A Diary Entry: Proposing to Your Girlfriend
Saturday 15th April 2017 – A rose has magically budded in the front window overnight and she’s overjoyed. Pure happiness. Even now, days later, you know it’s a sign. The world knows what you’re about to do and thought the need to give you the nod of approval. You won’t let Mother Nature down.
You take a deep breath behind her back, open the door and set off for your long walk to whatever the opposite of freedom is. No walk in the history of man has ever taken more courage – Armstrong and the guy who climbed Everest would concur.
One minute in and she’s forgotten to take snacks. It’s a long day – what if you get peckish? You wonder how she can think about food at a time like this. Marmite crisps and cheddar biscuits are thrown in. Strong choices. That’s why you love her.
Take 2. We head out. You can’t help but be disappointed at the walk to the tube. Home provided roses, Hoe St provided little more than an array of buses and at least three disused mattresses. You get on the tube.
The thumbs up Emoji comes through from Phil. Everything is good to go. Or so he says. You start to think you should have gone and dropped off the ring yourself – he’s a solid citizen and an even better friend but you know doing it yourself would have calmed just one of the nerves. And at this point in time, you’d take that.
You’re talking. Lots. About anything. You’re a talkative person anyway, yes, but if ever you needed to stay calm and not get carried away, it’s today. But what’s the alternative? Keep quiet and come across nervous? Not on your watch. So you run down the options of where to get off. Earls Court? Fulham Broadway? Or in between at West Brompton? It matters. You don’t know why but it just does. Earl’s Court it is.
Another thumbs up comes through from Phil. We said one thumbs up Emoji. You panic. Does this mean something’s gone wrong? No time for one isolated panic – she’ll notice. It’s got to be constant now or nothing at all. You go for constant.
She gives a polite homeless man the packet of cheddar biscuits. Because that’s the sort of person she is.
We arrive at Earl’s Court – not Fulham Broadway or West Brompton – and head to Brompton Cemetery. The gravestones know. She notices one by the name of Marguerite – the same as her unique middle name and favourite flower. You think it’s a sign. You see a robin and think of Nan. You see Stamford Bridge in the distance and think of Dad and Chris, as well as the Greatest Football Team on Planet Earth.
We walk through West London and you’re beginning to calm. This is normal – nothing changes. You always knew you would do this, despite the 4 year hiatus. You meander down Cranley Mews, possibly the most idyllic road you’ve ever walked. The streets are grand and a far cry from the mattresses of Walthamstow. You still know where you’d rather live.
She’s getting hungry. The one thing you’re not prepared for. A single packet of Marmite crisps will only go so far. She’s perfect but she doesn’t do decisions. You feel you’ve made enough of them for the day but go ahead and choose the lunching spot anyway. Burgers. They won’t give it away.
The sun is shining. Another sign. So you have a beer to calm a nerve – the one you could have saved by taking the ring yourself. Lunch is fine but you notice your skin is not. Your throat, it’s gone dry and you need to head to Boots. She applies the cucumber moisturising cream for you. In hindsight, it’s the least she could do.
We continue through Kensington naming the flags outside the embassies. You win. You’ve got to act normal, remember. Little Gary messages you. “Is today the day?” he asks, offering you £1 “if you do it in a Scottish accent.” You decline his offer. “Can she see in your pocket?” you think. You’ve told too many people. You want Little Gary to go away.
We pass the Royal Albert Hall and discuss seeing something there before we leave London. Then we head into Hyde Park. Some larger than life types are wearing bunny outfits and jumping hurdles on their BMXs. They don’t know.
Blossom is out. She likes blossom. You think it’s a another sign. Not long now.
We walk through Paddington and on to Regent’s Park. You’ve got half hour to burn. So we sit and watch the ducks, geese and swans. She spots a heron. She likes herons and take a photo for Jacqs. She’ll see her later. One of those signs, you think.
It’s getting close. Your heart is racing and you’ve stopped talking. You’re normally a talkative person. You ask her why she’s not talking. You’re projecting. You have a minor panic attack and pass it off as some sort of asthma. You don’t have asthma. She knows this.
You get to Camden. It’s busy and loud. You don’t like Camden. Libby is meant to message at 4.40. It’s 4.39. You panic. The message comes through. Brogan’s got a family issue and they can’t make it. You question whether using someone’s family is immoral. You love Brogan’s family and hope they understand. It was for a good cause.
It’s time to use your First in BA Drama. Sad. You hope Brogan is ok. Surprised. Does this mean you’re doing the escape room on your own? Excited. We’re doing an escape room just the two of us. You think you’ve overacted. Not for the first time.
You ring the buzzer and are let in. “Please don’t put the ring in the wrong game,” you think. You get no winks from the game leader. You panic. You put on your WW2 jacket and a man claiming to be Winston Churchill addresses you on film and wishes you luck for the task. He knows what’s about to happen and you appreciate the pep talk. Never give in.
The game begins. You see the Chat Noir postcard and know you’re in the right place. Relief, however minor. You get your Game Face on. She notices the Chat Noir postcard, the cheese postcard, the Marmite jar and the plants postcard. She doesn’t question it because that’s the sort of person she is.
We get lots of help from the game leader. More than usual. You appreciate it. She knows. The game flies by and you reach the David Bowie Labyrinth drawing with the post-it note you wrote mere hours before saying ‘Put Near The End’. She starts to question it.
It’s time. She calls out letters for you to write on the black board. ‘D… A… V…’ She goes wrong and has to start again. You’re conscious of time. 5 minutes left. She starts again and goes wrong again because that’s the sort of person she is. She starts again. It spells out ‘Dave love Xanthe. Marriage?’ – a modified quote from your favourite TV show. She’s laughing, not crying. Why’s she not crying?
You put in the code of your second anniversary date – naturally she can’t remember it. 220314. You take the ring out and drop to both knees. You’re not sure why. You ask her and she says, ‘yes’. You hug – it’s the best one yet. Relief. Pure unadulterated relief. She’s shocked but seems happy, and that makes you happy.
You’re welcomed by the game leader armed with champagne. You receive a message from David, the head of the escape game. He’s been watching on a live stream in the Caribbean and you’re touched at how much effort they went to for you.
You down two glasses of champagne in gratitude and tell her you’ve got one more surprise left. You leave the bunker and head left towards the pub. You stop 30 seconds up the road and take a moment. It hits you and a few tears begin to weep. You hug – another good one.
You carry on walking and enter the pub. She has no idea. You’re welcomed by some of your favourite people on earth that aren’t her. She cries. About time too.
Unlike the day, the night is now a blur. You phone your parents and brother, and try to take the time to talk to everyone at the pub. You hope you come across as grateful, wanting them to understand how much they mean to you without going into rambling clichés. They seem genuinely happy for you.
You both get utterly shitfaced and go home.
Once home, she eats the Marmite crisps and crashes out, and you watch Match of the Day. Everything is normal. And there’s no place you’d rather be.