My boyfriend’s housemates were getting married. They had been together for five and a half years when Tony popped the question in Italy at the top of a tower. If you did say no at the top of a tower you would have a long awkward walk down but no was never an answer that applied to this couple.
They had been together happily in the two years I had known my boyfriend. I had rarely seen them argue and they are both warm friendly people with a healthy sense of humour.
They had moved in officially for about a year, as before that Jess had been working nearby and visiting. But then she managed to get a dance teaching job in the same city. Tony manages a promotional film company and is likes Star Wars and Lego, so Star Wars Lego figurines decorated the front room.
The first time in their house I was intrigued by the bizarre collection of Tony’s former mobile telephones decorating the wall by the stairs. The oldest one was an early 1990s cordless. It is great to have Jess’s company around the house. She ensured that there were no more random socks and beer/wine bottles/glasses littering the kitchen and front room. The previous housemates had moved out and got married too. Eventually it will be our turn to move out of separate houses and try living in one. Who knows, maybe we will even get married too.
The epic celebrations began on Friday night. As the groom was a Beaver/Explorer leader, they helped cook pie and peas. My boyfriend said he would help but unfortunately as it was in the middle of the countryside I was reliant on a lift (I am halfway through driving lessons…). He had to wait until I could finally escape from work, getting home about 6.30. So when we arrived some were obviously irritated that we did not appear “after lunch” as my boyfriend had suggested. He had just told me to leave early as possible and regrettably that was not an option.
We arrived in the middle of the countryside where in the middle of farmers fields stood a circle of new build cottages around a lake, with a “barn” – a modern stone hall at the back. On the grass stood a massive white marquee complete with tables, chairs and decorations. Almost everyone had enthusiastically participated in the beer-brewing competition and someone had even made a lovely fruity cider. There were beers with ginger, apple, a smoky flavour and the bride’s family homegrown honey. The beer tasting glasses had a little sticker on the base with a cartoon couple, their names and the wedding date. You could tell the bride was a teacher. Everything was immaculately planned. We had a pub quiz as a friend brought his own beer taps and questions along. This was accompanied by a hilarious game featuring a ball tied into tights around your waist. You had to hit a ball on the ground with it which involved a lot of thrusting. At about 11 we called it a night and returned to our self-catering cottage. In the morning woke up to sunshine. The Scout boys staying with us organised their own breakfast, so we had cereal. Then we rushed out to Matlock to get a cable for the Wii, as this was to be set up in the bassment of the barn for the children.
Before that they would play a live video of the wedding for a friend with locked-in syndrome, Nick. I first met him at the end of last year at a housewarming party for him. Someone told me he was joking with me through interpretation of his eye movements and I was inspired by his positivity. It was a moving experience. There was a scene about this type of communication in the film about Stephen Hawking and it made me cry because it showed what a challenge it was. Like Stephen, Nick was an Oxbridge graduate, and was in his 40s helping to run Scouts when he randomly had a brain stem stroke which paralysed him.
After going round all the video game shops in the small town we rushed back and had one of my boyfriend’s best dishes for lunch – omelette with caramelised onions, cheese, olives and salami. On returning to the cottage I saw a glamorous slender tanned lady with blonde waves get out of a Jaguar with a man in a sharp suit. We were later told that the man was a military commander in Brazil.
We quickly changed for the main event. We got back in time to help the groom get the wedding room free of clutter. I wore a sleeveless A-line dress that was lined and navy with pink roses on. There was quite a breeze making things chilly but we stayed outside to drink champagne and listen to the lovely male quartet sing. They were wearing white suits, red bow ties. The songs were old-fashioned classics.
Then it was time for the wedding itself. We filed in. The groom swayed from foot to foot anxiously, fiddling with his watch and looking around, chatting to his best men in front of the registrar, a middle-aged lady with round cheeks and blonde cropped hair. There were about 200 guests filling the floor. There were waves of whispers and the air was heavy with anticipation . There was a small wooden trellis in the middle of a stage with ivy round it but other than that the decoration was minimal. Then the music started and the bridesmaids slowly entered, all wearing slightly different outfits but in the same dark navy.
There was a pause and then we finally got to see the dress. Normally when I see the bride it is after work so she is usually exhausted, sleepy and hardly has energy to smile, but today her face was illuminated with joy from her rosy, natural complexion and perfect plaited dark hair as she glided along with her train, perfectly poised in her strapless white satin folded gown. The groom, on seeing her, appeared to breathe a sigh of relief in his flattering dark suit and smiled broadly in return.
They said their individual vows and the registrar spoke of the sanctity of marriage and how it was about cherishing and supporting each other. Then we were invited to sing “Stand By Me” by Ben King. It was a beautiful moment, the couple so perfect for each other, two kind, lovely, cheerful souls combined for evermore, and the music of so many voices, young and old, in harmony. I welled up with the emotion.
As we filed out I turned to my boyfriend and saw that he had tears in his eyes too. I had never seen him cry before and I was touched.
We were then seated in the marquee which was decorated with (fake) ivy and carpeted. It was beautiful with little wedding gifts for guests of the bride’s family honey and lego for the groom’s touch. Every little detail had been planned. We had a starter of nice Italian meats and olives. Then lasagne and brownies.
There were several short speeches and the groom thanked everyone for their efforts in helping bring the wedding weekend/festival together. Then there was the longest speech from the best man. Apparently it was timed at an hour and 25 minutes and featured raffle prizes for gifts such as a bottle of Fanta that featured in the story of how the groom and his best man met. It reminded me of an embarrassing time at junior school where I did a competition which hardly anyone entered and then I presented sherbet sticks in assembly as the prize, after trying to sell them for 25p each.
After that there was a break to get ready for the evening event. I kept the same dress on and we sat and chatted in the barn. Then we went upstairs to watch the bride and groom’s choreographed dance. It was beautiful and the delivery was flawless. The disco came on later – the wedding room had been transformed with the chairs and the stage was gone. The LED backdrop ensured there were coloured lights across the dance floor. My boyfriend sorted the children out on the Wii and showed them how to use the controls. He looked like good father material helping and chatting happily to an inquisitive boy but of course I did not tell him that. He was concerned enough by me hinting that maybe it would be our turn for a wedding at some point. You should have seen his face when my cousin and I looked at diamonds in the Natural History Museum in London and then went on to accidentally (honest) walk through the maternity and baby clothes sections of Harrods. He frogmarched us out of there when I cooed over a baby duffle coat.
We danced the night away at the disco and he barely took his eyes off me. It was lovely and it was nice to see the groom getting into it at the end of the night. Tony and Jess made sure they had time for everyone.
Wonderful shot by Martyn Miller, the retired photographer. All other photographs are courtesy of him as I forgot my camera. The lake of the venue
My main impression from the weekend was that it was completely inclusive. Everyone was made to feel special and welcomed. There were people of all ages and backgrounds there and they were so friendly and enthusiastic. We were not sure whether to stay on Sunday but we soon discovered that the toilet paper and washing-up liquid were running out and the heating and television had gone off, so it was time to make a move. It was overcast and still windy, not ideal for the summer clothes I had brought, hoping for warmer weather (you can never hope for better weather in England. If you don’t bring a coat it will be cold, if you don’t bring an umbrella it will rain). I had forgotten my coat. The Scouts in our cottage all left.
We went out for brunch at a farm cafe which was expensive but tasty. I had spinach soup and a cranberry and bacon panini and felt less sleepy. When we got back my boyfriend said he wanted to help and I was expecting there to be a team already on the case. I had told my parents we would be back for dinner. But it turned out that aside from the bride and groom’s immediate family we were it. I felt that we were fully justified in arriving too late to help at the start after our efforts packing up.
We collected the rubbish and heaved the sacks into a little cart. We pushed the dripping smelly things into the bins. We carried piles and piles of chairs from the big white tent into the hall. Then we started on the tables. We unpeeled the black masking tape keeping the strips of carpet together, wrapping maggots and whatever else had got from the soil into it. We took up all the nails holding down the carpets and rolled them up.
I drew the line at lifting up the muddy boards and entertained the best man’s baby instead. The mum jokingly asked whether I did babysitting and I wished she was serious. The little girl with large dark eyes looked at me in wonder. She liked my shiny purse and kept trying to chew on it, so I would distract her with the tassles on my scarf, which she then pulled into her pram, choking me, so I untangled it from her tiny fingers.
Finally it was time for the baby’s nap so I then said if I was walking on the mud with muddy boards I would need to change my footwear. Once in the car I finally stopped shivering and couldn’t face going out again. I was in a t-shirt, thin cardigan and a pashmina scarf. I sat there for 10 minutes with my walking boots on before heading back out and running through the rain. Thankfully it was done. I forgot my slice of the wedding cake, so eager was I to leave the cold and get back to a home-cooked meal. We said our goodbyes to the pale sleepy couple and went on our way.
In the car on the way back I asked my boyfriend whether the wedding had made him want to have a big event if we got married.
“Are you joking?!” he said.
“Didn’t you see how stressed they got? Nah, what’s the point? Why not save it for a house instead?
I’d just go to a registry office.”
“But what about my big white dress?” I asked.
“Do you really need one?” He replied.
“It didn’t happen this time, but I’ve seen the meaning of marriage lost in a big wedding, it becomes all about that instead.”
He had a point, but hopefully we could compromise on the dress…