Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Balkan Extremes

Despite the not bad weather we were graced with in England, we were pretty surprised to get out of the taxi back in Montenegro (driver stinking of booze but had a vehicle large enough to fit us and our windshield, more of later) to find the air temperature up in the high 20’s and the sun laughing at my attire of hooded top, coat, scarf, jeans, boots. Hooray! Farewell to autumnal musings; here was summer again.

We’d only been back on the boat a few days when a contingent of bicycling Nottinghamites paid a visit. Dennis, Nez and Ian were on the final leg of their month long trip which had taken them from Bulgaria to gentle, friendly Macedonia, through hard-core Albania and finishing with the mountain marathon that is Montenegro. Had we not just been back to Nottingham for 2 weeks, it would have been utterly odd to have them on our boat but as things were, it felt completely normal to be with such like-minded souls. They were a lovely bunch of lads and welcome to return anytime.

However, their arrival coincided with a distinct change in the weather and we waved them off into heavy rain, falling temperatures and building winds the following afternoon. And then the weather went shit.

From mid to upper 20’s, the temperatures descended into the boat madness zone of, at best 10 degrees, at worst 2 degrees C! And it rained. And rained. After the first week, I held my head in my hands one grim morning pondering why I had reneged on my unequivocal statement last spring that I “would never do another Montenegrin winter”. Free marina berth and free offers of luxurious on-shore accommodation had swung it, I guess. But it’s all very well making those decisions on a sultry June afternoon. The crying wind, rolling black clouds and rain which only relents long enough for you to tie up your boot laces and open the companionway, no longer feature in your carefree Montenegrin dream.

So, what do you do when the going gets tough? You agree to go white-water rafting in the mountain wilderness of northern Montenegro. So a mixed bag of ages, nationalities and backgrounds from a variety of craft moored in Porto Montenegro, piled into a van, taking along two dogs for entertainment (and much needed warmth).

And to cut a long story short, it was a crazy thing to do. This began to hit home a little more as within two hours of leaving, what little we could see of the mountains (shrouded in thick mist and freezing rain) were white with snow. Not usual at this time of year, it has to be said. We descended into the high-sided canyon cut by the Piva River which looked oddly wide and full (Pluzine Rijeka) and didn’t see another vehicle for an hour despite the road being good. The reason for strange lake/river was revealed further along the road when we crossed a 220 metre damn, stopping to look at the breathtaking drop that was the canyon proper with its natural, mineral-green river, racing along far beneath us. At the confluence of the Piva and the Tara rivers, we arrived the Montenegro/Bosnia border crossing. It was 4 degrees C. The border guard smirked, “You go rafting??” then boomed with laughter. We now understand why.

The camp was situated on the banks of the glacial-looking Tara River, flanked by near vertical canyon sides, reaching at its deepest, 1200 metres. The wooden cabins had been built for summer climes and we slept fully dressed despite the heater, but they were quite cute and sent me into a romantic spin about my much-dreamed about/desired “wooden A-frame house in the mountains” fantasy. We had an evening of drinking around a big covered firepit which was top fun, despite the strange (but usual) interactions or lack of interaction with the local guides. In typical Montenegrin fashion, they chain-smoked, looked miserable and spent lots of time texting on their mobile phones.

The next day dawned even fouler than the last. It was 1 degree outside and trying to snow. Surely they wouldn’t take us out in this, we all secretly prayed. But they did. We donned the usual wet-suit, sodden and already freezing cold wet-boots, there were no gloves – and we piled in the back of the Land Rover. Already, shaking with cold and with one stop for a member of our crew to be sick (hangover – and it wasn’t me! Or Tim), we travelled yet further into and down into the Tara canyon. It is a far more remote and desolate place than the postcards suggest, particularly with snow edging the track.

Holding the icy metal paddle was a job in itself but once we got going, I thought we would warm up. But the needles of iced rain blew into our faces relentlessly, turning to snow blizzards less than 200 metres above our heads. We paddled, we shivered, we shook – the question “are we nearly there yet?” took on a resonance like never before. What should have been one of the most spectacular trips of our lives (and it would be if the weather was clement), became one of the most arduous. We couldn’t wait for it to be over.

To add insult to injury, the konoba (bar) at the end of our endeavour was closed and our bags had not been dropped off. So we waited, outside, for more than 15 minutes, now getting seriously chilled, before we could change (in full view of everyone, outside) into our dry clothes. No towels, no fire, no hot drinks. It was all very poor, to be honest. And potentially dangerous.

When we take people out sailing, we go to great lengths to make sure that everyone is having a great time. If the weather isn’t good (and we are talking a bit of rain here), we don’t go out, simple as that. We lose money. But we would rather do that than have our clients not enjoy themselves – let alone put them through actually physical pain. This trip should not have gone ahead in those conditions – the camp were on one hand, greedy, taking money when they knew there was no way that anyone could enjoy rafting in near-freezing temperatures – and it was potentially dangerous should anything untoward had happened and we’d had to stay outside for any longer than we did.

This is a real shame as the camp itself is potentially fantastic and we would like to be able to recommend it to people and go again ourselves – but are loathe to do so now under the circumstances. As such, I am not putting a link on here as I don’t want them to have bad publicity – or good at the moment.

Mam Tor Wedding continued

We have a long winter ahead so I’ll stop beating myself up about a) putting up photos, b) editing the video and c) completing the tale. All of this will be done in time. For now, I’m going to continue my usual bletherings.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Our Mam Tor Wedding

Grrr, I knew I’d do this. Leave it sufficiently long before writing that I am already losing the warming buzz and remnant glow that accompanies those times when you feel completely enveloped in the loving arms of those whom you care for and those that care for you. Or to put more simply, not write about our dreamy wedding a little sooner.

Now, I’m not one of those lasses that has spent her life daydreaming about that special day, waiting for that perfect moment. Quite on the contrary; I’ve never been interested in marriage. It all seemed like, to put it politely, a load of contrived bollocks. But something in me made me want to marry Tim, a romantic whim if you will, an expression of love. So, on 26 September 2009 we stood a’top Mam Tor and said “I do” and it, unexpectedly, became a momentous occasion for both of us which did actually really mean something. I think most people who were there would be in agreement with that.

In a nutshell, because the detail is becoming less and less relevant as the weeks pass, these are the bits which stick in my mind:

Monday 21 Sept, 5 days to go – After arriving back in the UK the evening before (discussing marquee d├ęcor over a pint of real ale in one of our favourite pubs then a massive curry), met with those of our mates who were going to help us make this whole thing work. They made us feel much better and I started to think this thing was really going to work. Oh, and we bought our rings.

Tuesday 22 Sept, 4 days to go – Met with my mother to choose some material to make my wedding skirt, measured up for skirt, came to agreement (surprisingly) easily about what could and couldn’t be conjured up in the timescale and mum skills. Tried on corset – looked amazing but I couldn’t breath and went into a huge panic about how I was going to make it up Mam Tor/get over stiles/dance/eat/drink/sit without my face disappearing into my cleavage. Decided it was a terrible mistake. (postscript: on the day I didn’t lace it up properly so could do all of the above).

Wednesday 23 Sept, 3 days to go – Wrote the ceremony script with Tim. Spent a lot of time on the internet hiring vans which we realised we needed. Met a worried Tim in town and picked out tie colour and reassured him on choice of shirt (he just couldn’t get his head around how his neck size was all they needed).

Thursday 24 Sept, 2 days to go – Tim went on his stag do at 9am (under strict instruction to meet me, in a fit state, at 1pm Friday in Edale). They finished around 5am. I am saying no more other than tank driving (in a pink tutu), an ostrich costume, Carry on up the Khyber at the Screen Room, lots of drinking, the conga, human pyramids, pile-ons, lots of drinking, male nudity, chest injuries, lots of bruises (and this is only what I’ve gleaned from the evidence). I, on the other hand, was in a state of dull worry about the logistics of the following 24 hours – which was a real shame as some of my pals had put on a low-key non-hen eve and I just wasn’t myself (though “myself” would have ended up piling into town and getting into a similar state as the groom so probably a good thing all round). My, I am getting sensible in me owd age.

Friday 25 Sept, 1 day to go – Arrived at Whitmore Lea Farm, our site for the weekend, with some pals to find the marquee company (Premier Event Marquees, from Goole) telling us that they wouldn’t erect the marquee on that site because the grass was too long, there were sheep in the field, it was too uneven. Gob-smacked, utterly shocked but keeping my head, we found them two alternative sites (without sheep, long grass and flat enough to have static caravans on one of them). They still wouldn’t do it – they had just cleaned their marquees for the winter they told us and “shouldn’t even be doing this job”. They also told me that their boss thought I was “dodgy” and said that even if they chose to put up the marquees, they would need £500 off me there and then in cash as a security deposit. Charming. And nigh impossible.

Not having mobile phone reception in the entire valley was not helping matters, and after running back and forth from the farmhouse to make phone calls home to Tim, after 2 hours of trying to work with the marquee guys, they finally left saying how terrible they felt about the situation (they later told their boss that I was “threatening and abusive”). Lovely.

So, it was now 24 hours before our wedding party and we had nothing. No marquee, no furniture. Then an amazing 6 hours unfolded, sparked off by an incredible and highly capable friend who took the parish mag by the horns and rang around all the movers and the shakers in Edale village (herself from a village knew that something could be done; myself, from suburban Birmingham, just stood there dumbstruck). Within the hour, the farmer, his wife and their two mates plus us were running about all over the place and by 4pm had: 7 mini marquees from the vicar, enough trestle tables from the village hall, 100 chairs from the horticultural society. And the lads finally turned up, plus a van load of light and sound gear plus more tarps than you could shake a sheep-shitty stick at.

By nightfall, the stunning but previously empty field was filled with a fairly large, fairly stable structure made up of numerous marquees gaffer-taped together.

I found my mum, drank whisky and we finished my skirt. Then had “dinner with the mums” and a lacklustre bridegroom trying his hardest not to look stupidly hungover.

Oh, and Tim's kilt arrived.

Saturday 26 Sept, the day – Awoke to the kind of day that, had I ever had romantic dreams about getting wed, I would have chosen. Autumn colours on the trees, falling and swirling on the breeze, carpets of crisp yellows and russets on the paths, a deep blue almost cloudless sky and warmth in the sun. The gamble to get married on top of one of the coldest, windiest, cloudiest, wettest places in England looked like it might just pay off.

Arrived on site to find a mini-town had grown overnight in our field: kids playing on a big trampoline and being transported around in a tractor’s scooper by the farmer, tables set up and already being laid out for dinner, the beginnings of a spectacular veggie buffet were arriving, lots of sound and lighting gear, an extravagant toilet set-up being dug and built at the far end of the field and lots of tents. We did what we could then rushed back to Edale to get changed.

There was Tim, trying on half his kit for the first time and getting in a mess. Me, the only bride in history not to have time to wash her hair, who having forced down beans on toast (not really the best food for a woman about to wear a corset but mother made it for me and I was almost passing out through lack of food and too much emotion), got stuck into the champagne with my two “ladies” and mum and suddenly cheered up – and started enjoying myself for the first time in a lot of hours.

Then we both managed to get up the hill in an unplanned fashion – plan was that Tim was meant to be one of the first up and I would follow so I didn’t have the grand entrance thing going on. However, surprise surprise, we were late so Tim missed his walking party and got a lift half way up – and I was even later – so ended up being the last one up there unintentionally – but it kind of worked in the end.

Then it all becomes a big blur (that’ll be the champagne I guess).

However, I will try to reconstruct the rest in my next post.

The photos say the rest – as does this enormous list of thank yous:

Michelle and David: for lending us their lodge in the mountains of Monte for our honeymoon

Jes: Photography and camera

Everyone who provided food for the magnificent buffet

Katie's mum: seamstress, flowers, food, speech and being calm at the right moments

Tim's mum: organising food, dancing

Katie's step dad: ironing groom's shirt, getting groom up the hill, providing shower gel and shaving equipment 1 hour before the wedding

Gus and Sara: Katie's ladies, giving her the bottle to get up the hill, wedding cake (gus)

Michelle and David: for lending us their lodge in the mountains of Monte for our honeymoon

Jes: Photography and camera

Malachi and Harris: filming of ceremony and party

Chan: electrics, sound, light, materials, resourcefulness

Andy and Rhiannan: bar, enthusiasm, marquees

Chan, Andy, Andy, Gareth: Planning meeting earlier in week. As the crisis unfolded, their professionalism, resourcefulness, materials, enthusiasm and experience inspired confidence in the eventual result. Once we had ditched the marquee company and started doing things for ourselves, there was never any doubt of the result.

Gareth and Elaine: transporting furniture to and from villagers

Vanessa: tea tent, decor, rallying of troops on Sat morning, provider of great lights.

Boy's team: Nat, Andy, Mal, other Andy and Tom for putting up the village marquees without fuss.

Andy Nurse: speech, stag do, constant support and ever-present assistance to groom

Jo and Cath: table decor, crisis management post-marquee disaster, resourcefulness at critical point - in two hours the wedding rose out of the ashes thanks to them

Farmers and villagers: advice, hospitality, resources - we won't forget your generosity

Cath and Andy: keeping the fizz on ice until the toasts

Elaine P: brilliant children's entertainment, book her in London for your parties:

Egg and Moll: toilets that even the locals were impressed by

Kim: wood collection and transportation

Ben Caulfield: advice, site rec and toilets

DJs: George, Gareth, Andy, Ol, Chan, Chris M

Ziggy: "that speech"

Clean up team: Chris and Jo, Elaine, Eleanor, Gareth, Andy, Rhiannan, Kim, Ol, Chan, Nurses.

Mum & Richard, Mum & Steve, Dad & Sally: cash!

Wedding ceremony team, Gareth, Ol, Gus, Andy Nurse: fantastic improvisation on the day, brilliant performances with little notice and no rehearsal.

Premier Event Marquees in Goole: for their ignorant and unprofessional behaviour which led to the "Dunkirk spirit" which pulled all these brilliant and resourceful people together to create something far better in the end - it would not have been the same with you.

And everyone else who, as soon as they arrived on site, realised there was a job to do and offered their help immediately. No amount of money spent could have created that atmosphere, which is entirely fitting for us.

And finally, a special thank you to Gareth who was our "Man on the ground" from the very beginning and without whom, this whole event would not have been possible.