How we ended up together

about-james-and-anna
by James & Anna
Updated: September 3, 2023
25 minute read
orchardton-castle-castle-douglas

We met during lockdown. However, it was not the lockdown you thought about but the typhoon Linfa lockdown in Hong Kong back in 2015. We were both travelling around South East Asia that year on a trip of a lifetime. It just so happened that at the beginning of July we were both in the same place at the same time where our paths crossed. And luckily, we were locked inside our hostel because of the typhoon warning that luckily never came. It was 9th July 2015.

Hong Kong

Her

I was in the Space Museum in Hong Kong (it was my second time visiting it during my 3-week stay which says a lot about my emerging love for this topic). At some point all the visitors were asked to leave the museum and I couldn’t comprehend why, as there were a couple of hours before the closure time. Nobody was explaining much but the directive to leave was quite clear.

hong-kong-bay-in2015
Once I was in the street, I definitely noticed how empty it was, so I started taking it all seriously. The museum was positioned on the other island of the city so I was keen to sort out my situation. At some point someone told me that there had been a typhoon warning and everyone needed to head to where they were staying. That’s what I followed.
hong-kong-hostel-map

On my way to the hostel I saw how prepared the population and businesses were. Within just 2 hours everything was ready for the typhoon coming. It was both scary and impressive.

hong-kong-closed

Once I was back at the hostel, I definitely felt much better. While being in touch with my friends online, I positioned myself at the common area where there were quite a few other people. Pretty soon though a guy approached me (hi Andy!) suggesting to join the big table where some people were sitting. I was happy to have some company. I started talking to everyone. Nobody spoke about the typhoon but about life, travels, plans and just some jokes. It was very refreshing as I had been travelling by myself for 6 months at that point and despite being surrounded by people it was actually not that often when I was among Europeans. Those guys were from Manchester. One of them almost conquered my heart by reciting a Shelley poem. It was not James to our greatest sorrow (hi Richard!). It would have saved us so much time if it was him. I do like cheesy things like that. My heart just melts from them.

hong-kong-typhoon
hong-kong-roof-top

At some point somebody suggested going to the rooftop to see the typhoon coming into the Hong Kong bay. Everybody loved the idea so we did it. A group of young people from all over the world (hm…I actually remember only people from Europe) standing on the rooftop and chatting about everything. It was just after midnight and we had no idea what to expect. But we all loved it. At that point we didn’t know whether we would be safe or alive, to be honest. We simply were enjoying it while we could. I was happy to be there. However, one could notice an impression of seriousness and focus on my face. That’s when James approached the group and stood next to me.

To be honest, I do not remember much of what we were talking about. He was holding a huge bottle of vodka. That’s what I remember for sure.

– What’s with the bottle of vodka? – I said with a sceptical look
– Maybe I want to impress a Russian? – James has a very sleazy tone when he is tipsy. I didn’t like that.

And yet the next couple of hours I spent in his company answering his questions. To most of them my answer was no. James definitely got accustomed to such an answer. At some point he pointed at some sad looking tower blocks and asked whether that’s how Russia looks like. I was almost offended but explained that in many cases yes and unfortunately yes.  

I also remember how someone said about the pre-typhoon: ‘That’s like a nice summer day for Manchester’. Now, writing this in August 2023 and experiencing a proper English summer I understand what they meant. That night the typhoon didn’t come. Which is good. I made great friends for life. To say the least.

hong-kong-roof-top-at-dawn
A day or two later everyone gathered in the common room of the hostel again. People decided to go out to the Hong Kong party street. I wanted to come but had no money (I wish I could say that I had no spare money but I am pretty sure I had no money) and I was saying that I wouldn’t go. James and Richard were quite keen for me to join. I didn’t want to explain the financial side of things so I was just refusing. That only ignited their energy to make me join the party. In the end they persuaded me to play chess. If they won, I would have to go out. They both played well so it was pretty easy to lose. I sort of acted out that I was still reluctant to go but inside I was excited. It was nice they wanted me out with them!
james-and-richard-playing-chess-against-anna

The idea of the Hong Kong night out is to hang around in the street (Lan Kwai Fong) with lots of bars, walk from one to another for drinks but otherwise just stand outside and chat. Richard offered to get me a drink so I followed him into one of the bars. While waiting for one, for a moment I was standing by myself when James approached me and offered a drink as well. I don’t remember why but I felt a bit confused or disappointed.
– Richard is already getting me a drink…

I think James disappeared after that. He could have offered me the next one (or better yet some nice food in a nice restaurant) but probably he thought that the dice had fallen. That year! It looks like James was there for the long game.

lkf-street-photo-with-anna-and-james
The next morning I got to the common room and James was there. I think it was the first time I saw him sober and surrounded by quite a few laptops. I started asking what he was doing and what his plan was. We realised that in 3 weeks we would be on the same island in the Philippines. That was very exciting! It was nice to make friends and know that I would see them again. He turned out actually quite alright when sober so it was a promising friendly connection.

His

I arrived at the Wang Fat Hotel in Hong Kong at 22:57 on 5th July 2015 to meet our friend Frosty (hi Frosty) after a couple of months travelling with Andy and Luke (hi Luke) (That’s the beauty of having Google Timeline track my every movement).

The first few days were quiet in our hostel and Frosty and I spent our first few days in Hong Kong exploring the city, mainly from the juxtaposition of the panoramic view point of Victoria Peak which looks out over the city, bay and mountain side. We were looking forward to Andy joining us, which he did, the day we met Anna.

Andy, Frosty and I spent the day (9th July 2015) being tourists, and visiting The Peak for the second time because we liked it so much (The beauty of having timestamps on photographs, Google Timeline, historical events marked in history and our memories, which are a little less reliable). We’d had a good day, a little windy but nothing too serious and we were looking forward to immersing ourselves into the nightlife of LKF road. However, all of a sudden we realised everything was closing for some reason and it didn’t look like it was opening back up any time soon. We thought we better buy the essentials – vodka for toothache and a few drinks and some food – as it looks like we’re staying in tonight.

james-andy-and-frosty-at-victoria-peak

We got back to the hostel and I think I had a nap and probably started backing up photos from my camera to a very slow second-hand computer which we took along with us so I could do a bit of website work if necessary. After a few hours of waiting for slow computers to load and copy files I eventually decided to see where Andy and Frosty were.

When I arrived at the rooftop I remember there were probably about 12 people up there all standing around talking and possibly drinking. However, there was one person that stood out among them all. A very still and mysterious girl that was radiating with beauty and confidence. I remember looking into her eyes from a distance thinking I would really like to get to know her. She probably thought, “Why is he staring at me?” It was definitely a different feeling than I had ever had before. It was some sort of thought and imagination as if this could be my future wife. It was like instinct that I knew she would be my wife one day even though I had only observed her for a few seconds.

hong-kong-jux

I walked over and said something suave and sophisticated or maybe it could’ve just been hi, I’m James and introduced myself. I do remember talking to Anna and being very curious about her and wanting to find out as much as I could before she disappeared off.

It was also very interesting to meet a girl travelling alone and hearing about her travel experiences and what her plans were. Learning about her journey and future plans held my attention. I distinctly recall improvising with a bottle cap, offering Anna some Vodka, in the absence of proper cups or glasses. With my limited understanding of Russian culture, I assumed Vodka would be a universal icebreaker, a method to extend our conversation for that little bit longer and make an impression.

Thankfully, Anna taught me that not all Russians like Vodka and I was introduced to her very assertive “No” which I became accustomed to over the next few days, months and even years (As I say: I had to work very hard to get Anna and now that I’ve got her I need to work even harder – probably something for funny with James & Anna). I think I did also explain that I don’t like Vodka either and I only started drinking at the age of 27 and the reason I had this bottle was because it was the only thing that would take my toothache away.

hong-kong-from-high-up

So… that’s how I remember meeting Anna on our rooftop looking out over Hong Kong bay in anticipation of Tropical Storm Linfa. Anna explains the rest of our interactions over the next few days very well so I won’t repeat them other than to say I remember looking forward to seeing her again the next day where I think we invited her to go to the beach but she said “No”.

Nevertheless, later that day, we caught-up before embarking on a night out with our fellow hostel friends. During our conversations, which spanned various topics, Anna revealed that she was anticipating a proposal from a particular person. In that moment, I instinctively decided not to pursue any romantic interest, recognising that she had already set her intentions. From then onwards, I embraced a friendly stance with Anna, cherishing her companionship and the joy of her presence. This approach had its positives and drawbacks, creating a mix of favourable and challenging circumstances simultaneously.

It was not so good because it almost led to her slipping through my fingertips, but luckily that didn’t happen.

and…

Very good because it meant I started to be myself around Anna which enabled our relationship to blossom into the one we have today. Although there were times when I was trying to make Anna feel too comfortable by disappearing off at parties and giving her too much space.

anna-at-victoria-peak

It was very clear in my mind that I would like to stay in touch with Anna even though we’d only had a few interactions and shared a couple of stories. It was just lucky that on my last day in Hong Kong Anna came over to me as I was working on my laptop before needing to leave to catch a flight to Japan to ask me questions about things. That’s when we realised that our paths would cross again in 3 weeks as our travel timelines would match-up to put us in Boracay, Philippines for a short time together.

Boracay

Her

boracay-beach

Fast forward to the Philippines, Boracay island. I had spent 3 days on that island by the time James and Andy arrived to Manila and were making their way to Boracay. When they arrived, James let me know where they were and I pretty quickly made my way to an iconic Friendz hostel party of some sort. However, to my great surprise, when I got there and after a couple of generic phrases James was nowhere to be seen. I asked Andy about James’ whereabouts, but he seemed occupied and unaware of James’ location. It was an unusual situation for me, as I usually find it easy to engage in conversations. This instance marked one of the few times in my life when I opted to depart due to the discomfort I felt. And so, that’s what I did. Who would’ve guessed what welcoming, nice people James and Andy really were, as I found out a few years later.

That night half an hour later James was messaging me and saying ‘Come’. He couldn’t spell that word for 5-6 attempts which was funny. James – who is so precise with what he types and says, who takes great care with every word, and he does not speak or type unless he means it and when he does he spends an awful amount of time, on top of all of that he’s excellent at spelling and grammar – yes, that person – was trying to type ‘come’. Was he drunk? I don’t think so. Nevertheless, after me being quite confused about this whole approach, I gave up and decided to meet up just out of curiosity to find out what made him behave in such a weird way.

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When we met up, James suggested going to McDonalds which was a very relaxing activity and didn’t feel like a date. I was watching out for things like that. After that meal we had a walk and James walked me back to my hostel. He spent hours sitting there while I was on a call in the common area (all that action took place during the night but I was speaking to someone in another time zone completely so nothing strange there). What was strange was that James was hanging around there while I was on the call. After I finished and retired to my dorm room, I believe he left.

boracay-blue-sea
A day or two later we met up again. That time he invited me to his place which I didn’t like because of the suspicion that he wanted something naughty to happen. However, Andy was there too and we were actually doing the most opposite thing you could imagine: we were hanging around on the balcony of his hotel, playing chess, listening to operas, talking about English language and generally having a very cultured evening. It was wonderful. It was the most elegant, sophisticated and allegorical game of chess too. Quite a number of years later James opened his tablet and it was the last game he played which we reminisced over.
chess-match-in-boracay

The next day I was leaving and we agreed to meet again. However, there was not much time left. I didn’t give many opinions either:

– You can join me for my morning swim at 6:30 AM tomorrow.
– I’ll be there – he said.

I could easily have imagined him oversleeping as our conversation somehow again took place in the early hours. Not sure why but I just remember that there wasn’t much time until it was that morning swim. But he was there at the beach.

boracay-hand-in-the-sand

We often laugh that it was our first honeymoon. Just one swim. As friends. Not much talk. Yet, it was one of the most romantic, relaxing, peaceful and calming experiences I have ever had. Whenever we are swimming in any waters (as long as it is not the Irish Sea in early January) we try to recreate those moments. It is pretty hard to recreate those though because waters on Boracay are as warm as heated milk (or what’s the expression?) and you could be there for hours and hours. Anyway, we had a great time that’s hard to retell. It was all about the feeling and the atmosphere rather than about what we did and said. The most fantastic memory.

boracay-blue-boats
You would be surprised to know that by then we had never kissed. And we parted on that note until August the following year when James was visiting Russian Chris in Moscow.

His

I remember looking forward to knowing that I would see a familiar face again when Andy and I arrived to Boracay. I remember messaging Anna when we arrived in Manila and Kalibo saying that we’re on our way to see her. The adventure seemed especially exciting as Anna had sent a few pictures of perfect white sandy beaches with clear blue seas.

We eventually arrived to Frendz Resort and Hostel on 26th July 2015 where we settled in and invited Anna to one of their relaxing hostel parties. I remember Andy and I had just met two fellow travellers who were teaching English out there. We were sitting at a table talking when Anna arrived. I was very happy to see Anna again and got her a chair and started talking to her (I thought I was being welcoming and a gentleman but maybe not) to which I remember thinking I’ve probably diverted all of my attention towards Anna and forgotten about everyone else which made me think and remember that I should give Anna space and make sure she’s comfortable in our company. That’s when I decided to go and wander around the rest of the Frendz hostel party, inadvertently abandoning Anna which was quite ironic considering the only person I wanted to spend time with was her.

andy-anna-and-james-at-friendz-hostel-boracay
After a while I realised I can’t see Anna anywhere, to which I remember going to get my phone and texting her to see where she was. When I realised she wasn’t at the party anymore I made every effort to bring her back which led to our first restaurant experience together eating a big mac and french fries. Anna was always very clear that it wasn’t a date.
boracay-sunset-with-anna

Over the next few days Anna and I had a few more interactions, not as many as I’d like, but enough to get to know each other and understand who we both are.

Some of these included…

  • The time Andy and I had finished playing frisbee on the beach and were on our way to get ice cream where we noticed Anna admiring the sunset. We invited her to come with us but we were met by a familiar “No”.
  • Playing chess on the Balcony together whilst listening to classical music where I quizzed Anna about all of the artists and music pieces to which she knew every answer.
  • and our favourite, a morning swim in the warmest of clear blue waters in the world. It was a memory that stuck out so clearly from my travels and even as the memories of such an immersive trip faded, this memory remained so vivid. I think the word is rückkehrunruhe which means the feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness (I remember searching for this word back in September 2015 to try and understand why I was thinking and wanting to reminisce so much).
james-in-boracay-sea

I remember getting to the beach for the crack of dawn where I waited for a few minutes before Anna arrived for our arranged morning swim. 

Anna said hello and went straight into the sea. She asked if I was coming. So I followed. 

The water was like stepping into a warm bath and it felt so relaxing and nice to be swimming next to Anna. We were in the water for a while moving around and holding each other. It was the perfect swim before Anna had to go and pack to catch her flight to Sri Lanka.

I walked Anna back towards her hostel where we parted ways at the cross road where I kissed her hand and thought it might be the last time I ever saw her.

Moscow

Her

In August 2016, a year after the travels, James was visiting his friend Chris in Moscow (hi Chris!). I happened to be working there so we agreed that we would definitely meet. Ahead of his visit I prepared a list of places I recommend him to visit. When he was already in Russia, we agreed to meet. The location was Red Square. How he would recognise me (there was no need but I thought that was funny): a wine dress. I meant burgundy colour but didn’t know it’s called that way. We had a nice and friendly walk.
moscow-street-znamenka

Some other time we agreed to meet again, that time he suggested meeting at Chris’ first. The flat was right next to Pashkov House, the location in Moscow where I would like to live (if I had to live in Russia).

On the way to that address I met Chris and his other friend on the way to climbing. I got confused and thought to myself ‘Hold on, so Chris is not going to be home? So James is there by himself? And I am heading there? I wonder whether he has some mischievous plan and by me going there I am agreeing to it’. That was my thinking process. It didn’t stop me but I made a decision to be extra alert and not confuse him by ambiguity in my actions.

– Would you like a cocktail? – said James

– Yes, please.

We still can’t remember what kind of cocktails James was making but they were really nice. I had quite a few. However, I made sure to always be at the opposite side of the table (there was a huge dining table). After that we decided to go on a walk. When we were passing by the Strelka bar, James suggested popping in there.

– Let’s play a game. You choose – I pay.

Love this game.

james and chris in moscow

Just to set the scene, it was very early. Maybe 7pm. So it was light. We were sitting at the edge of the bar looking at Moscow river and having some more cocktails. There I was asking him about his heritage, where his grandparents are living.
Ledbury – I’ve written in my notes and thought to myself ‘Oh I wish I could visit that place’. Funny to think that I have visited those places by now. Back then it was like a dream that I would never be able to complete. It just all sounded really fascinating from James’ description.

After that bar we headed to Gorky park where we came across a dancing master class of 19th century dances or something like that. My type of event! There were lots of middle-age people dancing in a circle. James and I barely ever were in a pair to my greatest relief for a couple of reasons: he had no idea what he was doing dancing wise and I didn’t want to be in physical proximity in case that invigorated his imagination. However, it was a great event. We both enjoyed it so much and left definitely both invigorated and excited.

james-dancing-in-gorky-park

By then Chris was having a date in the park and James and I joined for the last moments of it. When the lady left, we had some food and had a conversation about Brexit, the vote for which happened that summer. I also remember how we saw some really small observatory in the park and I got very excited. Who knew we both would be in the space industry years later.

There were a couple of other occasions of meeting James and spending time with him but all of them were in a group of people. It was all super lovely and so much fun. My best time in Moscow. I feel like I was on holiday as well.

His

Apart from the desire to visit Chris, my motivation for traveling to Moscow stemmed from a fascination with exploring a relatively unfamiliar and often overgeneralised and stereotyped nation. I was eager to experience the reality of this place, especially since Anna, offering insights from her perspective as a resident, had portrayed it with both its positive and negative aspects. This contrasted with the simplistic portrayals of Russia typically encountered while growing up in the Western world.

Ever since my encounter with Anna on the rooftop – engaging in an inadvertently amusing exchange about the less attractive architectural aesthetics in Hong Kong and their potential resemblance to Russia, I realised the necessity of first-hand experience. I felt compelled to discover what Russia was like for myself.

What I discovered was a city akin to other major Western urban centers, exuding its own allure and charm. It had the potential to captivate any tourist’s heart. Looking back, this Moscow journey ranks among my most cherished travels, possibly due to Anna’s presence adding a significant dimension to the experience.

moscow-st-basil

Reconnecting as friends with Anna in Moscow was such a pleasure. It was great to be around her. It was also very kind how she printed an itinerary so that I could see the best Moscow had to offer. It was nice going on all of our adventures together in this wonderful city – lot’s of good memories.

Our meeting at Red Square provided an opportunity to catch up, sharing updates on our lives and future aspirations. Anna, passionately engaged in conversation, revealed her plans for marriage with someone else. I recall a fleeting thought that she might be too young for such a commitment, yet deep down, a desire for a different path with Anna lingered. Nevertheless, as they say in Love Island, “it is what it is,” even if reality doesn’t quite align with that sentiment. Notably, Anna’s comedic taste, favouring confusion-laden humour (reminiscent of movies like “The Man Who Knew Too Little” starring Bill Murray), contrasted with the clarity she was ensuring in our interactions.

Despite Anna’s string of firm “No’s,” I was well aware that our connection was rooted solely in our shared enjoyment of each other’s company. Respecting her position, I acknowledged that our relationship was defined by companionship rather than anything more complex.

anna at red square

This enjoyment of spending time together in Moscow whether it be playing Settlers of Catan with Chris and Olga (hi Pyshkina) on my last night in Moscow or walking around the streets of Moscow getting to know each other or going for food at not so extravagant Georgian restaurants that Chris’ colleague assured us was good and where you need a key for the toilet. Despite the great food, I wanted to take Anna to the Georgian restaurant that Chris and I had eaten at a couple of nights before because it was amazing and the Tarhun was the best, plus it was a lot more Anna’s style with waiters in suits and great table service.

There were so many nice memories of being in Moscow with Anna that it just cemented the idea that she is great to be around and it’s nice to have her as a friend. Even to the degree that a couple of months later I even invited Anna as my guest to Chris’ birthday party where she attended on my behalf with wine and a well written card.

Years in between

Her

After that James and I didn’t see each other for 4 years. However, we were keeping in touch and messaging each other maybe every half a year but each time it would be a 4+ hour conversation in messages where we would be discussing everything going on. I got married, then separated. James also had a long-lasting relationship and also separated. I remember how once James said to me ‘My bed is your bed’. I knew that he meant that whatever he has, even if it is only a bed, I am free to use it. It was always so sweet.

In September 2020 I started planning my holiday to Scotland. I was keen to do that because I didn’t know whether my settlement application would be approved. There was a good chance that I would need to leave the country at some point. I thought that it was ridiculous that James and I never met in the UK as we’d met in China, Philippines and Russia, so was determined to fix that. Also, he was helping me so much over the years (proofreading my university applications, helping with websites) that I owed him many drinks by then. His ex-girlfriend and separated and she was about to leave the country, so I asked:

– Would you prefer me to arrive the day after she leaves or shall I go to Scotland first and then pop down to Manchester after that?

It was decided that a 2 week break between girlfriends would be a bit more decent.

His

Occasionally, Anna and I would celebrate Wisdom Fridays—an endearing tradition where we exchanged thoughtful messages. These moments were truly special as they allowed us to engage in conversations that transcended the routines of our everyday lives. Anna and I both felt like kindred spirits, somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of our usual obligations. This unique dynamic enabled us to share our stories openly, free from judgement and the entanglements of our daily routines. In a way, it resembled the charm of “You’ve Got Mail”, the movie starring Tom Hanks, but with the intriguing twist that we were well aware of each other’s identities.

We also joked that we’ve met in every country apart from England even though by this point it was only 3 (Hong Kong, Philippines and Russia).

Hong Kong
August 2015
Moscow
July 2015
Philippines
August 2016

Manchester and trips after that

Her

When we reunited following my Scottish holiday, it was an odd sensation. Despite knowing him on a personal level, we had spent ages apart without any in-person contact. My stay in Manchester from Thursday to Sunday was a delightful blend of warmth and friendliness, tinged with an undercurrent of intimacy. James had thoughtfully arranged visits to museums and even the Jodrell Bank radio telescope—a clear reflection of his awareness of my passion for space.

After I got back to London, our daily conversations continued, and on Friday, as James wrapped up his workday, he messaged me with: “Tempted to drive down to London.” “Yes, why not. Come!” I replied without hesitation. The decision was a logical one; after the wonderful time we had shared in Manchester, the prospect of extending our good times to London was irresistible. And indeed, we had some lovely time together by watching the longest films ever and being tourists.

Yet, as James was about to depart on Sunday night, I unexpectedly voiced my request: “No messages please. I don’t want it all to turn into a relationship.” Our connection was evolving, and I was navigating my feelings cautiously.

beatles-crossing-london

Next Friday though, a day we once dedicated to our Wisdom Friday tradition—a ritual where I’d share a tale and James would respond with insightful and uplifting thoughts – we eagerly started messaging each other. It seemed that I used the concept of Wisdom Friday to supersede any restrictions on daily messaging. Oh boy, how good it felt to be talking to James. I don’t think we have had a day or even 8 hours since of not talking to each other.

During one of the weekends after that, we embarked on a journey to Oxford together, and a couple of weekends later, we explored Bath. These excursions were marvellous, and being in James’ company brought a sense of ease and comfort.

Later, my friend who owned Orchardton Castle in Scotland, extended an invitation for me to spend Christmas there. The idea of inviting James instantly popped into my mind.

james and anna london adventures

His

It was really nice looking forward to Anna’s visit. I remember making sure the fridge was full because Anna was arriving from Scotland on Thursday night and I wanted to make sure there was something to eat when I was at work on Friday. We even had our first telephone call ever a couple of nights before Anna arrived. I remember being nervous to talk to Anna when she called but it was a really nice conversation as Anna described the way she was standing on the chair in the castle garden looking at the night sky. It was a nice introduction to our reconnection after 4 and a half years.

anna-standing-on-a-chair-looking-at-the-stars
The night Anna arrived in Manchester remains a vivid memory for me. As she emerged from the train station, striding towards me, it felt as though I was awaiting the arrival of a celebrity—one of those familiar figures you feel connected to even though you barely know them. Our faces lit up with delight at the sight of each other. It was a unique moment in our lives, the first instance when both of us were unburdened by commitments and obligations. It’s a detail Anna shared with me later, how she had wanted to hold my hand as we walked to the car that day—a revelation that warmed my heart.
anna-and-james-reconnecting-in-didsbury

A charming anecdote that captures Anna’s ease in my home is the time I returned from work that Friday to find she had polished off all but a single scone. It underscored the notion that my home was truly her home. Our roles seemed to invert organically—her abode transformed into mine (and my haven) as we departed our jobs some nine months later, embarking on a joint venture in London.

jodrell-bank-with-james-and-anna

However, before my relocation to join Anna in London, our lifestyle mirrored that of the privileged few—flitting between two homes with an ease that probably echoes the top 1% of society. We journeyed together, savored togetherness, yet on those occasions when Anna needed to stay in London, our nightly conversations bridged the distance till the wee hours.

Our journey was marked by numerous remarkable escapades. From hiking the trails of the Peak District in Manchester with our friends to wandering through the quiet avenues of London, our explorations were seasoned with the sense of an impending partnership. Our ventures even stretched as far as Bath and Oxford, places we visited as an almost-couple, infused with the promise of what was to come.

Scotland

Her

Scotland is a place so dear to our hearts. Some of our best memories are created there. The plan was to spend Christmas at James’ dad’s house in Lincolnshire and drive up to the south-west of Scotland for the rest of the holidays. However, the third lockdown had started at some point and rules were quite strict it seemed so we had to think of some other ways. In the end on 24th of December we drove up to Manchester where James had a flat  and made the best Christmas dinner I’ve ever had. Actually, it was more of a Christmas breakfast because the fridge was not working and I woke up at 7am worrying about turkey and persuaded James to start cooking at 9am. By midday we’ve finished all the food (There’s even a picture with me holding my phone with the time and Home Alone credits scrolling in the background). We did it! The rest of the day was about having walks (it started snowing!), watching films and eating Christmas pudding. It felt natural to be spending Christmas together. So far my best Christmas.

christmas-dinner-2020
orchardton-castle-castle-douglas

On 26th December we set off to drive up to Scotland. It was worrying because of possible border blockades due to lockdown, however, we had our excuse (a very valid one involving looking after livestock and farming which was true) we were going to use but to our luck we crossed the border just fine and arrived at Orchardton Castle where we spent the next 3 weeks.

anna-on-the-castle-stairs

There we were doing chores around the castle during the daytime like everyone. Big house – 17 bedrooms – requires lots to do. So we made our contribution. Around 5pm everyone would gather for a game of Catan, then dinner, then a film in the drawing room by the fireplace.

castel-bath-with-anna

James and I were staying in separate bedrooms – as you can imagine room availability is not an issue there – however, we would have baths together to save hot water haha. At least I assumed that was the reason. We were just having friendly baths together because we could keep talking about how the day went and what our plans were for the future.

feeding chickens in scotland farm

I actually was advertising James to a couple of girls that were there and they would say to me ‘Yes, so where are you looking?’. James was too dear to me as a friend and I was terrified of having a relationship that could spoil everything. Time passed though, day after day I was appreciating James more and more and recognised how comfortable and effortless it is for me to be around him. No pretence. I could be as honest as I am with myself and as open as I am with all my friends. One night when James was tucking me in before heading back to his bedroom, I insisted that he should open up and share his feelings to me so that I could say a firm no to the invitation of his heart. He kept silent to all my persuasion. Just before he left my bedroom, I looked at him and felt that I definitely wanted to kiss him. So I did. And it was such a sweet kiss.

There were a couple of other events that you could imagine but I am very sure you would find unexpected but we’ll leave those out for the bedtime stories.

A couple of days later we were standing at the coast, just a hundred or two metres away from the castle. It was around 3rd January 2021, after the best New Year’s Eve party I have ever had, after experiencing the company of James from quite a few angles I made a decision and announced it.

– I think we should get married. – I said.

As far as I remember James supported the idea. A couple of days later James dropped me off in London and stayed. That’s how we ended up together and started doing everything together too.

castel-negatives

His

castle-stairs

After spending such a beautiful Christmas together as friends (Anna had made it clear there that would be no kissing and we didn’t want to spoil our relationship as best friends) we headed up to Scotland to begin our next adventure.

castel-new-years-eve

The castle was a castle out of a fairy tale. Spending time in this magical place was a once in a lifetime opportunity in terms of the way we did it. Running around the hallways and rooms to find each other.

As well as doing chores such as feeding the chickens, painting and collecting logs from the forest and learning new skills (Lighting a fire in my case), there was plenty of time for fun and games like the time we played hide and seek, making mulled wine for everyone, having photoshoots and playing boardgames before choosing the nightly movie to watch in front of the big fire place.

This castle offered so much to us. It was like being in a place with no time. All you have to do is just be there. I always imagined that we would haunt this castle time one day but now that we’re married and living happily ever after there will be no need.

castle-red-staircase

I did imagine proposing to Anna during our honeymoon in the same castle spot as she proposed to me, however, I have a better idea. (Anna’s remark: to make it clear – James hasn’t proposed yet. James’ remark: We thought we would switch things up and get married before the proposal as we both couldn’t wait any longer).

I feel like the pictures paint a thousand words (maybe even thousands) so I won’t carry on trying to explain our time in the castle together but I will say I think the phrase “I really really like you and I love everything about you” was coined by me at this momentous place.

There’s probably lots of things we’ve missed out but that’s pretty much our how we met story. Everything after castle life, is as they say, history.

james-and-anna-in-scotland

Thanks for reading. We appreciate the time taken to get this far. We timed that it would take about 24 minutes to read.

Hopefully, it was entertaining enough because once upon a time, I generously sent Anna a really interesting video on YouTube that I thought she would really like. However, in a plot twist that could rival the finest comedy sketches featuring James and Anna, her response echoed “It was a waste of my time”. Anna wasn’t impressed after watching the video and didn’t hold back with her directness and criticism of such an unsatisfactory video.

Funny with James & Anna” just gained a new addition!

Hopefully it wasn’t a waste of your time and we don’t plan for future content to be as long as this. It’s just that we needed to fit 5 years of events into our “How we ended up together” story.

But… now it’s here, we feel happy that it’s up (published) and we always have it as a kind of diary to look back on when we have time to reminisce.

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First published on: August 13, 2023

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