Ten thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
"I need you as foreground interest."
It's early evening on a Sunday, and despite the early summer sun and the afternoon's heat the temperature has dropped quite rapidly. We're at the top of a steep hill in the middle of the Yorkshire dales, a few miles out of Holmfirth. Beneath us is what is in all likelihood a reservoir, being too precisely located and meticulously constructed to be a lake. We're taking numerous photos. My camera, for a change, is being well-behaved, although I can't seem to get a shot of the sky the way I want it. A bank of cloud sits dramatically upon the horizon, perched above a TV station - the impressive aerial jutting skywards like an enormous antenna (which it is, I suppose), and the sun struggles through the black and grey while power lines dance in the wind. It looks beautiful and I'm frustrated that I won't be able to capture it on camera.
"Just one more? Please?"
"Where do you want me?"
"I can't walk over those stones dressed like this!"
She finds another way round, and stands, arms across chest, clasping at herself. "I'm wearing a skirt and sandals. Please can I get in the car now?"
I realise I'm being obsessive, and so I click the shutter.
Go back a day or so: the road into Blackburn. The M6 toll, to be precise. The most enjoyable motorway experience ever: practically deserted, with eighty MPH all the way along the smoothest road imaginable - smooth and glitch-free, as if only laid three days ago. We paid two pounds for the privilege but I coughed up willingly. It won't last, but it will be fun while it does.
We reached Blackburn at about half past four, checked in and then I went to find a cashpoint while Emily examined jewellery and outfits with various other spods. The earlier rain had cleared away, and the air was dry and fresh. As I passed the church on my left I came across an elderly lady who had evidently just left her house; she wore a beige anorak and looked excited.
"They've doon it," she addressed me in broad Lancashire. "Last
minute. They've doon it!" Realising it was ten to five I realised she must
be talking about football, and tried to think which team she was talking about.
The answer was obvious, really. "They're stayin' oop! I were reet worried. 'Cause, yer know, they got thrashed by United last time."
"Well," I said, drawing on what little I did know of the sport, "if you catch United on one of their good days, they're unbeatable."
"Not today, though! Last minute. Looks laaake they'll stay oop now. Ah reckon. Ah'm nowt worryin' no more."
"So you'll be celebrating tonight, then!"
"'Spect so, yeah!"
I left her to it and wondered down the road. When I returned five minutes later she hadn't advanced a step, but was instead telling the story to another passer-by. I wonder if she's still there.
I'm not sure how to describe the wedding. I heard the words 'Pagan' and 'Christian Wicca' mentioned within the space of two minutes by various people; I'm sure that someone can help me be specific. It was a beautiful, cloudless evening by the time we reached the reputedly haunted Samlesbury hall, "set", as the website informs me, "in thirty acres of beautiful grounds". The ceremony itself took place on a lawn surrounded by trees and shrubs as the sun began to sink; the rain was nothing but a dim memory by now - nature's attempts to clean things up in time for the visitors.
The bride and groom stood in a circle formed almost entirely of sweets. The idea was that everyone would remove a sweet and therefore take some of the sacred nature of the occasion away with them. Beware: this product may contain nuts. A sizeable broom formed the gateway. Vows were exchanged, promises made, and then Kit and George jumped over the broom into their new married life together. Someone - I forget who - asked when the Quidditch match started.
It was lovely, to be honest. I have no idea what religious beliefs - if any - Kit and George have, but I have far more respect for people who are willing to be a little different, as opposed to those who get married in a church purely because it's the done thing, and not because they believe the faith-based aspects of what they're promising. It's too easy to see Christianity - any religion, come to that - as a form of life insurance, a safeguard against the proverbial lightning bolt or, worst of all, a form of bribery. God wasn't mentioned, but there was an awful lot of emphasis on love and the continuation of love. And the greatest of these is.
Our circle dissolved, and then so did the inner one as the sweets were eaten. We moved back onto the main lawn outside the hall for photos.
"Next up - geeks and spods."
"Which am I?" I asked. "Seriously. I don't know where I fall exactly."
"You could be both," someone said.
"Ah. So I'm a speek. Or possibly a god."
Everyone stood in two hastily-assembled rows on the lawn and then, just as
we were ready, they dashed out to get tux, who took pride of place near the
"Hang on," said Rik. "Did we just wait for a penguin? 'Cause if that's the case, I'm doing some banning later."
A whirlwind of assorted spods inside the hall, some of whom I knew, some I
didn't. We laughed at John's best man speech, and the occasional heckler.
"When the phone calls from George stopped, I assumed one of two things. Either he was in some way incapacitated so as to render it impossible for him to use the phone, or he was happy."
A shout from Colin: "Or both!"
I'm making copious mental notes; I have to be Ewan's best man in a few months.
Kit and George stood by the speakers, arms outstretched, hands elegantly clasped - classic ballroom pose - for their first dance. The DJ flipped a switch...and they immediately broke away and began to headbang as the guitar grew ominously in the background, accompanied by an energetic drum fill. I know this one...don't tell me, I know it...
"EV'RY NIGHT I GRAB SOME MONEY AND I GO DOWN TO THE BAR,
I GOT MY BUDDIES AND A BEER, I GOT A DREAM - I NEED A CAR...."
Oh, you have got to be kidding me. I might have guessed it. As George said later, "Dead Ringer For Love" is now forever their song. Meatloaf's gloriously over the top, but also romantic as hell, so it was an inspired choice.
The rest of the evening was a heady mixture of gin, hotpot and dancing. It
was nice to see so many people I knew and meet the new ones. I caught up with
Martin in the gent's. "The lovely thing about Mono," I said, "is
that there's so much emphasis on facetime. Because, unless you just happen to
find it, you usually join because you know someone who's already on there."
"Exactly," he said, "so there's already that personal connection."
"What's more," I went on, "the chances are that you've met - through that person you know - someone else who they know who also happens to be on Mono. So it's a network. And it's not merely a question of building complex online personas who become the 'real you'. It's about meeting up with people and forming personal relationships. It's a BBS but with a difference."
The irony is that there are probably many other boards like Mono around the country of which we know nothing due to their similarly private nature. The great Norm said a while back that we take Mono too seriously, and he may well be right. And I appreciate that I may have joined in its waning period, where it's less prolific than it once was and - hushed tones - Not As Good As It Used To Be, depending on whom you speak to.
But I never fail to tell anyone that Em and I met "on the internet", spoken in slightly pretentious and intentionally geeky tones - proof that it actually *works* and a refreshing change from the conventional tabloid sob stories: Swedish supermodel turns out to be a fifty-year-old Wisconsin sewage worker, and so on. Mono's a means rather than an end in itself, and for that I am grateful. I'll tell anyone who'll listen that it's weddings that tend to make me appreciate my other half all the more: a hushed anticipation of our own, perhaps, or merely the sight of two people telling the rest of the world how much they love each other. In any case, my arms would never be long enough to hold her the way I wanted to, no words would fit, no camera would do her beauty justice, and - most of all - she'd never really know, despite my best efforts, how truly special she was.
So I gave up trying, and kissed her gently and visited the bar for more drinks. At 11:30 we went back to the hotel and sat with the others for an hour, watchin Sian cry "Want chicken! Must have CHICKEN!" God knows how many times, before collapsing into bed and taking a long, leisurely drive back through Yorkshire the next day - the details of which, I think, I'll save for the next entry. I leave you for the moment with the mental image of Emily and I, along with various others, gathered by the disco equipment, doing the sand dance to "Walk Like An Egyptian" - a piece of music that she can't stand but that she (somewhat begrudgingly) danced to, because I wanted her to. And next month I shall be camping and attending a beer festival - something that I wouldn't have even considered a year ago. The things we do for love.
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