Reflections from a hotel in Winterbourne
To Bristol, for Ewan's wedding. We stayed overnight in a B&B on the outskirts of Chipping Sodbury. We'd arrived not long after seven, following a slightly treacherous drive along a rain-drenched M4, and checked in at the pub across the road. The house itself was owned by the landlord, but was deserted when we took up our weekend luggage: lights illuminated in the back room, plates laid for invisible guests, bedroom doors ajar revealing freshly laundered sheets and newly-pressed towels, but no visible signs of life. It was like arriving in a ghost town where all the inhabitants had mysteriously disappeared, and I recalled the scene at the beginning of The Subtle Knife, where Will and Lyra have their first meeting in the deserted Mediterranean town of Citigazze.
The next morning dawned bright, if somewhat cloudy, but there was no sign of the previous day's rain. We'd prayed for decent weather and it seemed we had it. I'd prayed for my sore eye to be fixed, and it was. Now all we needed was for the bride to turn up, and we'd be laughing. As it turned out, she was early. The implication here is that she couldn't wait to be married to Ewan, which is a concept that has long since baffled me, tell you the truth, but I do remember feeling a sense of relief as the decorated bridal car swung into the stony ground by the chapel. I caught a glimpse of Heather on the back seat, and then wandered back inside. 'More Than Words' clicked to a close, and then the ceremony began properly.
It was a lovely service, really. The local pastor delivered a lengthy (by wedding standards) address on the true nature of love, and the only gatecrasher was an irritating wasp that buzzed around the bride and groom for a few minutes, before settling inside the pastor's robes. Ewan sat, eyes darting to and fro urgently, his position within view of the entire congregation preventing him from moving to swat the thing. We got up for the next hymn: a sweeping, lush arrangement of Amazing Grace, all quivering organs and powerhouse brass, arranged - as were all the musical numbers - by the groom. I squeezed Emily's hand, and whispered "seven weeks", which I don't think she heard. The newly-married couple left the church and roared down the path with the strains of Ride of the Valkyries echoing from the BMW's CD player. As they left, I shouted after them "Can't you ever do anything *normal*?"
The reception was held in a hotel a few miles away, along winding forest roads, in the village of Winterbourne. We arrived not long before Ewan and Heather, who chose to drive up to the car park to the strains of Brian May's rendition of Here Comes The Bride. I had given up rolling my eyes by this point, and went off to find alcohol, quickly.
My speech was well-received, I think. People seemed to like it. The focus unconsciously shifted throughout the creative process: it was a question of finding appropriate stories. It's too easy to get up and tell dirty jokes and hope that they go down well - but I suspect that as the audience were predominantly Christian it's probably good, in hindsight, that I didn't take this approach. Death on stage would have almost certainly followed - so you're left with the prospect of telling clean, family-friendly anecdotes.
This is all very well, but there really aren't many family-friendly stories as far as Ewan is concerned. So I was left with the time in Germany that he filmed Andy Thomas taking a shower, his first attempts at Christian metal, and the time that he tried to set me up with nice-but-dim Sonia. I told these stories, and then shifted focus: it became a declaration of Christian love as an example to all, and I think that it was this that caused the most impact. In what may be an indication of the fact that I can't really write comedy, the biggest laugh I got came courtesy of a stolen joke:
"Even though I don't know Heather very well, the time we have spent together has left me with nothing but favourable impressions, and I believe that I can speak with some authority when I tell my friend - as if he didn't know it already - that his new bride really is quite a catch. I think you'll all agree that in marrying Heather, Ewan's landed himself with someone who is not only gorgeous, but intelligent, sophisticated, trustworthy, organised, and a fundamentally decent person. And in return, Heather got...."
"Well, Heather got Ewan."
First dance: something I'd never heard of. Second dance: Fields of Gold. Long since a favourite. The DJ asked people to join the married couple. As best man I thought that she and I had a responsibility to start it off. Besides that, it's a lyric that, for me at least, has been searching for an appropriate dedication for years - I've always loved the song but have not (until relatively recently) had the chance to sing it to anyone. Finding this opportunity on that Saturday evening should have been a fairly commonplace event - I sing to Emily on regular occasions - but as it was, the evening's romantic atmosphere, and perhaps the alcohol, seemed to fill my heart fit to burst.
"I've never made promises lightly
and there have been some that I've broken
but I swear, in the days still left
we will walk in fields of gold."
There was much drinking. The Hackett family are still crazy. We danced the night away to - well, Dance The Night Away. The DJ was largely a disaster: he knew the records, but had no concept of sequencing or structure, choosing to follow floor-fillers like Dancing Queen with those god awful 60s medleys. Someone asked for the Beatles: he played the Chaka Demus and Pliers version of Twist & Shout and then, as the floor emptied, acknowledged his mistake with the words "Well, I guess they just don't sing it like Lennon and McCartney did". Later in the evening, the unmistakeable voice of a popular Canadian bimbo filled the air with the dirge-like Think Twice, and he announced "We've had a request for some Celine Dion..."
Yes, fine. Leaving aside the utter inappropriateness of the song's use at a sodding wedding reception given its title, let's look at the bigger picture - if you have a request for Celine Dion, you don't play it. You say you have none with you, and if that involves lying, it's a minor sin that will be more than compensated for by the avoidance of the aural punishment that Ms Dion brings. What was worse was that no one was going to admit that they'd actually asked for the record, choosing instead to linger by the dancefloor, before about two and a half minutes into the song one elderly couple gave in and decided to give it a go.
I stood there, watching them, and I was reminded of the scene in The Wedding Singer when Adam Sandler realises that he can't possibly let Drew Barrymore get to Las Vegas and marry the Don Johnson-worshipping creep that she seems destined to wed. The moment of truth comes at an anniversary party, when Sandler is watching one of his elderly piano pupils serenade her husband with a cracked, but well-meant rendition of 'Til There Was You. The couple embrace, and Barrymore's reverberated voice echoes through Sandler's head: "I guess it's just someone that I could imagine growing old with".
It's no secret that I fell in love with Emily on the day of Andy's wedding last year - it was in the midst of a ceilidh that I realised I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life. And it's therefore appropriate that weddings have a special meaning for the two of us: a chance to look at where we are, and where we're going. I glanced over at her, and then back to the elderly couple, waltzing elegantly to music that really demanded more of a slow shuffle, but nonetheless managing to look suitably stylish. And I looked at Ewan and Heather, newly married, genuinely in love and ready to build a life together. And I thought about all of us fifty years on, wrinkled and fragile but still together, adourned with bus passes and callouses and old furniture, and still in love. And I relished the prospect.
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