January, because they do not fit underneath his British-made suit. He has found some mason jars and is pouring Woodford Reserve into two, straight, which we sip on as everyone helps themselves to barbecue and mac’n’cheese. “We’re having an aperitif,” I announce to the table.

Later, a couple from Napa discount the claim that the Shenandoah Valley wines are out to rival theirs. “The grapes don’t get ripe enough,” I’m told by a breezy Californian, in the business. “Meaning they’re too tart?” I enquire, making a sour face for effect. He nods in agreement. “You got it.”