Champagne Diaries Part 2

Friday, 26 September 2014

After a very speedy turnaround in our hotel, we ran to meet my friends in Min Jiang Bar on the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington for the second part of my birthday celebrations.

Turning up late for things is pretty standard for me (most of my friends tend to tell me a meeting time of at least half an hour earlier than they expect to see me) but at least this time, super prompt Tan and Sarah had something to occupy themselves with while they waited. Matt Le Blanc was in town. And he was eating dinner with an attractive blonde at a table just accross from ours.

Tan had already given me the heads up with a text full of !!!!!, but I wasn't prepared for just hoooow excited she really was. "I used to have his poster inside my desk at school!!" she reminded me. We settled in with our cocktails to talk about old times, and exciting future times, all the time casting sideways, oh so unsubtle glances in Matt's direction. One by one, the others turned up, each equally excited that we were sharing breathing space with one of our '90s heroes. It was so lovely to be back with my very silly, very brilliant best friends again.

Out came the cocktails one by one, and it's probably unsurprising that most of the ones I chose contained champagne.

The ever-chic Arthur had thought ahead, and matched his trousers with the decor, while Romana had wrapped my presents in similar coloured paper, with pretty tonal bows (too adorable guys). Steph and Rich's attire didn't look too out of place with the colour palette of the bar either

Us girls gradually moved to the 'right' end of the table to catch the best view of Matt, trying not to knock over expensive looking display vases in the process.

When these boys turned up...

Or rather, when Stephanie made sure that Matt had definitely departed to his hotel room by stalking him in the lift, we headed on to Kensington Rooftop Gardens. 

After about 20 minutes in the queue, we gave up, jumped in a cab and headed to where we all secretly really wanted to go all along. Clapham.

One minute's walk from where I used to live in London, those of us that were still standing spent the night the way we always did. Which mainly meant that I spent most of the night chattering away in a corner with the love of my life.

Oh, and of course, I spent a bit of time with this one too.

The night got blurrier...

But I had the common sense to hide my face in most of the later photos.

I'm not quite sure what time we eventually made it back to the hotel.

The next morning, we had all of the good intentions of getting up and finding a new brunch spot in London, but fully-fledged fizz-fuzz meant that this seemed far more appealing:

Eventually, after several hours, we tore ourselves from bed and attempted to make a move towards fresh air. We had a date with our favourite couple.

I met Romana, along with 20 other fresh-faced, eager beaver new Consultants on the PwC graduate scheme back in 2009. We bonded over late night bar sessions during long, soul-destroying residential training courses, and became firm friends. I moved into the flat above hers in Clapham with our good friends Kate and Chris, and later, when Kate moved out, Mani moved in. We have been inseparable ever since...Well, until the slight issue of Doha got in the way. But we still text every day. 

Marn's all loved up with the very lovely, very dapper Arthur, who used to serve in the Armed Forces. And he just happened to have four free tickets to the VIP area of the closing ceremony of the Invictus Games. Supported by the royal family, this is the first ever sporting event for wounded servicemen and women, and the turnout and support for the games has been phenomenal in the UK.

We arrived at the Olympic Park in the late afternoon to the dulcet sounds of James Blunt crooning away, and almost bumped right into Prince Harry.

Yes ladies, he is just as good looking in the flesh. 

This was unfortunately the last A-Lister run-in of the trip.

We took our seats, while Romana and I acted as though we hadn't seen each other just 24 hours before, and did quite a lot of this:

Followed by a bit of this:

The sun began to set, picking out the typically grey London storm clouds and casting beautiful light over the Olympic Park and the crowd below us. I was really proud to be part of such a special event, and even prouder that my fellow Brits had turned out in their hoards to support it.

We took advantage by grabbing a few more photos before the light disappeared altogether.

All too, soon, it was time to move on to our next entertainment of the evening and Romana's birthday surprise from Rich and me. We left Stratford...

And headed to a secret location down an alleyway near to Liverpool Street.

We were going to play Clue Quest. Now, I'm ashamed to admit that I mocked Rich a little for being a massive Anti Lad when he returned from a stag do in Warsaw to say that the best thing he'd done all weekend was play a simulation riddle game with the boys where they had to solve clues to escape from a room...but I am now eating all of my words. I can't tell you too much about it, because all of the fun is in not knowing what to expect, but trust me when I say this is one of the most fun things I have ever done in London. Its number one rating on Trip Advisor speaks for itself.

We said sad goodbyes once more, with hugs and promises of more meet-ups at Christmas and sloped sadly home. It was only once I'd snuggled into bed that I realised that this was the first day of the holiday sans champagne. Poor form. We'd better get back on it tomorrow.

And that we did.

We had a perfect lunch at The Jugged Hare, the most amazing gastro pub in London...

Where Rich made the most of the pork on offer

And I made the most of the fact that it was still sort of my birthday and therefore I was totally allowed to order two starters rather than one main.

Perfectly sliced truffled venison carpaccio and game terrine and crostino. Perfection.

We then headed to Liberty for dessert

And a return to tradition.

That evening, after browsing through some bridal stores around Bond Street, I met my lovely friend Clare for dinner and completely forgot to take a single picture (much to her relief), which is testament to what a good time we were having and just how much we had to catch up on. In order to ward off the sadness of my last difficult goodbye, I went to meet Rich and Tom at Tom's lovely flat in Wapping for more bubbles.

Followed by utilising our lovely engagement presents with yet more champagne quaffing back in our hotel room.

And then it was our last day. Not quite ready to give up the habit of the holiday, we celebrated with Prosecco for breakfast

We'd had a sparkling time back in the UK, with our bubbly friends and champion family.

To rip a joke from my dad, it really had been quite intoxicating.

Champagne Diaries Part 1

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

I must apologise for the huge levels of slush in my last post. I know the cringe factor was bad even for me, but I just couldn't help myself...

However, I promise that I will try my hardest to reign it in this time around.

That shouldn't be too difficult because post-engagement, our friends and family made sure that it was less about this:

And more about this:

By the end of our ten days at home, I am sure we would be classified as certified alcoholics. If any alcoholics exist that drink nothing but champagne.

OK, I can't blame it all on the friends and family. It actually all started with us on the plane back to London where we decided it would be criminal not to celebrate with a few glasses. It was free after all.

The fizz fest continued the next day at my good friend Hannah's wedding to Mark. How cute are these favours?!

Note that there's actually more wine on the table than in my glass. I'm not sure I really needed the glass of champagne that was about to be poured.

It was a beautiful sunny wedding, held in a pretty barn in the Essex countryside and it was pretty moving to see an old and very dear friend of mine get married to such a decent chap. Plus I got to catch up with some of my best friends in the process.

You know a party's been a good one when the guys all end up with their ties on their heads by the end of the night. They say Essex girls can party, but I'm not ashamed to admit that the boys outdid us that night!

After a long, fairly fizz-fuelled fuzzy headed drive up to the Peak District and my home the next day, it is safe to say that there was only one thing on our mind to rejuvenate us again.

Luckily, Mummy Bags had thought ahead, and out came the bottles one by one as we chatted excitedly with her and Joe about the engagement and our plans (we might have also all watched the engagement video all together and got a bit emotional...but I promised I wouldn't talk about the slushy stuff).

The next day we woke up early and had breakfast on the balcony in the warm September sun.

During late summer/early Autumn, that spot looking out over Hope Valley is pretty much my favourite place in the world to be. There are still flowers in the gardens and a warm breeze blowing over the valley, but the trees are starting to turn russety-orange, casting beautiful patterns across the hills.

I could have sat in that chair all day, but there were things to be getting on with. With a wedding to plan for next summer, and barely more than 4 weeks back in the UK between now and the event itself, we needed to get organised.

And organised we were. I don't want to give away too many details just yet, but we returned to a well-known and much-loved place and knew immediately that this was the place where we wanted to celebrate our marriage to one another. Romance seeps through every inch of this historic landmark (and you all know how I love a bit of romance... OK, OK, I am reigning it in!).

I can't wait to tell you all about it in due course...

Cheered by our amazing wedmin progress and a fanstastic reunion with my brilliant family, it was only right that we celebrated that night with another glass of the good stuff.

The next morning, with a teary goodbye to Mummy Bags, Joe and Chris, it was off to Norfolk for a few nights with the other side of the family.

And we were barely inside the front door when Christine (who will hereby be referred to as Mummy Byles) cracked open the next bottle of champagne. You'd think we would have had enough by now, but it was actually starting to develop into a dangerous addiction...

It was a very exciting day for us. Not only did we receive the most amazing surprise organised by Mummy Byles at the pretty pub Rushcutters down the road, complete with a great meal attended by all the family, helium balloons and CAKE!...

But we also got to meet a very special person that we have been desperate to meet for a few months now.

Allow me to present our niece, Amelie Rose Andrews. Isn't she adorable?!

Rich and I were both pretty smitten (along with everyone else who comes into contact with her it seems), and spent a lot of the remainder of our time in Norfolk cooing over her.

I think she is pretty fond of her Uncle Richy.

While we were in Norfolk, we also spent some time with the wonderful Grandma and Grandpa (now Great Grandma and Grandpa - although they really don't seem old enough)

And had a round of golf with John. Which was interesting.

Let's just say golf is not my forte. I have a rather special technique.

But I was cheered slightly when some of the other guys' balls ended up in the bushes more often than the green (bad sportsman, moi?!).

No number of stray balls could dampen our spirits that day however. It was another stonker of a summery, sunny September day and it was so good to be surrounded by real, green grass again after a few weeks back in the sandpit.

All too soon, it was time to say more sad goodbyes. It's always really sad leaving Mummy Byles' house as it's so homely, warm, cosy and relaxed. She truly is the best hostess I know.

The only thing that perked us up as we ate our breakfast that morning was realising that even the jam that we'd been spreading on our toast every morning contained champagne.

I tried to remember the last time I'd drunk anything other than tea or champagne, and after about 5 minutes I gave up.

And then we were off to London.

Rich sneakily upgraded the hotel room we'd booked in the Montcalm City Hotel to a suite, and when we arrived we received a warm welcome and an extra special surprise.

The excellent service we received throughout the entirety of our stay was only to be expected in such a fantastic hotel as this, but I'm guessing that it was probably helped along by the fact that when I arrived I was clutching one of Mummy Byles' helium engagement balloons with my left (ring) hand, grinning from ear to ear and telling everyone who would listen that we'd just got engaged...

That night we celebrated with...yes you guessed it, yet more bubbles with my oldest friend in the world, Bridget, and her husband Alastair at Buddha Bar in Knightsbridge.

I love nights with Bridge, because no matter how long we've spent apart, we always start again where we left off as if we'd just seen each other the day before...

This usually involves recounting the story of when we were 11 and she threw my trainers into her big yew hedge, when we took 3 hours to put up a tent that boasted it could be erected in 3 minutes, or when we got chased by a farmer with a gun for trespassing on our bikes on his land. What can I say? She led me astray.

Awaking the next morning to the familiar feeling of what I was now calling the fizz-fuzz, I forgot for a while that it was my birthday. Now since I became an age which as a youngster I never thought I would make it to (I'm not sure if it's because I felt it was such a long way off or if I subconsciously knew I was likely to die early from champagne over-consumption), I haven't been that interested in birthdays. But this one was special because I was about to spend the day with five people I hadn't see in far too long - my dad, Jude, lovely sisters Bethany and Helena and gorgeous brother Benjamin.

The latter four have only just made the move back to England for my dad's job after several years in Australia, and I was bursting to see them. We manage to time it just right so that our emotional meeting occured just as we were both crossing Tower Bridge - in the middle of the road no less. Is there a more dramatic way to greet s loved one you haven't seen for a long time?!

We ambled around the stunning Tower of London, with its iconic 'Tower of London Remembers' display of poppies swimming around its moat below us. Marking the Centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, each poppy represents one soldier who fell fighting for their country. As well as a shocking reminder, the installation presents a perfect photo opportunity.

We traipsed along the banks of the River Thames, past some of my favourite London sights, chatting non-stop and catching up on each others' news.

When we reached St Katharine Docks, it was bustling with people as the Classic Boat Festival had come to town. We took in the pretty boats, bunting and buzzing atmosphere...

Before heading to lunch at The Dickens Inn.

I had been saving a whole raft of cards and presents for this moment, and I excitedly tore off wrapping paper and envelopes until I was surrounded in a whole heap of mess. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my family, new family and friends. One of the highlights was this bad boy from my brilliant mum, which I couldn't wait to get out and play with right there and then.

Give me 6 months to master using this beautiful machine, and I will kiss goodbye to my grainy iPhone blog photographs!

When I had finished, dad passed me a box. I will give you one guess as to what it contained...

If you look closely, you will see that it was probably my dad that I inherited my terrible devilish sense of humour from.

Once again, it was time for more difficult goodbyes. It was so hard to know that this was the last of the family that we would be seeing on this visit, and to think that we have three whole months before we'd be back again. But at the same time, both of us felt so very loved and lucky,

And so very full of champagne.