How did we get here? Via Paris, actually…

Kathie and Graham in front of the Eiffel Tower, Paris
Kathie and Graham in front of the Eiffel Tower, Paris – on the way to Orkney

So here we are, in Orkney. Time speeds by and, amazingly, come April it will be four years since our move here from London. A Californian woman and an Englishman. How did we get here? And, as we are often asked, how did we meet in the first place?

I will explain. And along the way I will explain how we had two weddings. But I will not attempt to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, though I’m sure it has a part to play.

Emails and Nanci Griffith are to blame. And piano lessons. And fate. Or accident. And the Barbican. And other people’s life choices. And a moment’s snap decision.

Well, back in the 1990s, possibly the late 1980s, email started to come into my life. At first it was a closed system within the BBC and I couldn’t see the point of it. In time we were able to email the outside world and – although it was intended as a work tool – inevitably I also used the email for personal reasons.

I was a big admirer of the singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith and I discovered that her fans had an email discussion group called the NanciNet. You may realise that this was started in the USA as in the UK the group’s name had other possible connotations. I signed up.

Then, to coincide with one of Nanci’s regular UK tours, someone suggested a get-together of NanciNet members at the London Barbican. It was agreed we would meet for a meal before the concert, in a Barbican restaurant. This was in 1998.

I went to the concert with my then girlfriend and my parents, who were visiting me in London. Being a group of four meant that when we tried to find a table at the get-together we had limited choices – and so fate, or accident, meant we chose a table where just a man and a woman were seated.

These turned out to be a Belgian guy, Frank, and his friend, Patti, from the United States. Numbers and emails were swapped, we kept in touch and we became friends.

I visited my new friends in Belgium and in the United States a number of times, there was even one trip where Frank and I visited Patti’s San Diego home together, a holiday which also took in Boston and New York.

Then my American friend and her family moved from San Diego to Washington. For UK readers, that’s not Washington DC but Washington state, in the north-west of the USA – the last stop going north up the west coast before Canada. Their move turned out to be crucial.

In October 2002 I visited them in Washington and Patti introduced me to her daughter’s piano teacher – who turned out to be Kathie, my wife-to-be.

We went on two dates, then when I was back home in the UK we emailed and talked on the phone everyday, then at Christmas Kathie came over to stay with me and in the New Year – in the freezing cold – we went to Paris together. Yes, I guess you could say it was a whirlwind. We were just made for each other.

In 2003 we had two marriage ceremonies. We had decided to live in the UK and we thought we might get permission for Kathie’s residency more easily if we were already married. So in March 2003, when I was on holiday in Washington, we went to see the judge, just us, plus Kathie’s parents as witnesses. He made what we thought would be an impersonal ceremony into a very cosy one. Afterwards Kathie, her parents and I went out for a meal.

Getting permission for Kathie to come to the UK proved to be fairly straightforward and so in June 2003 we had a second wedding ceremony, again in Washington. This time Kathie’s friends and wider family attended, and my father made the journey from England.

Though it had no legal standing, as we were already married, it was a lovely event. We had a pagan ceremony, a hand-fasting, in which we jumped the broomstick and had our hands tied together. Kathie’s friends William Pint and Felicia Dale sang. My new father-in-law forgot to bring the video camera which was just as well as I cried when I made my vows. And our celebrant Amy put a yellow rose on the ceremonial table to represent my late mother.

We made our home in my flat, our flat, in Ealing, West London. It soon became very crowded, particularly when Kathie set up a small recording studio in the spare room, but we enjoyed our lives in the big city.

London is great – exciting, vibrant, lots to do and see, the centre of so many important events, the home of great friends and work colleagues – but, in time, we felt we wanted a different type of life, led at a different pace. And, in truth, Kathie was never a big city girl at heart.

Our yearnings found an outlet when, almost by accident, we visited Orkney. We were on a two-week tour of Scotland with my father. He had suggested various places we might visit and Kathie made a selection from his list. Orkney ended up on the list.

And so we visited Orkney, for the first time, in summer 2008. We were only here for three nights, two days, but the islands got under our skin.

It would take another blog to tell you everything we liked, and like, about Orkney. This is a subject I will return to in future blogs. But the positives include a slower pace of life, low crime rate, fresh air, knowing your neighbours, wide open spaces to walk in, wildlife, history, the people, a sense of community, being able to park your car outside your front door…

Kathie captured this more lyrically in the song she wrote after this trip, “Orcadia (Wind, Sea and Sky)” which is on her album Dark Moons & Nightingales.

We came back to Orkney in February 2009, for two weeks, to see if we still liked it here during the winter. And we did. We even enjoyed the stormy night when the wind whistled around our self-catering cottage.

And so we decided I would take early retirement and we would move here. I handed my three-month notice in at work just before Christmas 2009. I told my colleagues at the Christmas office meal.

In January 2010 I took a week’s leave and we visited Orkney to go house-hunting – and found our new home.

I officially finished work at the end of March and in April 2010 we moved here. Just like that, as Tommy Cooper might say.

So, in summary, that is how we got here. What would have happened if I had sat at a different table at the Nanci Griffith concert get-together? If the event had never been arranged? If I hadn’t joined the NanciNet? Or if my friend had not moved to Washington? If her daughter had not wanted piano lessons? And so on.

Who knows? But it inclines me to believe in fate, or some guiding spirit in life. And I am very grateful, lucky, blessed, to be here in Orkney with Kathie.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Wikipedia on Orkney –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orkney

Discover Orkney –
http://www.discover-orkney.co.uk/

Kathie Touin CD Dark Moons & Nightingales –
http://www.kathietouin.com/dark_moons.shtml

William Pint & Felicia Dale –
http://www.pintndale.com/

Nanci Griffith –
http://www.nancigriffith.com/

Some of my earlier blogs with Orkney content

Who Am I?
https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/who-am-i-2/

Brakes off, we’re speeding into 2013 and there’s no stopping…
https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/brakes-off-were-speeding-into-2013-and-theres-no-stopping/

Looking from a different perspective https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/perspective/

What, no badgers?https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/orkney_wildlife/

Published by Graham Brown

I am Graham Brown, author of this blog, an Englishman living in Orkney since St Magnus Day 2010. I’m married to musician, singer and songwriter Kathie Touin. I am a member of Harray & Sandwick Community Council and a Manager (committee member) of Quoyloo Old School (community centre). I volunteer with the RSPB. I was on the committee which restored Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial and created the HMS Hampshire wall. I belong to the Radio Caroline Support Group, Orkney Field Club and Orkney Heritage Society. I spent nearly 24 years at the BBC in London. Remember: One planet, don’t trash it.

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