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Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

The Beginning of the Engagement

I’d not planned all that much about it, though one thing was certain. Some months earlier, it had come to me in a brain-wave. I wanted to ask Jo to marry me by the light of stars and moon, on the banks of the lake in the town where we live.

We spend time there each summer, sunbathing and either paddling or swimming in the clear alpine waters. It’s a special place for me – for both of us – and has memories for me from the past two years, even before Jo was living here. I would visit the small park behind the castle, in the shade of leafy vines; take to the water before returning to my place amongst fellow sunbathers with a book and flask of cold juice. Towelling myself off and checking my mobile telephone to see if my love had written another message, I often spend hours there, as Swiss summers are hot and the lake is a beacon.

I’d visited several jewellers in the region and researched online, before deciding on a jeweller in Berne. I had visited him several times, some weeks previously, to spend hours with him discussing technicalities of colour and form, whilst examining stone samples through a jeweller’s loupe. I designed Jo’s engagement ring myself, placed my order, and waited with anticipation for the first call before visiting again to look at the beautiful raspberry-red stones and the diamond they would be flanking. My excitement must have shown, as the staff in the jewellers – though used to orders of such significance – were to ask if I was nervous. I’d replied that I was excited, but that I wasn’t nervous as I was committed to my heart’s desire and I knew that I had found the love of my life.

After giving the jeweller the “go ahead” to progress and mount the stones on the specifically-designed white gold band, I had to wait a further four weeks until the call came through, to tell me to visit them and collect the ring. I suggested a trip to Berne with Jo that same weekend, and gave the excuse of finding her birthday present as cover. We went our separate ways and I slipped through the arched passageways to the jeweller, next to the famous clock in the centre of the old city. I saw the ring for the first time and marvelled at the way that it matched my expectations perfectly. The rubies were just the right shade to be special: neither blood red nor bright pink, but a subtle mixture of the two. The assistant polished Jo’s ring and nestled it between cream leather cushions in a modern black box, wrapped the box in a length of their blue ribbon, and presented the whole to me in a small white cardboard container, to prevent, as the jeweller said, it from being noticed. Because of its unsubtle and ineffective disguise, I went back out into the city to find Jo’s real birthday presents and managed to combine them with other purchases to effectively hide the small, tell-tale box in a large carrier bag.

The next day, we headed north on the train to meet with friends and colleagues in Basle, to photograph the fair and lights of the autumn festival. Despite the multifarious lights and the pleasure of seeing friends, my mind kept drifting back to the small hidden box; my mind cast itself to placing the ring on the third left finger of the woman I love.

Early on Monday evening, as I was making my way home, Jo suggested that it would be nice to go out into the darkness and photograph stars and moonlight over our town. Her timing couldn’t have been better. I immediately knew that this would be the evening when I would ask her to marry me and my decision and the spontaneity of the moment was sealed when I saw that the half moon was shining over the landscape, reminiscent of one of our special songs: Half Light, by the band Athlete.

I arrived home and we enjoyed dinner, Jo watching television whilst I tried not to let the massive grins to myself become noticeable. After a lovely meal, we set off down the hill from our home, when I suggested that we not go to Jo’s intended destination of the vineyard-covered hill above the town, but to the darkness of the water’s edge instead. We laughed and joked, walking arm in arm through the fresh evening, and arrived at the bench by the lake a little before ten. I set up my tripod facing the water, then returned to my small rucksack and fumbled with camera and torch before discreetly slipping the box containing the ring into my jacket pocket.

I stood behind Jo and put my arms around her, resting my chin on the dark military-style coat that I remember well from Scotland, and told her that I love her. I lead her to the bench, sat her down and saw that she had suddenly recognized what was happening. I went down on one knee and told her that I loved her, and that I want to sped the rest of my life looking after her and having her look after me in return. I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me and asked her to be my wife. With nothing but the biggest smile on her face reflected in my eyes, Jo said “of course” and I took the box from my pocket, took the ring and placed it on her finger. Then reached for the torch, which I’d lain on the bench to illuminate us, and shone it on her hand for us to both see the glittering stones twinkle beneath our joyful faces.