When I informed my father that a German will be knocking on his front door shortly to ask him for my hand in marriage, his first comment was, "Are you up to it, darling? Because in our neck of woods we don't make promises we can't keep, and we must keep those promises honourably."
My parents have been married for over 50 years. They come from a small town, and despite their international lifestyle, my mother still speaks with a Welsh accent. She still stands over the hot stove making Welsh cakes instead of just putting the batter in the oven. Nothing ever changes in my childhood home and I often flee here, daughter of the house, to return to a gentler world.
"Does he love you as much as we do?" my mother asked. Across the miles, I can feel concern emanating from her big Welsh heart.
Last year, we all met up, his parents and mine, when we were 'just good friends'. Though our parents had a language barrier, they quickly found common grounds. Both our mothers were passionate gardeners and cooks, and over the common language of food, plants and children, they understood each other. Our fathers nodded, but there was a wealth of understanding in their silences. Swap nationalities, and we could easily have swapped parents, though his parents are a good deal better looking than mine.
"He's a good boy," my mother said. "You could do a lot worse, Jack."
Forget it, I told my mother. I want a spiritual guy who lives in a big house on the beach and who does nothing all day but yoga, meditation, read, make love. I certainly don't want a pale German who goes by the name Thomas Wirtz who is Partner at Ernst & Young Jakarta, who works long hours and whose main passion is his job, and who spends too many hours either in traffic or in his office.
Thomas and I laughed about it. We laughed about our parents' conviction that we would be good for each other. We laughed about what our parents said, but the truth in those words must have lingered deep in the recesses of our mind.
My mother told me that Thomas is a kind man. She could see it in his eyes. "I can see the child in his eyes."
"Ma, I don't want somebody else's child," I replied.
"That's not what I mean. He is a very capable man, but he has a child's trust and decency in his eyes," she said. "Like the boys in our hometown before the bright lights spoilt them."
And somehow, that struck a chord deep in me. In a world that has lost its values, something good, old-fashioned and from 'home' is difficult to come by.
Something must have happened where Thomas was concerned too, because he returned from a trip to his hometown with a beautiful ring for me.
It was the last thing I expected. I thought it was just a 'friendship ring' until he casually mentioned that he and his mother had already chosen a matching one for him. Now, what would one call two good friends wearing matching rings?
For months, we had been sharing a life with each other, though there was no drama, no fevered flirting and no begin-point in our relationship. It was just gentle loving and beautiful day-to-day reality, though I guess the love had always been there between us, and the passion was just waiting for the opportunity to come to life. I wasn't expecting marriage, because somehow, I just knew we were meant to be together.
"To marry someone is different, you know," my father said. 'And a church wedding, here, where you grew up. It's not just shacking up with someone."
I used to play in the ruins of Portchester Castle. In the days before Health & Safety regulations, I used to climb the castle walls. I used to catch tiny crabs from the castle moat after the rain, using Waitrose bacon from my Ma's fridge. I used to make daisy chains here on long lazy summer afternoons. And then later, I used to bring my children here. Cricket, picnics, bracing walks by the sea, they were all part of my history here.
Come September, I will be coming home to marry the man I love here. The man who is kind and decent, who trusts, who still has the old-fashioned, small-town goodness in him despite years of living in the glare of the bright lights.
And, Ma, in answer your question, yes, Thomas does love me as much as you and my father do. I know, without a shadow of doubt, from the answer in those guileless green eyes.