My Wedding Dress and 2013 Challenge Day #24

Me and my bargain husband on our wedding day in Stamford, Lincs

Me and my bargain husband on our wedding day in Stamford, Lincs

In my Versatile Blogger post yesterday I mentioned my bargain husband and my red wedding dress. There was a request to see the dress and, as I need little excuse to show it off, I have included pictures in today’s post.

The dress deserves showcasing at any opportunity as it cost me some time and many pennies! I should never have tried it on in the dress agency in the first place because I knew I couldn’t afford it.

I spent months and months attempting to find a cheaper alternative (mostly on ebay) until, only weeks before the wedding, I decided it had to be this one (I wasn’t a precious bride, I promise you, it was just the thing that mattered to me. Only I didn’t have £1100). I contacted all the dress sellers that stocked it until I found someone who would offer me a significant discount, even with the extra cost to have it made express.

When I finally tried it on, I sobbed (much to the irritation of the snotty dress woman), because it wasn’t how I remembered it the last time I wore it, nearly a year before.

My gorgeous red silk wedding dress. I was a princess for a day

My gorgeous red silk wedding dress. I was a princess for a day

The original sample I tried on was huge and I thought it had a ballroom skirt. Actually it’s A-line. My mother saved the day by putting rucks into it so I could fit a huge net underneath. We had to fight with the dress lady to stop her hemming it, so there would be enough material to cover the white underskirt. I also sewed straps onto the boddice because I’m not a strapless sort of girl. My ‘wedding shoes’ were tatty, clumpy black mules because a) there was no money left and b) you couldn’t see them under the dress, so why not be comfortable?

Anyway, apologies, that’s probably really boring unless you’re about to get married (Anushka, I hope your dress is proving less stressful!). I still have the dress in the cupboard although I never paid to have it cleaned so it’s probably rotting from the goose poo that covered the meadow where we had our pictures taken. I’m too scared to look. I tried the top on a few years ago and it fits better round a leg than my tum these days. But who knows, one day my daughter may wear it to her own fairy princess ball…

Back to Claire. I’m sorry if the story has lost some of its drive. I’ve reached the dreaded 20k-word dip. I need to sit and have a think about where my plot is going, but right now I’m immersed in Jungle party props, jungle cakes and party games. I’m also still waiting for my YHA membership to turn up in the post so I can get a guide-book. Maybe they know I’m writing about them and don’t want to send it to me…


“Really? A single room is cheaper than the dorm? … Yes! I mean, yes please can I book the single room. … Is there snow where you are? Sat Nav has me driving over some hills by the look of it. … Oh, okay. Thanks. I’ll see you soon.”

Claire hung up the phone and smiled. Her eyes felt heavy after a broken night and her ears still buzzed with the sound of drunken snoring that had droned on from the time the girls got in until she finally fled the room at 6am. But a quick search on the YHA website had revealed Byrness. The hostel wasn’t the nearest, but as the nearest was either Wooler – closed – or Mounthooley Bunkhouse – a remote shepherd’s cottage – the choice was simple. It helped that Byrness was more a B&B than a hostel, offering breakfast and dinner. And now, like an end-of-year bonus, they had a single room available that was cheaper than the dorm.

Maybe I won’t ring Carl and quit just yet.

Claire had stuffed all her things in her rucksack when she’d stalked from the room while the girls were still comatose. She’d had to wait in the chilly lounge for nearly two hours until she could hand back her key. By the time reception opened Claire had composed seven different resignation letters and was trying to decide on her favourite.

She had narrowed the choice down to three, one of which was a career-ending two-word sentence, when she heard movement behind reception and went to check out. She hoped there was someone new on the desk instead of the cheery man who had checked her in the day before. The gods, it seemed, were on their coffee break.

“Ah, good morning Ms Carleton. I hope you slept well.”

Claire wondered if his head tipped back like a puppet when he smiled that widely. The thought made her shudder.

“You can hope, if you like. It won’t make it true.”

“Oh? Nothing wrong I trust?” The man behind reception frowned much as someone might to a small child who had dropped their lollypop in a puddle.

“Nothing that a curfew wouldn’t fix.”

The man tilted his head and looked at Claire with innocent puzzlement. She found she didn’t have the energy to explain.

“I’m driving to Byrness today, will the snow affect me?”

“Depends what you’re driving. The roads don’t climb too high but they won’t be cleared except by traffic. Might be a bit hairy in places.”

Claire thought about the Skoda parked in the local car park. How it lost its rear end on a tiny patch of ice if she so much as touched the accelerator.

I want my all-wheel-drive Audi back. Maybe my luck will return and someone will have stolen the heap of junk in the night, though goodness knows why they would.

Weighing up the options of another night with the party girls and a tricky drive of forty miles through the snow Claire knew there was no decision to be made. How bad can it be?

“Thank you for the information. I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’m not in any hurry; their reception is open until 10am.”

“There isn’t much to do in Byrness, I wouldn’t rush.”

Claire sniggered internally, not wanting to offend the jolly man in front of her. Inside her mind the words Like there’s so much going on in this provincial hole fought to be heard.

“I have a good book, I’ll be fine.”

An hour later Claire cursed her blasé attitude to snow. The route might not climb but it had no shelter either. It marched across open land, without so much as a low hedge to prevent the snow icing the road like a wedding cake. Claire peered through the windscreen at the road ahead. All was white. The bonnet of the car, the road in front, the fields to either side. The only things telling her she was still on the road at all were the twin-tracks in front of her and the red line of the sat nav.

Please let them not be leading me to some random farm.

Ten o’clock had come and gone by the time Claire steered her skating car to the chequered flag of her Final Destination. She guided her four-wheeled sled into a side road and came gratefully to a stop. Her hands were shaking and her eyes itched with the strain of concentration. She barely noticed the cold or the numbness of her fingers but she could practically taste Earl Grey tea in the back of her throat.

Still everything was white. Claire forced her aching body to unbend and climb out of the car, cursing as her Helly Hansens sank into deep snow. It was only then that she took in her surroundings.

“What the…? That bastard!” Claire wasn’t sure if she meant Carl or the jolly receptionist. “There isn’t much to do in Byrness.” He could have told me it’s a ff-frigging string of ff-frigging cottages in the arse-end of n-nowhere.” She shivered and pulled her coat tighter around her. Wind whistled through the trees and swirled eddies in the snow.

Claire walked round to the front of the car and looked again, hoping to see a town or even a village hidden behind the row of houses in front of her. As she span a slow 360 all she could see were white houses, white snow-laden trees and the slow-moving traffic on the A68.

“Well, all I can say is they had better let me in. Ten o’clock reception or not, I am not sitting out in the car until 4pm.”

She glared at the row of houses and tried to distinguish which was the B&B. “Thank god I’ve got my own room. Surely only hikers, hippies and weirdoes choose to stay here in the middle of frigging winter.”

Claire clomped up the path to the front door and hammered on it with her glove-encased fist.


49 Followers and 2013 365 Challenge #21

Alnwick Castle. Photo by Aminimanda on Flickr

Alnwick Castle. Photo by Aminimanda on Flickr

I reached 49 blog followers today. I’m so excited. I have never actively tried to get followers so I always feel that each person who clicks ‘follow’ does so purely because they like my blog and not because I have visited theirs and been nice. Not to say I don’t read loads of blogs – it’s the highlight of my day. I’ve just been to sites where it seems the whole purpose of the blog is to get followers. While I might envy their 500 fans I don’t necessarily approve of their approach. So I am very proud and I hope everyone who follows my blog genuniely enjoys my ramblings!

Today’s post is a deadline-chasing one. I normally write the day before and schedule the post for 10am to give me a buffer. Yesterday I used that buffer and chose to watch Got to Dance, snuggled under a blanket, instead.

It is 9.51am as I type this so I have 9 minutes to hit my normal 10am post deadline. (I won’t hit it, I’m in a cafe, it will take at least that long to upload a photo and do a final proof-read.)

As always happens when you’re already late I hit a barrier this morning. Claire is due to stay at Wooler today as the next YHA hostel from Berwick. I thought I’d better check it’s open on 3rd March, which is what the date is in the novel. It isn’t. As far as I can tell from the online booking it doesn’t open until the end of March. So I was as flumoxed as Claire is, and had to send her to Alnwick instead. Which is a pain because I did all my data-gathering on Wooler yesterday. Such is the life of on-the-fly writing… Still, it did mean I could put a lovely picture of Alnwick Castle in my post!


The drive to Wooler was not long enough. Claire felt the presence of her phone like a black hole, dragging her in.

I will not give in. I can’t do it. However much I’m hurting him now, it’s a fraction of what it will do if I answer now and leave again later.

Claire sat upright in the uncomfortable seat and stared at the road ahead. The pull of the phone on the passenger seat was like an itch in the corner of her eye. A chicken-pox itch. All consuming but laden with the knowledge that a moment’s weakness might leave a life-long scar.

All too soon Claire reached her destination. Wooler. It was bigger than she expected; a pretty place with amazing views over the hills. I must check what hills they are and write about it in the blog. Healthy living and all that. I’m sure I’m meant to recommend hikes or mountain biking or something. She looked down at her pristine jeans, spotless Helly Hansons and unchipped nails. As if.

She missed the YHA sign the first time and had to drive up and down Cheviot Street until she saw it next to a side road. Her expectations rose as she turned off down the lane but they crashed to earth when she drew up outside the building.

A bit different to Berwick. You don’t get further from a five-story former Granary than this… sheltered-housing bungalow.

It wasn’t just the building that was a surprise. It was the fact that it looked abandoned. Claire’s heart-rate picked up and she could taste bile rising in her throat. It hadn’t occurred to her to ring ahead and book. I mean, who stays in a hostel in March? She looked at the dark building in front of her. Apparently no one in Wooler.

Wanting to be proved wrong Claire got out the car and walked over to the low brick building. She peered through the windows and tried the door but she didn’t need to rattle it to know it was locked. Bollocks. It was freezing standing in the car park. Claire retreated to the car and got out her iPad. She tried to load the YHA page but couldn’t get any signal. Big fat hairy bollocks.

Claire sat back in her seat, frozen. Her brain kept bouncing between her current predicament and the message from Michael. She was conscious of a strong urge to call him. He would know what to do. She shook her head, hard enough to hurt, and put the key in the ignition. Her choices were to drive back to Berwick or to find another YHA hostel nearby that was open, but she couldn’t make the decision here with no access to the wider world.

Nearer the main road Claire’s iPad reconnected to the superhighway and she was able to find another hostel in Alnwick that said it was open all year round. I should have checked that last night. Stupid girl. Not wanting to chance it, Claire phoned the hostel and was brightly informed that there was plenty of space either in a dorm or a private room. Book a private room, bugger the budget. Pay for it yourself if you have to. Claire listened to the internal voice and spoke into the receiver.

“Can I book a dorm bed please? Yes, just for one night. Great. … Ten o’clock?” Claire checked her watch. “How long will it take from Wooler? … Okay, I’ll be there in half an hour.”

What the…? What possessed me to book a dorm-bed? And reception is only open until 10am, what’s that all about? Thank god I left early this morning to avoid Hattie.

Sighing at the betrayal of her brain, Claire tapped the post code into her sat nav and pulled back onto the main road. At least now she had more to think about than Michael. I guess I’d better check the hostel information and book ahead a day or two. She looked around the Skoda. This is not a car I want to spend the night in.

Claire pulled up outside the dark brick building and shivered. It didn’t look very welcoming. The information on Alnwick said the hostel used to be a court house. I can believe it. A quick check showed her it was two minutes to ten. Abandoning the Skoda on the single yellow outside the building Claire rushed in before reception closed.

Walking into the hostel was how Claire imagined it might be to enter the Tardis. As dark as it was on the outside it was bright on the inside. The interior was clearly new and although it was done in the cheap laminate and robust carpet of a dentist or doctors surgery at least it wasn’t oppressive. After staying at Berwick, Claire was getting used to the bland décor and barely registered it as she hurried to Reception.

“Ah you must be the lady who rang from Wooler. Did no one tell you it isn’t open all year round?” The man at reception grinned jovially. Claire felt the blood rush to her cheeks and replied in a small voice. “I didn’t think to ask.”

“New to this are you sweetheart? Best to book ahead even at this time of year. Lucky we had space.”

Claire felt as if she had been chastised. She filled in the forms, asked where she could park the car, and took the key to her room without another word. She wasn’t ready to view the dorm, or to discover who she would be sharing her personal space with that evening. With a short wave at the cheery receptionist she went back to her car just as a Parking Attendant stuck a ticket to the windscreen.


In a former life Claire would have rushed up to the man and attempted to charm, cajole or threaten him into taking the ticket back. Instead she waited a few paces away until he had walked off, then went to the car and ripped the yellow square off. She climbed into the driver’s seat, fighting back tears, and vowed to put the damn thing in the post to Carl.

They didn’t say anything about the bloody daily budget having to cover parking tickets.