You might have seen that recently, we ran a competition to win your declaration of love projected onto Norwich castle.
Title Image: Chris Harvey
This was all in the spirit of Valentine's Eve: a tradition which is - as far as we know - unique to Norwich. In the Victorian era, the 13th of February was an evening of magic, where people would sneak out the house and leave gifts on loved one's doorsteps. It was an evening of mischief too: sometimes string would be attached to the gifts, and the mystery present would be pulled away just as the recipient bent down to pick it up. In fact, Valentine's Eve was so big that shops had to take on extra staff just to cope with the demand. Norwich was a city in love, and it wasn't just for sweethearts either; Valentine's Eve was a time to show family and friends how much you care, too.
So this year, we gave someone the chance to leave their gift on Norwich Castle. Hundreds of people entered, and two weeks ago now our panel had the tricky job of choosing one winning message from the many that we received. In the end, it was Christine and Ian's story that the judges felt most summed up what Valentine's eve was about, and last night as this blog went live, their message was beamed onto Norwich Castle and lit up the city.
With this, we thought we'd write a feature that told Christine and Ian's story, as well as that of Hazel and Robert, who had their first date on Valentine's Eve 3 years ago.
Image Credit: Chris Harvey
Christine and Ian had known each other for 19 years before they became a couple. They met at school when they were 11, and as a group of friends they went everywhere together. Growing up, although they still kept in touch, the two friends went their separate ways at university: Ian went to Sunderland polytechnic and Christine to Stoke polytechnic. Then in 1994, just before Ian's 30th birthday, the pair met again.
I asked Christine when she knew they were more than just friends: "We just met for a beer and a curry, and I remember coming away and thinking I'd had a really, really nice time, and that I could be with someone who was actually nice". They have been a couple ever since, and moved to Norfolk in January in 2015, wanting to "take a leap" and do something together. They opened their beautiful Sheringham B&B - Picaroons - a year ago this February.
In 2016, Ian's Dad sadly passed away. That same year, Ian and Christine decided to get married "while (their) mums were still around to enjoy it", and on third of December 2016, the couple - along with both their mums, Christine's sister and Ian's niece, hopped on the 501 Park and Ride to get married at their "second closest registry office" - Norwich Castle.
Theirs is the message that was projected onto Norwich Castle last night. Christine's entry - '23 years and still you thrill me' did start life as '23 years and I'm not bored of you yet' - "I'm not sure if we're really romantic", says Christine, who goes on to tell the story of their first Valentine's day as a couple, in which they were away skiing and Christine completely forgot what day it was: "I gave him a bit of toilet roll with lipstick kisses on - it was a nice bit of toilet roll though".
Last night, you might have seen their message projected high on the castle - a glowing declaration for an equally bright pair of people.
3 years ago on Valentine's Eve, Hazel and Robert went on their first date, at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell. Yesterday, I met them in the same place, to hear their story.
Both are volunteers for St John's Ambulance, where each year they both give 1000 hours of their time in parallel with their other jobs - Hazel is currently a medical student in London and Robert is studying a Politics degree at UEA. When they met, however, Hazel lived in Norwich and Robert in Kent, making the logistics of their first date a less than straightforward affair.
Hazel needed Robert's help with her volunteer work here in Norfolk, and after getting his email address at a conference, got in touch with him. Robert agreed to start his work with St John's here on the 14th of February, but the night before - Valentine's Eve - arranged for them both to go into Norwich for the museum's 'evening of love and chocolate'. "Neither of us had a date" says Robert, "and we were both working on Valentine's day. It's completely like us - in fact we both still volunteer on Valentine's day, but together now".
So the evening of the 13th, after getting off at the wrong bus stop and walking for about a mile to meet Hazel ("I just couldn't comprehend the bus service"), the rest of the date turned into a bit of magical mystery tour. The pair of them got completely lost, at one point even walking past the museum. They made it in the end though, and afterwards went for dinner at The Vine (which, incidentally they tried to find again a year later and couldn't).
In the end though, it worked out pretty well and the couple are still together, and still very much active in the St John's ambulance. In fact, three months after their first date Hazel was working at the Brighton Marathon, and met Robert as he ran across the finish line. This year, the pair will be there again, working together.
I heard from Hazel again this morning. After I spoke to them last night, they not only managed to find their way back to The Vine, but to the same table as the one they sat at 3 years ago to the day.
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