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Reflections on 25 Years of Married Life, Part 1 – The Proposal.

Friday night arrived much like many before it, with a flurry of activity as we prepared to head off for a weekend of camping – but this trip was different. My nerves were stretched tight as piano wire and my stomach was tied up in knots, for this weekend I planned to finally pop the question. After four wonderful years together, I felt ready to propose to my gorgeous girlfriend Liz.

‘How about we buy some champagne for you?’ I asked innocently, thinking we should have some with us to celebrate. ‘No need’, replied Liz. Not wanting to arouse suspicion by pressing the point since I didn’t normally drink it myself, I stupidly agreed and neglected the champagne; a poor decision of which I am still reminded today! In hindsight, some advance planning and a secret purchase of champagne would have been a much better idea.

We quickly bundled what we thought was everything into my beat-up bright green Ford Cortina and hit the road on our long trip to the Otway Ranges near Apollo Bay on the beautiful Victorian coastline. We arrived in the dark, drove down a dirt road and found a random clearing that looked like an ideal spot to camp in Beech Forest. With no moonlight and no torch easily on hand, we set up camp by the light from the car headlights, a questionable decision that would come back to haunt us the next day.

During unpacking we discovered we had left the carefully prepared container of delicious and healthy meat and veggies back at home in the fridge; finding that the only fresh food we had with us were potatoes and onions! Worn out from the day’s work, long drive and setting up camp, we had a restful night sleep in the bush and woke late the next morning. After a slow start, we decided to head into Apollo Bay for lunch and supplies, which was an unintended and inconvenient trip as a result of leaving all our well-prepared food at home. So, I jumped in the driver’s seat of my trusty vehicle only to be greeted with a sad whirring and clicking sound as I turned the key; the battery was dead after using the headlights to brighten our campsite the night before. Liz and I looked at each other, then around at our surroundings in the middle of nowhere with no passing traffic and no mobile phones in those days to rescue us – a tricky situation!

Thankfully, my car was a manual so we could try a push start. Problem was, we were close to a valley in the road – we would have only one or maybe two shots to get this right. First go was me pushing, Liz driving – she popped the clutch, but the engine didn’t fire, so she braked just in time with a tiny bit of downhill left. We switched, with Liz pushing from behind and me running alongside the open driver’s door; I jumped in at the last minute and popped the clutch just before we started uphill. The engine coughed and sputtered into life in the nick of time. Revving and revving, I willed the engine to keep running; thankfully it did.

Car crisis averted, we headed out for the long drive into Apollo Bay, only to find when we arrived that the sleepy backwater shut down at 1pm on a Saturday! So, no butcher for fresh meat for a barbeque and no food supplies for dinner back at camp. Thankfully the fish-and-chip shop was in full swing, so we opted for a steak sandwich and chips to substitute our beef BBQ and settled at a picnic table on the foreshore, overlooking the beautiful coastline and hearing the rolling breakers crashing on the surf line.

No sooner did we break open the bag of piping hot chips that the feral seagulls swooped. No shy retiring types here, begging for a few scraps from a safe distance – these were commando gulls! Menacingly persistent, they crowded around us and overhead. One particularly daring gull, the ringleader, landed on the picnic table just a few inches from my face and I lost it; instinctively reacting with a backhand swipe that connected with the offending seagull and resulted in a flurry of feathers and fluff ending up in our steak sandwich. Not my finest hour. Appetite lost, lunch ended with a half-hearted effort of picking bits of seagull fluff from our chips but the steak sandwiches were too far gone to save.

We piled back in the car, which thankfully started at the first attempt, and headed back to camp. Quite distracted from all the goings-on of the past 24 hours, I had to try and collect my thoughts for the task ahead of me – The Proposal! We made it back to camp and mooched around for the rest of the afternoon then prepared our culinary delight of onions and potatoes fried on the barbeque, accompanied by a glass of orange juice, eaten in the dark. Hardly the most romantic dinner to start our married life together, but I had been leading up to this moment for weeks, trying to get up the nerve to pop the question, and decided I wasn’t going to go through all this again!

After our not quite so special meal, we sat by the fireside where I gazed into Liz’s eyes and told her I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her by asking her to marry me. Although the circumstances leading up to that moment had been less than perfect and even a bit surreal at times, the words and the meaning behind them were very special, meaningful and full of love. My nerves and uncertainty faded away as I saw a smile break out on her beautiful face and tears welled in her sparkling eyes as she wrapped her arms tightly around my neck and it made me so happy to hear her say that very special word – “Yes”.

We would have toasted that very special moment if only I’d brought some champagne……!