After just over two months of marriage Mr Jones has abandoned me for the wilds of Kent. He's been gone for what seems like weeks but is actually only 24 hours, leaving his forlorn wife and two cats to fend for themselves. It is a true tragedy - made worse by the fact that he is incapable of having a telephone conversation.
It is a truth universally acknowledged between members of the fairer sex that gentlemen these days are to be found lacking in the conversational arts - especially over the telephone.
Face to face you can hardly shut them up - especially if their vocal cords have been recently lubricated with something alcoholic. But wave a phone in front of their face and their talent for idle chit chat miraculously disappears into the ether. The same thing happens if you try to engage them in a tete a tete while Top Gear, The Grand Prix or Deadliest Catch are on the television. (Put Neighbours on however and they don't shut up - clearly unaware that it is vital that you establish just what Lynn thinks she's doing try to bribe Paul yet again!)
He promises to be home at some point tomorrow evening to give me his undivided attention (until he heads out to play football - lucky me!) - until then I shall have to make do with a brief and distracted telephone call. Clearly Kent holds many distraction - or perhaps they watch a lot of Top Gear.
My friend Miss S is getting married - whoo hoo - very exciting. So at the risk of sounding patronising I thought I'd pass on a few bits of post wedding wisdom. The stuff that most people in their rose tinted post nuptial state won't tell you.....
1 Have a real think about what YOU want - and be prepared for the fact that other people think they have the right to have an opinion. Clearly they have no such right, but that won't stop them. If you don't want kids at your wedding don't have them, if you want a non religious ceremony have one, if you want to wear orange go for it. It YOUR day and everyone else should just be happy about the fact that you're getting married.
2 There is no such thing as "The Dress" - it is a myth that some brides like to believe in, but following extensive questioning of everyone I've ever know who has wandered up he aisle very few people have that "oh my god this is the one moment". I agonised over the fact that I never had that moment, but I loved my dress anyway.
3 Give a really short RSVP dates. When people get a wedding invitation this is what happens. "Ahhh lovely - so and so and so and so are getting married in August, oh we can make that, great, I'll just pin this to the notice board/stick it on the mantel piece/put it in the "stuff" draw in the kitchen so I remember to RSVP." Then they get so used to seeing it on their noticeboard/mantel piece that they forget to RSVP until you - in a fraught "Oh my god no one is coming to my wedding" state - call/text/email/facebook stalk them until they finally get around to replying. I say give them a three weeks max to reply.
4 If your vendors are men give them the most detailed instructions you could possibly imagine giving anyone. If you say cutlery they don't necessarily think knife, fork, spoon - so you end up with just knives and forks. If you say standard wine glass they will order something that looks like it belongs in a 1985 episode of the Golden Girls. If possible give them written itemised lists and pictures of exactly what you want - to save last minute cutlery and glassware meltdowns.
5 Prepare yourself for bad behaviour. There's always someone who ends up crying because they're not the bride, or making a scene because they've had one (or six) too many. If you have a friend/family member who is incapable of behaving when drunk, don't for one minute think they'll manage it on your wedding day. Prepare yourself for their rudeness and ignore them - you don't have to deal with them on your day. If you can get away with not inviting them then do it.
6 Get a wedding video - we didn't have one and that's my biggest regret. I don't remember much of our ceremony because I was so overwhelmed that so many people had turned up to see us get married and because I was finally there outside in the sunshine saying "I do". I'd love to watch it back just once. So I think it would have been worth the extra expense.
7 Never, ever, ever, ever agree to share anything with a bride who is having her wedding the next day. It will only cause you great anxiety and much stress - and it won't save you anywhere near enough money to justify the grief. In fact - she'll more than likely be better off than you in the end without all the stress.
8 Apologise to everyone in your wedding party in advance - you will get cross and shout and possibly even cry. Weddings are stressful and a lot of work - especially if you're doing it all yourself. I told everyone involved to expect a meltdown, so when it happened no one was suprised.
9 Don't expect everyone to be as into it as you - getting married was for me one of the most important things I will ever do, but other people don't think the same way. They don't understand why it's so crucial for it to be perfect, or that you'll be hurt if they don't seem to take an interest when you'd expect them to. It took me ages to realise that being married isn't the be all and end all for some people as it is for me - but once I accepted that it was easy to deal with the fact that they didn't want to help.
10 Talk it through - sit down with both of your families in the beginning and discuss how involved everyone wants to be. We didn't do this and I think that it would have saved me a lot of heartache if we had.
11 Be prepared for theivery - wedding guests can be rather light fingered (shocking I know) - I am still missing a cream and pink checked rug and a cream cushion with pink spots. (If they're in your house - shame on you!)
12 Order more double the booze for your welcome drinks - pictures take ages and guests get ansty if they're without a drink for more than two seconds. So have your bar in an accessible place straight away or double the booze to keep people happy.
13 Get the best music - you might want to have a rave - but are people really going to enjoy dancing to that noise all night? We had cheese and everyone loved it - with one notable exception - but I don't care what she thinks!
14 Try and take it all in and spend time with your new husband - it really is an amazing experiences and one most of us only plan on doing once, so make the most of it. If things go wrong just ignore it and laugh it off, I didn't care about anything but having a good time - and no one noticed that some of the candles weren't lit.
Despite the threat of being crawled on by Marvin and his mates (we quickly discovered that Marvin the mouse had several friends - Melvin and Marjorie to name but two), I managed to get some sleep before our 6am wake-up call.
In Madikwe in September at 6am it's still dark and it's very, very cold. Mr Jones hadn't really prepared me for the arctic conditions so I ended up wearing about 12 layers of clothes topped off with a very un-safari like navy and bright pink striped hoody. The safari buffs on our truck, dressed in their khakis and proper hats with their binoculars and bird watching books, gave me the once over with barely hidden disgust. But the kindly ranger assured me that once in the truck the animals wouldn't notice me.
My inappropiate outfit
Within minutes I was wrapped head to toe in a khaki blanket to prevent imminent frostbite anyway and my inappropriate clothes were soon forgotten. I got thoroughly excited at my first wildebeest sighting, and gasped with delight at the zebra and springbok. In the distance we saw a lone elephant and we sat beside a lion and a lioness in the grass for a while - but they were too busy sleeping to pose for a photograph.
I soon learnt that the warming cup of herbal tea before leaving the lodge was a bad idea. Four hours bouncing around in a safari truck if you have a bladder the size of a mouse is not much fun. Luckily by the end of our trip I'd become pretty good at bush loos. I can now spot an appropriate bush and pee in seconds without being savaged by hyena or bitten by a snake - or exposing my nethers to the rest of the safari party.
In the evening safari I saw my first giraffe, and a brown hyena - which apparently are very rare (I was so desperate for the loo at this point that I really didn't care to watch is gnawing on it's bit of giraffe - but everyone else seemed to be enthralled). We also saw a white rhino - I say we - but what I mean is everyone else saw a rhino - my eyes being as they are - I saw a grey blob stood by a tree and it was only when I looked at the pictures with my specs on that I could actually claim to have seen a rhino - Mr Jones found this quite hilarious.
By our final safari I was getting a bit sick of the sight of zebra and various types of venison. I wanted some elephants or some lions or even a leopard. We drove across the amazing bush and the buffs got excited about various boring birds and Mr Jones and I started to get impatient, with just two hours to go.
Then there they were - a lioness and her daughter and five cubs. They were so close to us that you could have literally have reached out and touched them - if you'd wanted your arm severed. I got a bit snap happy with the camera and if you flick through the pics you can actually see the lions walking along - hmm.
We could have done with another day on Safari. It's awfully relaxing. You get back from your game drive, stuff yourself with breakfast, hop into the outside shower, wrap up in a fluffly robe and then laze around until high tea. Then you shovel down some cake and head on out for the evening safari before coming back to eat some more - on our last night we had a romantic dinner for two on our verandah (watched by lots of little eyes) and spied on by marvin and his mates, who were clearly eyeing up the left overs. All this is washed down with a good old G&T - what's not to love?
Saturday night saw the beginning of the marathon run of winter dinner parties for the Stamford version of Come Dine With Me. I spent the entire of Saturday wrapped in my pinny and slaving over the cooker (well actually that's a lie - I managed to squeeze in a bacon sandwich at Beans first - the best bacon sandwiches in Stamford - heartily recommended by myself and Mr Jones, go on try one).
Despite preparation earlier in the week it still took longer than I thought. Had I been watching myself on television I would be smuggly cursing me from the comfort of my sofa for being a "stupid cow" and not planning things properly and laughing as I stabbed myself in the eye with a mascara wand five minutes before my guests arrived. Anyhoo - I was not watching myself and it was not amusing.
My guests arrived on time (points for you Medds) and were served Lemon Drop Martinis. I had planned to photograph each course but I never quite got round to it. So I have the next best thing - pics of the recipe books. Mine of course looked much, much better!
We started with caramelised balsamic onion and goat's cheese crostini with a rocket salad (sorry no pic - I made this recipe up). Thanks to the super grill the crostini ended up a little bit crisp. I whisked the slightly blackened one onto my plate and served the least charred to everyone else!
Next came Spicy Pork and Chilli Pepper Goulash with rice, soured cream and fresh crusty bread a la Mr Oliver. This was met with slight consternation by Mrs Swift who has opted to cook the same main course in episode six (of all the cookery books in all of the world - we had to use the same one). Much discussion was entered into as to whether she should be allowed to change her menu. I am certainly more than willing to eat it again - it was lovely.
And the pièce de résistance - homemade sticky toffee pudding with homemade vanilla ice cream. Which was so popular with Mr Swift that he ate his and half of mine and some of Mrs Swifts too. The ice cream (due to its very nature) was my one piece of advance prepartion - and it was worth it. I still have half a tub should you wish to try it - it won't last long though.
A pot of fresh mint tea and some homemade biscotti filled us to the brim - although the boys still managed to squeeze in a couple of large gins on top of the three bottles of wine and cocktails. The video taped scores should be amusing - Mr Jones was struggling to speak and Mr Swift and Mr Medd were struggling to stand.
At the risk of seeming ungracious I began handing out coats at half past midnight when Mr Jones fell onto the sitting room floor and said he was going to bed, and Mr Swift began looking like he was taking root on the sofa. I packed them off with biscotti for the road and hoped they'd all had a good night.
It's jolly chilly today - and smells of bonfires outside - I love it. Penny's bandage has been removed, but she now has a cone on her head to stop her licking her foot which apparently has a sore from the banages. She is not amused. I have lots of work to do - but procrastination seems to be the name of the game.
I had been put off from telling honeymoon tales - following the reaction on my Cape Town opinions - but there have been demands for more. So, I thought I'd continue (hopefully without offending anyone!). We left Cape Town after being congratulated on our choice of weeks to visit - apparently we'd been very lucky with the weather and everyone hoped we'd appreciated it. We assured them that we had.
We jumped on a plane to Johannesburg - Mr Jones spending the flight wedged between me and a little girl who was slowly eating a quickly melting chocolate bar that she kept waving at him menacingly.
Our driver picked us up and we started our loooooong drive from Johannesburg to Madikwe. The travel agent had insisted that the drive took just over three hours - by hour four, with another hour to go my backside begged to differ. Mr Jones had done the drive before, but helpfully couldn't remember how long it took, probably because he dropped of at the beginning and woke up at the end. (No such luxury this time husband - if I'm awake with a numb bum, you can be too).
We stopped for a loo break in Zeerust - an industrial looking town that is literally 100 miles from pretty much anywhere and surrounded by bush on all sides. It was Friday night and the streets were full of people. The noise hit us instantly. In an English town you might get a few people chatting, a couple of hooligans shouting and garnering themselves a few tuts, and the odd person singing - but in Zeerust you couldn't hear for the noise of people. They were singing in groups to music, chatting, laughing, calling and shouting. The whole town seemed to be on the street (or in Nandos). It was amazing, but slightly overwhelming. I scuttled to the loo at the petrol station while our driver had a cigarette (yes - on the forecourt of the petrol station, right beside the pump - apparently petrol isn't flammable in Africa).
My agony was relieve an hour later when we pulled into the Madikwe game reserve and made our way to Impodimo Game Lodge. We'd missed the evening drive so a ranger with a big gun took us to our mini lodge. Impodimo is the only lodge in Madikwe that isn't fenced so the animals can come right up to the rooms, which means after dark you have to go everywhere with a ranger and a gun! The elephants drink from the swimming pool and bison stalk about right next to your veranda. Most unnerving but very exciting.
Our room is beautiful with a free standing bath, outside shower, four poster bed and comfy sofas. We can see straight out into the bush. We cannot believe the luxury this far from civilisation.
We eat dinner outside surrounded by fire pits (and rangers with guns), wrapped up in jumpers and rugs - the food is amazing, but I keep my feet off the floor for fear of anything lizard like crawling up my trouser leg.
We get back to our room to find the bathroom full of candles, a steaming bubble bath and a bottle of champagne on ice. Bless them.
We fall into bed after our long journey - very ready for sleep. However a rustling munching noise keeps us awake. Mr Jones assures me it's just a bird in the thatched roof of our lodge. I beg to differ. We grab the torch and shine it round the room. Peeking out of my trainer is mouse with big eyes and even bigger ears. He is chewing his way into a bag of roast veg crisps that we'd stuff in my shoe for the journey. He steals one and runs under the bed where he proceeds to scraunch and scrunch the crisp for the next 10 minutes. We call him Marvin and accept the fact that we'll be sharng the room and the crisps. I tell myself that mice can't climb (yes I know they can!) so that I can get to sleep before our 6am safari drive.
I've just been commissioned to write a feature about amazing proposal stories - so if you have any do let me know.
I'm always incredibly impressed by men who come up with amazing and creative ways to ask their girlfriends to marry them. Not that I'd change my proposal in any way - it was perfect and very Mr Jones (there was no plan - he just did it).
But I do love to hear of sky writers, fire work displays, dogs carrying engagement rings, romantic meals for two in unusual places, postcards sent from far off places....
If you have a perfect down on one knee moment do tell - and lets see the pics if you have them too.
Mrs Jones is a far from yummy mummy with a penchant for M&S fudge bars and a mojito on a Friday night. She became Mrs Jones in 2009 and a mummy in 2010. In 2011 she is attempting to remember her own name and not put washing powder in the dishwasher....