Thursday, 22 August 2013

An Old Rectory Wedding: A Celebration in Three Acts (2)

Act II: Wedding Bells

The Dog Moment
We'd worried and worried about what to do with our new dog.  Our timing was completely off.  Get a dog from a rescue home and, having been told that he will need peace and quiet for a while, subject him to about 80 people milling around the garden and house.  With his separation anxiety, we knew that locking him in a room was not an option.  He would cry, howl and bark the house down, poo and wee, scratch and bite.  The solution was that he must come to the wedding too.

H took control of him for the ceremony and went to her seat with the dog on his retractable lead.  We entered and went to the front (or was it the back?) of the marquee to stand with the celebrant.  Sprocket rushed forward, delighted as ever to see us, and sat in front of us, ears pricked and alert, an excited, expectant expression on his face.  It was a wonderful moment that sadly no one caught on camera.

The celebrant began the ceremony by welcoming everyone and explaining that we had already done the legal bit back in April at the Registry Office.  Some of her opening words bear repeating here. On marriage: getting married is not something that people do lightly or without serious thought (too right!) but it is, first and foremost, a celebration of the love which two people share. Within the circle of its love, marriage encompasses all of life’s most important relationships.  A wife and a husband are each other’s best friend, confidant, lover, teacher, critic and listener. The love between a couple deepens and enriches every facet of life.  Happiness is fuller, memories are fresher, commitment is stronger; even anger is felt more strongly, and passes away more quickly.

She then told the guests a little bit of our story, starting from our meeting, about 15 years ago when we were on the same Masters course, to the purchase of the Old Rectory.

Then I read a poem by Bee Rawlinson to illustrate the realism of my expectations.

Love me when I'm old and shocking
Peel off my elastic stockings 
Swing me from the chandeliers 
Let's be randy bad old dears

Push around my chromed Bath Chair

Let me tease your white chest hair

Scaring children, swapping dentures

Let us have some great adventures

 Take me to the Dogs and Bingo

Teach me how to speak the lingo 
Bone my eels and bring me tea            
Show me how it's meant to be

Take me to your special places

Watching all the puzzled faces

You in shorts and socks and sandals

Me with warts and huge love-handles

As the need for love enthrals

Wrestle with my dampproof smalls

Make me laugh without constraint

Buy me chocolate body paint

Hold me safe throughout the night

When my hair has turned to white

Believe me when I say it's true

I've waited all my life for you.

Then we had a handfasting ceremony.  In medieval times, couples undertook a ritual called 'handfasting' before their actual wedding day.  It involved the tying of their hands together with ribbon or cord, and once it had taken place there was no backing out!  It is thought to be the origin of the phrases “tying the knot” and “a binding agreement”.  On first hearing the words 'handfasting ceremony', I thought it would be deeply naff.  However, the explanation behind it charmed me.  It wasn't an American invention but rather something with a history and a meaning.  We decided to do it.  

The three children were called forward in turn to lay a ribbon over our joined hands and we repeated the following lines:

I give you my hand in marriage, and with my hand, my heart.
I marry you joyfully in the presence of all these people who love us.
Through all that life brings, may we continue to love, support  and cherish each other.

Then the ribbon was tied into a bow and slipped from our hands.  The bow signifies that from now on we are united of our own free will but have the tied ribbons as a symbol of our commitment.

S then read his poem by Steven Curtis Chapman:

If in the morning when you wake,
If the sun does not appear, I will be here.

If in the dark we lose sight of love,

Hold my hand and have no fear,

I will be here.

When you feel like being quiet,

When you need to speak your mind I will listen.

Through the winning, losing, and trying we'll be together,

And I will be here.

If in the morning when you wake,

If the future is unclear,
I will be here.

As sure as seasons were made for change,
Our lifetimes were made for years,
I will be here.

And you can cry on my shoulder,
When the mirror tells us we're older.
I will hold you, to watch you grow in beauty,
And tell you all the things you are to me.

We'll be together and I will be here.

 The final thing was the guests giving us a blessing:

May the sun bring you new energies by day:
May the moon softly restore you by night.
May the rain wash away any worries you may have
And the breeze blow new strength into your being.
And then, all the days of your lives
May you walk gently through the world
And know its beauty.

The ceremony ended with the celebrant urging us to remember this day, the emotions we felt, the words we spoke and heard, asking us that, when troubles come as they inevitably will, we talk, listen and open ourselves to each other.  Such good advice.

Then on with the food.  The caterers did spectacularly well.  The menu for those of a greedy disposition, like me:

Roasted Loin of Pork with apple and cinnamon compote
Local Rare Beef with horseradish battered puddings
Corn fed Chicken stuffed with sun sweet tomatoes and fresh pesto

Poached and dressed Salmon and wild trout

Bulgar wheat cucumber & red onion salad with zingy chilli and mint dressing
Balsamic roasted crimson vegetables with fresh rosemary
Crispy green leaves
Warm Baby potatoes with herb infused oil
Pomelo tomato and mozzarella salad with freshly picked basil

Rustic artisan breads with rural chutneys


Selection of Summery desserts with lush local strawberries

The speeches.  S began, telling how it had happened that we had finally married.  I'd been banned from relating this tale to my friends and relations.  As background, S had asked me to marry him before but the time wasn't right.  Knowing S, he wasn't likely to ask again so the initiative lay with me.  We had moved, we now own a house together and our finances are firmly conjoined.  We needed to sort things out legally so, to me, the easiest thing to do was to get married.  How very romantic, I hear you cry!  But wait...

Over Christmas, while I was pondering whether the time was right or not, I was browsing a website for presents and came across some cufflinks.  They were designed as QR codes, a two-dimensional barcode.  But more than that, they were actually working QR codes, which means that you can personalise them with your own message and read them with a mobile phone or other such digital device.

I dithered and dived, squealed inwardly and searched my conscience and my moral code.  It was decision time. Was I brave enough to do this again?  Was it the right thing to do?  Was I completely mad?  Then I ordered them and they were delivered in time for Valentine's Day.  We went out to lunch and I gave S the cufflinks.  He read the first: I Love You.  But couldn't read the second.  No signal in the restaurant.  No signal in the quaint Wiltshire village where we strolled after lunch.  He tried and tried, stopping at various points on the way home.  However, it wasn't until we were back at home and with use of the wretched i-Pox thing that he managed to read it: Marry Me? 

During this speech, the Church bells began to ring.  Oddly enough, given that we live next door to a church, it had not occurred to either of us that there might be a wedding there that day.  It was, after all, our day.  Although, as it turned out, I don't think that it was a wedding for which the bells tolled but rather some kind of bell ringing practice or gathering of campanologists.  It went on and on, drowning out the speeches, particularly for the elderly and hard of hearing i.e. most of the people in the room!

This was the gist of S's speech but, as he improvises and doesn't write things down, I can only summarise. However, luckily for you, I do write things down so here is the basis of my response, although there were some last minute additions, impromptu thoughts and some improvisation in response to heckling from the crowd!

As you know, I hate to let Simon have the last word…

I just want to quickly say three things.

Firstly, we wanted to share today with the people that we care most about in the world.  Most are here and I want to thank you all for making the effort to come from far and wide, and H-------, to be part of this.

However, there are three people who are not with us and I would like to remember S’s mum, who I like to think would have been delighted to see us finally tie the knot; my lovely, much missed dad, who gave S his permission to marry me and who would have danced and sung the night away; and my dear friend and neighbour, PS, who tragically died in February and who, I think, would have been both amazed and delighted to witness this event.

Finally, those of you who know S well will know that he is not as perfect or lovely as he thinks he is.  He is annoying and irritating and he drives me mad. Those of you who know me well, will know that I am not always as right as I think I am.  I infuriate, exasperate and madden S. In fact, in true wedding style, we’ve spent most of the week sniping at one another over one thing or another.  But, luckily for us, we no longer expect to live happily ever after.  We haven’t up until now and there is no reason why things should change simply because of today.  S is annoying but he is my best friend and confidante.  He is irritating but he is also my support and my soul mate.  He drives me mad but I love him.

I read an article a while ago about survivors, people who survive natural disasters or accidents.  They survive, it argued, because they check out their environment beforehand, making sure that there is a life jacket below their seats on an aeroplane, for example, and making sure that they know the exit routes.  I think, I hope, that neither of us is checking out the exit routes, despite the annoyances of the week.  But we are both entering this marriage as survivors.  We know the pitfalls, we know that there will be ups and downs, we know that happiness comes and goes, but the good thing about us is that I think we now know where the life jackets are.  And I hope that will give us the resilience that we need to survive married life.

So, I’d like you to raise your glasses and drink a toast.

To resilience!

 Then my eldest brother spoke, inventing a Northumbrian ritual of presenting the groom with a stick of floppy rhubarb and the bride with a bunch of carnations.  Enough said.

And so on to the dining room for tea or coffee and cake as the rain finally eased off.  The evening guests began to arrive and joined in the feasting.  I took some time out, retiring to my study with an over-excited dog to view the scene below.  Some groups had gathered in the marquee, others were braving the not very warm temperatures in the front garden.  Others wandered the house on impromptu tours.  There was chatter and laughter everywhere.  Having drawn breath and regrouped, I wandered downstairs for the inevitable photo calls.

H and the W Boys
Later, downstairs, the dog amiably ambled off with other people, being led by someone different every time I saw him.  Despite all the cautions, he appeared to be coping and, dare I say it, even enjoying all the attention.

As the sun began to go down, we started the barbecue, an old tin drum borrowed from neighbours of friends, although I'm not sure that they knew about it!  One of our guests, G, turned out to be a master barbecuer and took control.  S had been dubious about the need for more food but people were peckish again and wanting to build up their strength before a little bit of disco dancing.  We milled around outside, munching and chatting, the dog snaffling up any fallen sausages or burgers.  And I'm pleased to say that we had our very own gatecrasher, helpfully dressed in a Where's Wally outfit so that we can easily (or perhaps not so easily, in the case of Wally!) pick him out in the photos.  He was the brother of one of our neighbours and a delightful addition to the throng!

The disco didn't last long.  By the time everyone began to bid farewell, we had been on the go at the wedding for ten hours.  It was a long time since the dog and I had been out foraging for wild flowers.  But the day had sped by and the different events, from ceremony to lunch to coffee, tea and cake to barbecue to disco had kept everyone entertained throughout.

It went according to plan, apart from the weather, which should have been glorious.  There had been a few hairy moments but, on the whole, it was everything that I would have wished.  I had a great day surrounded by nearly all of the important people in my life but sparing thoughts for all those who had been unable to attend due to other commitments.

And I made my commitment publicly to the man who unexpectedly won my heart all those years ago and who, after all this time, has given me the courage to try again.

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