A year into my first proper relationship and I was a bit out of my depth. I was in London, he was in Leeds and a year of weekend meetings followed. He would catch the coach to London one weekend and I would get the train to Leeds the following weekend. I got to know Leeds train station and Victoria coach station very well.
I didn’t feel very welcome in his house in Leeds. His friends were a bit reserved but above all it was a house of 4 lads. It wasn’t very homely and washing up never happened. However we were getting used to the situation of our weekend travels when Jack applied for a job with the Royal Antarctic Survey. Yes, seriously, the Royal Antarctic Survey.
‘Moving to Leeds wasn’t far enough away?’ I asked. ‘What does your family think about it?’
‘They think it would be an amazing opportunity,’ he replied, ‘My mum says I will always regret it if I don’t give it a go.’
I had never been all that sure that she liked me. The first time I visited their house, she turned to the dog and said,
‘Well Gonzo? Shall we let her stay?’
However like all mums she wanted what was best for Jack. He had studied Marine Biology. That was one of the things I liked about him. I had always enjoyed Biology in school and very nearly took it to A Level. It was a subject I might even have been studying if I hadn’t gone down the route of languages and literature. I loved the fact that he could tell me things I genuinely found interesting and that he was studying how sea urchins moved for his thesis. We went to the Natural History Museum and visited aquariums and he told me cool facts about fish that glowed in the dark. It was like dating a National Geographic Magazine! However it was a very limited field. To get a job that was directly related to the degree, you’d need to be one of the students who excelled. He wasn’t one of them – competent, by no means unintelligent, not hugely original and not one of the ones who would be invited to stay on and carry out research. While living in Leeds, he was scouring the broadsheets job adverts for something where he could use his qualifications in Biology and he wasn’t finding much. He was working in an airless lab, sieving soil and providing data to a road building company on soil composition. He was very bored and not a little fed up too. The Royal Antarctic Survey was a bit extreme but it was the first thing that had caught his eye and captured his interest. He asked if I would let him go, if his application was successful.
Jack and I sat in bed talking about the practicalities of him working in Antarctica, how at the time (this being pre-internet) he would only be allowed 1 airmail letter every month and that included hearing from his family too. It seemed pretty clear to me that as things stood if he did get the job, that would be it, unless he was coming back for something committed.
‘OK,’ I said eventually, ‘if you get the job, you can go, but if you do, I need you to be coming back for something definite. Let’s get engaged.’
He agreed and with very little idea of what exactly marriage entailed when it comes to keeping a relationship going long term, we hugged each other and basked in naïve happiness that we were going to get married and were now engaged.