Thursday, 30 October 2014

Water into Wine

No post in over a year -- my first year of marriage. I think that's alright. Want to try and actually live life and not just react to it. A worrying trend in our blogging age? Is this a blogging age?

My wife installed a couple of weddings in Napa Valley recently, so I got to visit again. This, along with the fact my in-laws also live in wine country, means I've been thinking a lot about vino.

I quite like wine. It's good. Like the majority of humans, I have no idea what to do when a waiter hands me the wine list, but I've got the usual nonsense I can bring out for such occasions:

1) "Mmm, such a full body."
2) "That has tons of bouquet, it really does."

and if I'm feeling really dangerous:

3) "So cleansing. So cleansing on the palate, that one."

But, despite having the taste buds of a 12-year-old, I think I can tell the difference between a good bottle and a bad bottle.

Napa Valley is basically a freak of geography. It's about 22 miles long and, at its biggest part, about 2 miles wide. California didn't really take to wine-making until very recently - around the 1970s. For further information, watch 'Bottle Shock' starring Alan Rickman. It tells the story of how a blind taste test against the French (who were pretty much against the idea of Americans producing wine) saw a Californian wine win. That's really what brought wine-making to America.

And Napa Valley is the place. Because of the valley, it means the area gets the scorching heat during the day and the cold at night. The mountains on either side lock in the cold at night - so it gets the perfect cycle for wine making. It gets the heat and it gets the cold. My in-laws live in another area that produces wine, but it's not as famous as Napa because it doesn't have the mountains on either side giving it a more rounded cycle.

Armed with this knowledge, I've been re-reading the story of Jesus turning the water into wine.

John 2:
9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”


Here's a couple of things I saw:

1) Jesus is in the business of producing good wine.
2) This produce won't arrive in the timing culture might expect.

So many times I've thought I've missed the boat on something only to be proved wrong by a more divine timing. I suddenly made a connection:

Psalm 23:
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[a]
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me


These valley times that we go through - the lonely times; the confusing times; the horrendous dark nights of the soul - suddenly they turn upside down.

John 15
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.


More wine language.

Because of the valleys, we get the perfect cycle to produce the best wine. There will be a waiting period - something we do NOT understand in our culture, and there will be pruning - sometimes painful.

So I am going to try my best to stay away from what I am now coining 'Lambrusco Faith'. For Americans, 'Two-Buck-Chuck'.

Monday, 27 January 2014

UK Immigration

In July 2012, the British government made sweeping changes to their immigration laws.

It is now so much harder for married couples from two different countries to be together. The UK national must be earning over £18,600 PA for six months or have cash savings of over £64,000 before they can apply for a spousal visa. It starts to get very, very complicated if you are a freelancer or have income from two different sources. Here's a petition and a story about a lady who faces giving birth to her first child alone as her foreign spouse faces deportation two months before the due date:

There is a sneaky way around this law that people have tried to utilise called the 'Surinder Singh' route. In its most basic form, under European law (a law the UK government can't change), the married couple can legally live and work in an EU/EEA country for at least four months and then re-enter the UK without hindrance. They can apply for the spousal visa they always wanted without anyone stopping them - it's even FREE through this route. For a BBC video article on the subject, see here:

My wife and I got married in September 2013 and attempted the Surinder Singh route for months; tirelessly looking for a way into another EU country, all to no avail. The US route didn't seem to offer much help either, as we were told I would have to be out of the country whilst my green card processed. That could take up to nine months, so the reality of us being separated at some point in our marriage grew so much that we genuinely didn't see a way out.

My wife's tourist visa ran out just before Christmas, so we hopped on a plane to California not knowing what was next. As she had maxed out her tourist time in the UK, we knew she wouldn't be able to re-enter until June 2014. Not great.

But, after a trip to LA - the city where we met - some doors opened for both of us. We then had a consultation with yet another immigration lawyer who confirmed that I can legally overstay my tourist visa in the US whilst my green card gets processed. So, for the first time in a year, we can breathe a sigh of relief that we don't have to be apart. It looks like we're moving here. But it's still early days.

This whole process has really affected me, and has left something of a bitter taste in my mouth about how my country is currently conducting itself. We have come face-to-face with UK policy that is biased, racist, anti-marriage and has caused me to, literally, flee the country of my birth so I can stay with my wife. I didn't even get to say a proper goodbye to my friends, family, nieces and nephews.

Immigration is such a hot topic - everyone seems to have an opinion. It's one of those topics that seem to evoke a passionate response out of even the most politically apathetic. I've heard so many people say there are far too many foreigners in the UK who are sponging off the benefit system; but I wonder how many of these people have actually seen the numbers and can make a case for and against certain spending? Because, if they haven't, and have such strong opinions without evidence, that's... interesting.

So. I am now in setting up life in the new world like so many before me. I'm sure this will lead to many more comedic blog posts. Please read the petition above and sign if you feel so called. These aren't abstract numbers, they are human beings.

"I have never welcomed the weakening of family ties by politics or pressure" - Nelson Mandela.

Monday, 16 September 2013

My Wedding Speech

And so... I am married. It is done.

I didn't blog as much as I had planned throughout the whole process -- things got so incredibly busy by the end of it. I have never known anything like it, actually. I was still performing my groom's tasks up until 10 minutes before the service started. But, for those of you who wanted it (Mother/Father/Mother-in-law/Father-in-law), here is a transcript of my wedding speech:

"Well. Thank you very much. I've waited a long time to say this….

My WIFE and I…

…Would like to thank you all for being here today.

I'm going to go through a few thank yous and then I'm going to get into my main speech.

There are so many people we want to thank and as I look around the room and catch certain people's eyes I'm going to want to go off script and thank you personally, so forgive me if I forget you, I am a little bit nervous.

Firstly, I want to thank my new American Family. I have been left utterly astounded at how willingly you have opened yourselves up to having this wedding in the England. Abby and I are not exactly sure how it worked out that we had our main wedding day here, but you have been so up for the adventure of it all that it has left me astonished. You have welcomed me into your family with more grace and favour than I could ever have imagined. Not once have I heard you grumble or be unwilling to come over and have your daughter's marriage take place in a completely different country and, for that, I earnestly want to say from the bottom of my heart: God bless America! Ever since I read To Kill A Mockingbird and watched Calamity Jane when I was about 9 I have had a romance for the deep south of America and now I get a Grandma from North Carolina and a father-in-law from Mississippi.

Next, I want to thank my English Family. This year my parents celebrated their 38th anniversary and they have given me such a wonderful model of marriage that I can only hope to emulate. My three sisters and my twin brother - thank you for putting up with me; I know very well how hard I make it for all of you to like me. 

My ushers for doing such an incredible job today. Rob, Dan, Tom, Paul, Tom and my best man, Ed, thank you for being there with me.

Annie Kirke… How wonderful was Annie today? You led the service so well and I think you are such a wonderful person. To live with such humility and grace when you repeatedly come against people who don't even think that you should do what you do… I think you're amazing.

Pete Hughes. Your talk today was so wonderful. I know, guttingly, that Bee can't be here today, but I want to say that you guys are so special to me. You have invested so much into my life over the last few years and I wouldn't be here without you.

My brother-in-law, Paul and everyone in the band for the music during the service, I thought it sounded absolutely wonderful.

I can see Rick and Henrietta Blyth there. These guys let me stay in their house for a year and a half rent free a couple of years ago while I tried to get this writing career off the ground. Thank you so much for everything you've done for me.

I'd like to thank a couple called Andy and Karen Jones for overseeing the catering service and the waitresses today. You have gone above and beyond these past few weeks.

Finally, I'd liked to thank the caterers, our florist, Hatty, who came over from Shoreditch, and our wedding coordinator, Jessie.

To fully understand the significance of this day and also the impact that Abby has made in my life, it's necessary to understand a little about my story.

Now, I was the kind of kid who would watch a movie and then go straight into the back garden and try to recreate that movie. If it was Indiana Jones or the Goonies, then I get an old piece of rope and that would be my whip and I'd try to build a boat and go on an adventure somewhere. Stories spoke to me clearer than anything else - and they still do - and when I would watch these stories there would always be a romance or a love story right in the centre of them which must have birthed something significant in me because I started to develop this belief that romance was something good and attainable. And then I watched the Princess Bride and knew that I was in trouble, because that fledgling belief exploded and I knew that I wanted nothing other than true love. If there was to be a romantic story within the adventure of my life, then nothing else but a real, deep, true romantic story would suffice. I refused to have anything else.

This developed in a somewhat odd way and I found myself watching quite a few romantic comedies throughout my teens. The desire and belief that a wonderful romantic story was out there for me grew and grew. I didn't know what it looked like; but I knew that I would know it when it came.

The extent of this worldview and belief can be seen through a piece of writing that I worked on a couple of years back. The greats always say write what you know about, so I decided to write a sitcom based around a caricature of me when I was probably about 18 years old. This sitcom would be driven by the 'fictional' lead character's unquenchable and comical thirst for true, passionate and undeniable romance. The authenticity of the writing must have been strong, as it was taken up by BBC3 - and I say that not to blow my own trumpet, but just to say that the outworking of my belief in romance was so comically great that it was almost made into a sitcom at the BBC.

Off the back of this, I decided to, once again, write what I knew, and put pen to paper for a movie script, this time based around a lead character that used to believe in romance but now, due to broken experiences, had lost that faith.

And it was that project that led me out to Los Angeles and to Abby. 

The details of how Abby and I came together are so wonderfully whimsical that I am still coming to terms with them now. I have shared with pretty much every human I've ever come into contact with the intricacies of our story, so I won't repeat them to you now. Except to say this; that I have a picture in my head of what was happening in heaven on the Tuesday of our first date. I have this picture of God up in heaven with a bunch of people and he is gathering them around from far and wide throughout the day as if he's preparing them to watch the television event of the year that evening. He's excitedly telling them, 'you guys have got to come and see this one… come on, you guys over there, come over here, watch what's about to happen...this is a good one.'

Looking back on it now, I am still amazed and, like I said, I'm still coming to terms with what has happened in my life. But from that moment on, it was like I had been reunited with my best and closest friend who I hadn't seen for 29 years.

For me, it feels fitting that we're getting married in the Quantocks. Those of you who know your literature will know that Wordsworth and Coleridge really started the whole romantic period here. And Wordsworth once wrote 'I wondered lonely as a cloud' - and that really sums up my life before I met you, Abby. Even though I had come into a very real relationship with the grand storyteller of them all, I still found myself wondering lonely as a cloud.

I have walked so many of these Somerset roads over the years, Abby. Every road and country lane that all of you will travel through over the next couple of days whilst you're here, I have most likely walked along and prayed to God that He would bring a love into my life. I have hoped, dreamed, longed and prayed for you, Abby, and, quite simply, you surpass every single one of my imaginings. You are the most wonderful, graceful, elegant and hilarious person I have ever met and you are so much more than I could have ever hoped and prayed for. I love you and am so excited to spend the rest of my life with you.

Now most of you know that Abby and I face some interesting times ahead with visa stuff, but I want to say that it was by faith, Carey, that I was brought into your daughter's arms and into your daughter's heart and it is only by faith that we will go on to see greater things than the those that we have experienced over the last year and a half.

So, join me in raising a toast to my beautiful wife Abigail, and the fulfillment of faith.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Warp-factor: WEDDING

Okay, so it seems the idea of me planning the majority of the wedding by myself was a pipe dream. Introducing our new wedding coordinator, Jessie: 

A genius, life-saving masterstroke by us (Abby). Already the load has been lightened ten-fold. Her role is to put together a design plan for us to execute (hence 'coordinator' rather than 'planner'), and then help us with set-up the day before and the running on the big day.

Abby flew into the country a fortnight ago and we have been in full-blown prep mode ever since. We visited the venue again. We've decided not to use their chairs or tables and hire in our own. It might be the fact that I've just turned 30, but I'm actually really excited about the tables. I've been told that because of the placements, we won't need major floral arrangements on the tables. For the large part, I nod. I look serious. I pretend that I know what's going on. I say, 'Mmm, yes, I concur'.

There are seven separate areas in the venue that will all be decorated with a different style. One of these is a large hallway. Abby wants to bring 'the outside, inside' and line it with trees. Here she is with some trees:

In other news, the ushers and I will be wearing matching white shirts and navy ties, with me wearing a three-piece navy suit, and them wearing these:

We went dress-shopping with all four flower girls yesterday. Warfare. No luck. We've decided on them searching the internet for whatever dress they want and us reimbursing them. Peace time.

The main thing Abby cares about with this wedding is the flowers. Don't question it. Don't even think about it. She's been earnestly searching for her perfect florist for about 5 months, including 4am internet worm-hole searches for the past fortnight. We think we've found it, but that might change. It will change. No, it won't.

It will.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

A Year in WhatsApp Videos

When you're in a long distance relationship, a free messaging app like 'WhatsApp' is a life-saver. 

I met my fiance a year ago yesterday. To mark the occasion, I decided to go through her phone and take a look at some of the video messages I've sent her over the past 12 months.

I had forgotten many of them and thought editing them together in a 'supercut' was needed. Probably best with headphones...

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Groom's Bridal Party

Thought I'd take a moment to introduce my half of the bridal party.

Best Man: Edward Christopher Martin Powell
My twin brother. 13 minutes younger. A new father. His two middle names have convinced him he's a rock star.

Groomsman: Thomas Thayer
Have known him since I was 18. We were in a band together called 'The Hinges'. We lasted a gig and a half.

Groomsman: Paul Kingsley-Smith
My brother-in-law. I was a groomsman at his wedding in 2004. Has a habit of throwing things at my face... rocks, balls of ice, etc. Brilliant golfer. 

Groomsman: Robert Selby
Met each other in our first week of University. We were the only two out-and-out romance writers in a Creative Writing degree filled with darkness.

Groomsman: Daniel Chalke
Friends since our late teens. As David loved Jonathan, Tom loved Daniel. Only other human I know who has the golden combination of Avalon Sunset by Van Morrison and the Aladdin soundtrack on their iTunes.

Groomsman: Tom Eccleshall
Met straight out of University in 2005. Worked together. Used to take extra long lunch breaks where we would share each others songs on the grand piano next door. His were better.

Monday, 11 March 2013


This will be a long blog post. 

I've never been a fan of brevity; the full-frontal attack of Twitter's 140 characters and resulting cultural obsession with cheapening everything into a pithy quote is a battle I fight on a daily basis. Today, friends, I need as many words as I can get my hands on.

Last night, I went to a wedding showcase event in Downtown Los Angeles called 'The Cream'. There's a line from the 'Lord of the Rings' that perfectly sums up how I've been feeling for the last few hours. In 'The Two Towers', an exasperated, confused, emotionally exhausted King Theoden comes face-to-face with the realisation that war is upon him and he has to lead his troops against the Uruk Hai. Bewildered, he solemnly asks, 'how did it come to this?'.

I went with my fiance, Abby to see what was going on in the world of weddings and maybe to get inspiration for our own big day. I thought I was quite knowledgeable about what weddings entailed. I. Know. Nothing.

So, apparently teepees are in...

It's taken three months, but I had my very first Steve Martin/Father of the Bride moment: 'A cake, Franck, is made of flour and water, my first car didn't cost $1200...'

Now I'm in a bind; I don't want to judge anyone, but I do need to express what I'm feeling. I've done my Myers Briggs test enough times to discover that I 'pick up' on things in an environment. The resulting 'processing period' looks like judgement to some people. It's really not.  

I'm aware that there are different levels going on here and I feel I should address them separately. Firstly, I absolutely, genuinely applaud every independent start-up company and anyone who follows their dreams and makes them a reality. Secondly, I am humbled and full of admiration of any artist who puts their work into the public eye - you are to be commended for your courage and creativity. 

Having said that... there's something going on here that I can't get my head around. There were about 800 people at this event and we were the only couple there. Honestly. Abby and I couldn't see another couple anywhere. Halfway through I played a fun game with myself called 'spot the male'. I lost. 

It was a wedding fair that wasn't for couples preparing a wedding... what is that? It was filled with women. Where are all the men? Seriously, where are they all? At one point, one of the venders seemed bemused when I told them that I was actually planning a wedding.

It seemed like the whole place was saturated with something that had turned in on itself. Call me naive, but I thought a wedding was two people coming together in front of their friends, family and God and making a public commitment to each other. How did it come to this?

It's made me examine if there is anything in my own life that I have let turn in on itself. That I have let become a golden calf. An idol. Have I let the idea of a wedding day become the be all and end all? What about marriage? What's next after the big day? It's like everywhere I look everything is all about the quick answer - the show - the image - the front... what comes after that? What's underneath and below that? Is that the problem I have with Twitter quotes? With Instagram? Am I just show? I want depth, sincerity and genuineness. So many questions have been buzzing around my head since I got 'Creamed'.

Having said all of that, one thing struck me the most. I simply could not believe how lucky I was to be engaged to the most beautiful woman in the whole building. It really floored me.

On another note, I think I've found my suit! Cue: Zadok the Priest. Here's me and my twin (best man)...

It's going to take a while to get my head around 'The Cream'. Until then, ride on to glory, Theoden King and all true soldiers of the West.