h a r r i e t m a y

Tag: Marriage

Tiny Dancer

3Acts1-1200Ira Glass is diminutive, so small I can squeeze him between my thumb and my forefinger. His face has become entirely his trademark glasses. “Sorry about the seats,” I whisper to Sam. We’re in the very last row of the Royal Festival Hall, which seats 2,500. The show begins in darkness and with words, as a male and a female voice discuss whether to begin with talk or dance. Talk has obviously won out, following, it seems, a trend begun in ancient texts with ‘Let there be light.’ And then there is light; mid-stage sits a tiny red velvet curtain, self-suspended within an arch; show business made a prop within the actual thing.

We love proximity to show business– even nosebleed proximity– and we’ve come to see what sort this is, what Ira Glass has cooked up with Monica Bill Barnes, who also directed and choreographed, and Anna Bass in “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host”. Sam and I are big fans of Glass’s radio show, This American Life, which is a major reason we have so many internet radios in our one-bedroom flat.

“You’re very English,” Sam will say to me, thick with surprise, every so often. I think he does it just to elicit my response, preordained: “Because I am!” I have an American passport, a British one, and an accent that’s somewhere in between (“Are you from Singapore?” I was once asked in a meeting, “It’s just that you sound… international.”) I’ve spent half my life in the US and I still don’t understand Stand Your Ground laws, American football or what “quarter of” means when telling time, but then there are a heap of American things that make perfect sense: peanut butter, and The New Yorker, and NPR.

I’ll meet you at Yo! Sushi, Sam WhatsApps me before the show. We’re both cycling to the South Bank, albeit from opposite directions. When I get there Sam already has a seat at the counter, and a beer. “There was a family on the Cycle Superhighway,” he says, exasperated. “A four year-old in rush hour traffic! No one could get by!”

Towards the end of the show, Glass turns his attention to marriage. “You take their hand and walk towards a future you hope is just going to appear out of the mist,” he says, describing the decision to spend the rest of your life with one person, when you don’t know what the rest of your life is going to be. Recordings of Alain de Botton on the subject follow, filling the theatre with tips like ‘lower your expectations,’ or, that’s how we remember it. “It’s ok,” I say later, as we stalk around the flat, trying to sneak up on one another, which culminates in Sam striking an elaborate pose and my pretending to commit his likeness to canvas, “I don’t have expectations anyway.”

The Cheap Seats

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We are well-practiced groundlings, and as we sit cross-legged in the queue outside the yard entrance to Shakespeare’s Globe with our £5 tickets we begin work on the 5 litres of boxed wine we have brought between eight of us, shared out in plastic cups. We’re about to see Caroline Byrne’s adaption of The Taming of the Shrew, which none of us really have any reference for outside of 10 Things I Hate About You. We are (pop) cultured.

When we’re let in to the theatre we move swiftly to stake our claim at the front, and although we’ve been told off enough in the past to know not to rest our cups of wine on the stage, I twice catch myself about to do just that. I’m more likely to want to do what I want than what I’m supposed to; more Kate than Bianca.

When Bianca’s suitors are introduced to her, and to us, Lauren whispers, “They’re so old!” We can’t imagine being married off by our fathers. Neither can Kate: obstinate and unmanageable, she rebels by repelling. As Kate is married against her will to Petruchio, and literally tied into her wedding dress, we mourn for her, sadly sipping our wine.

But what actually happens to Kate and Petruchio is this: their relationship is forged from equality and companionship. Bianca and Lucentio, on the other hand, both wanting different things, get them, only to find they share no common ground once inside their marriage. Petruchio has sought out what he knows will make a worthy wife– Kate’s high spirit and boldness– and she returns an unmatched sexual love and fierce loyalty.

Marriage is more egalitarian than ever, but women still must compromise with the world in order to live on their own terms. Niki Nakayama, the subject of episode four of Chef’s Table, will work only in closed kitchens after a man once walked in to the restaurant where she was working, and seeing that she was a woman, left immediately.

When the play has ended, we head down to the stoney beach beside the Thames where we finish the wine, proving none of us would do well with the deprivation Petruchio uses to tame Kate. But we too are high spirited. “To the pub!” someone shouts.

Wedding Belles

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“What do we do?” I’m asking, looking at Sam who is sitting on a petite blush settee. I squint at him slyly. “Are we supposed to… discuss this?” Now I turn to look at the shop assistant, Michaela, wide-eyed. “I don’t know what we do!” Michaela bursts out laughing.

We’re on Sloane Street in Emilia Wickstead, which is a new store here, just down the road from one of the temping agencies I used when I first arrived, desperate to find my place in London. And now here I am, in a dress by an up-and-coming designer, made famous by dressing Kate Middleton and Samantha Cameron, and it is the one I want to be my wedding dress.

I have been told not to go wedding dress shopping with my fiancé (bad luck), but he’s the only person I want there, and I already have a good track record of ignoring everyone to do what I want anyway.

Emilia Wickstead must be good at doing what she wants too; how else do you build a made-to-measure business into the foundations of an empire? The shop in Knightsbridge in which we’re standing is evidence of that– just eight short years in the making. I love this dress, but I love it all the more for being the vision of an ambitious young woman.

When Michaela mentions the dress is 30% off in the sale then darts off to calculate what that is, I think “How can that be bad luck?” but I say, “Should we do it?” The skirt has volume in the back and I am swinging it to test its dancefloor potential. It’s a big purchase and a big deal and I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel when you try on your wedding dress for the first time, except this feels pretty good.

The dusty pink Emilia Wickstead bag is huge and I hit everyone with it as I get on the tube. “Sorry,” I lie, hoping everyone wants to know what’s inside.

When we tell Jenny and Mike, Sam’s parents, they’re pleased. “Must be a family tradition,” Jenny says. “Mike came with me to buy mine.”

Bar Crawl

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“What is nduja?”

We are sitting at the counter in Pizza East, having just ordered two negronis. Sam shrugs. “Ask the waiter.”

“What is nduja?” I ask the waiter. I get my reply: “It’s a salami,” and I quickly ask my next question before he can escape, “and girolles?”

“A mushroom.”

“And guanciale?”

“Pork cheek.”

I pause, glancing back down at the menu. “And…”

The waiter has taken this brief window and sensibly rushed away. “Let’s share the nduja pizza and the girolles and guanciale pizza,” Sam suggests, knowing how indecisive I am and how long it took to even agree on Pizza East (only once I had stared sadly at the enormous queue snaking from Dishoom).

Afterwards we walk back from Shoreditch, stopping for a drink at Redchurch and then Birdcage. On the way I am explaining how upset I’ll be if anyone calls me Mrs when we get married, or assumes I’ve changed my name. “You won’t be sad when I cry if someone calls me Mrs Bourke, or worse, Mrs Sam Bourke?” Losing my own identity would be a trauma.

Sam assures me he doesn’t mind. “We’ll put something about it in the save-the-date email.”

“I feel really strongly about this, but also I don’t want you to be offended. It’s just that it’s not about you, it’s about me!”

Sam laughs and squeezes my hand. “That’s a good line.” I don’t always know what I want, but once I do, I’m certain. By this time we’re in Broadway Market, just before London Fields.

“Want to go to the secret bar?” Sam is referring to Kansas Smitty’s, the bar in the basement of Off Broadway. There’s a neon sign in the window, so it’s not really a secret, as such.

But then once you look there’s often more going on, just below the surface.