Aisle Altar Hymn
"There are no two people," I said, "who I'd rather be with this morning."
It was pushing 9:30, and Dave and I were sitting in the Skeets' kitchen, cappuccinos nested like sentinels around the breakfast cutlery, warm croissants piled at the other end of the table. Tom, a happy bundle of life, played with a spoon and everything else that was within reach. Holly and Jon sat with us, sharing a few quiet minutes before the festivities began. Dave and I had risen early and waved Emily off. I had a moment with the cat, explaining that we would be away for a while as he lounged on the Tibetan rug, a wedding present from Emily's godmother but a gift we're both convinced that the cat believes we got for him.
The early sun had shone through the clouds and stood as a good omen for what would turn out to be a rainless day, and even though the brilliant clear blue skies that I'd hoped for never really materialised, I was thankful. Now we sat in the kitchen and gazed out at squirrels. Tom smiled; something he does a lot lately. Being with Holly and Jon on the morning of the wedding, after all the whining that they had to put up with for two and a half years when I talked about my love life, seemed oddly circular.
We left the house to get things done. I rang Direct Line, to try and get my
father onto my insurance for a week.
"Does your father have a full clean driving license?"
"Has he been a UK citizen for at least three years."
"Does he have any convictions?"
"Has he had any claims in the last two years?"
"None that I know of."
"Well, you'll need to ring him and ask him," said the processing clerk.
"Well, you didn't say 'no'. You said 'none that I know of'."
"Didn't I sound pretty sure to you?"
"Not really. And the calls *are* recorded. You'll need to ring him."
"Yes, but he doesn't have any claims. I know that for a fact."
"You don't sound sure enough to me, and I can't process - "
"Listen to me very carefully," I said, about to lose my patience. "I get married in, like, two hours. This is really not something I want to have to deal with right at this moment. Can't you just take my word that he has no claims and accept that it was just the way you chose to interpret what I said?"
"No, sir, I can't."
I hung up the phone, adding "Thank you, die soon" under my breath. I waited for one minute - time enough to fake a phone call to my father - and then called them back, managing to get it sorted out this time with no problems. Well, honestly.
An hour and a half later we were more or less ready: the hall was assembled, button holes were sorted out and the guests were arriving. I was sitting in the vestry with Jon. It was Ann's idea, and it was a good one: it meant that I didn't have to worry about running round talking to everyone who was arriving (in the absence of Emily, who would have split the workload with me), and it also meant I got some quality time with Jon.
"You seem remarkably composed," he said, with the same smile he wore
for most of the day. I'd just been explaining the contents of the diary entry
I'd written that morning - the confused, mumbling monologue about nervousness
and panic. I stretched, and leaned back in my chair.
"I'm just good at holding it in. You should have seen me this morning. You know what I'm like before concerts. I know that it'll all be fine, but nothing that anyone can say or do is going to convince me of that - I'm too busy worrying about what will go wrong."
"It'll all be fine today, of course."
"I know it will. And like I said, I'm not worried about what I'm doing - it seems the most natural thing in the world. We've been more or less married for the past eight months anyway."
We were silent for a moment or two.
"Any advice, Jon?"
He thought for a moment. "I'd just say this - never let the sun set on your anger."
"I try not to do that. If we argue I like to make things up before we go to sleep. It's easier to get through the night that way."
Ann was outside in the church, so Jon and I killed some time by trying to find
as many inappropriate wedding hymns as possible. I'd mostly come up with hackneyed
cliché - 'Fight The Good Fight' and what have you - but he'd just found
'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Forgive Our Foolish Ways' when the door opened.
"I don't want to worry you," said the minister as she swept into the room with her robes trailing behind, "but it's just before twelve, and the bridesmaids aren't here yet. But don't panic."
I glanced at my watch, and then said "I'm not panicking. That family's always late."
A few minutes passed before Ann appeared again, and while I still wasn't yet panicking, a slight worrying sensation had started to form - not worry that she had experienced a sudden change of heart; just concern that something had happened. I started thinking about weddings in Neighbours, and how the bride was nearly always late, while the groom paces the floor outside the church and declares "She's not comin', mate" to his long-suffering best man at least a hundred times. But the next time our minister opened the door to the vestry, she smiled and said "Are you ready?".
We opened the door. The church was more or less full. I got glimpses of people but nothing too concrete; it's a short walk from the vestry to the front pew and there wasn't time to take anything in. Gathered at the back I could see her in the vestibule, and we traded smiles as David began 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring'.
It's strange that as I write this, over three weeks later, I'm somehow reliving it; experiencing as if for the first time the knotted stomach, the nerves and intensity and overwhelming excitement. The moment when she appeared at the top of the aisle is one that I think I'll carry with me for the rest of my days; that thrilled anticipation and, finally, the glimpse of beauty. I will not even start to describe the dress - those of you who were there saw it plenty of times and those of you who weren't can see it in the pictures. Suffice to say that I've seen Emily looking truly gorgeous on plenty of occasions, and this one topped them all. I can recall leaning over to Jon and whispering "This must be the wrong church. That's no one I know."
Following my intended were her bridesmaids, including a barely recognisable
Alice, and then an immaculate Benedict. Emily straightened herself up, and I
leaned over to her and whispered "You look fantastic."
She smiled, and whispered back."I've forgotten my glasses..."
First hymn: Great Is Thy Faithfulness. "And the piano sounds like a carnival". It was my Grandmother's favourite; that's not the only reason we chose it but it helped. I looked up through the window and could imagine her smiling down, although she'd probably have said that my brother's hair was too short. (It is, really. He is always getting frisked when he enters nightclubs, and Elisabeth commented that he looked like an Italian footballer.)
We had the legal declarations, Emily replying with an emphatic, resounding "I *am*!" that drew more than a few comments. Later, she proclaimed "This is my solemn vow" while managing to look as far from solemn as I'd ever seen her. I, on the other hand, was doing strange things with my eyebrows and nodding like the Churchill dog whenever I opened my mouth. Readings from Beth and Kirsten. Ann leads us through the vows - "Just say what I say," she'd told us at the rehearsal, "and, if we have to, we'll take it one word at a time". We were done: "I now declare that they are husband and wife. It has long been a tradition to seal this vow with a kiss - you may now kiss the bride".
We worked on the kiss. 'Appropriately restrained but passionate' was the original approach, but the kiss turned into a hug and then the hug became a nuzzle, which went on during the applause and cheering. I was, at this point, just about holding it together. I glanced over at Jon, and saw his eyes were shining. Mentally I jumped back three years to the day I mentioned that I'd wanted him as my best man; the Harvest Supper 2001 to be precise. He was touched but sceptical, noting that "Various people make these sorts of promises but it never actually leads to anything. What about your brother?". My brother, as it turned out, didn't mind in the least, pointing out that he probably wouldn't have picked me as his best man. We're pretty close but run in different circles.
"Please try not to step on my dress," my new bride said to me as we walked up to sign the register. She had good reason for the chastisement: I'd just trodden on it. I make no real apologies for this; the train was all over the floor and it was difficult to avoid it, particularly in a confined space. While we were doing the legal bit, Annie was singing 'I Believe in Springtime', a light and fluffy and very pleasant piece that was typical John Rutter. I glanced round the church, trying to pick out familiar faces, of whom there were plenty. I made eye contact with Matt, one of my oldest friends, and he smiled.
I stood next to Em for the final hymn. "I just got married," she
"What a coincidence," I replied. "So did I."
We came down the aisle to the theme from Octopussy. It was that or Elton John, but 'All Time High' has particular connotations for both of us, and it's a little more rhythmic and makes for a more straightforward recession. I'd burnt a CD of possible exit music and we'd decided on the Rita Coolidge some months ago. (I still think that my other choice, Abba's 'I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do' , was a darned good one.) In the lobby people were starting to shuffle downstairs for the group photo; I witnessed my old Religious Studies teacher, who as I may have mentioned is Louise's fiance's aunt. Small World After All. She was light on the gesticulations front this afternoon, but it was nice to see her.
After the group photo at the front of the church (which broke all fire regulations but which nonetheless looks quite impressive), Em and I managed to escape to the park across the road where the official photos were due to take place. This largely involved adopting a fixed grin for about an hour, which calls to mind the very first episode of Friends, in which a just-got-laid Monica remarks "I can't stop smiling". The tag, from just-left-Barry-at-the-altar Rachel is "I know. You look like you slept with a hanger in your month". We had this down to a tee: refreshments were served in the church hall while the photos were taking place, and people were summoned to and from the various locations by the ushers, who were equipped with walkie-talkies to eliminate the need for unnecessary legwork.
As you might expect, it wasn't quite that simple, and we wound up doing things in a slightly different order than we'd anticipated, but somehow almost everyone got photographed. My brother, over in the hall, used the megaphone I'd loaned him to get the attention of waiting guests when they were required for shots. When we watched the video, we found a scene with him reading off names from a list, in a manner reminiscent of the Water Rat telling the Mole the contents of his picnic hamper: "Roland Uzzell Christine Uzzell Rebekah Uzzell Jennifer Uzzell Abigail Uzzell Benjamin Uzzell Ray Hatton Chris Hatton Ann Barton David Barton Annie Owen James Owen Alice Owen John Dimmock Jenny Dimmock Richard Lownsbrough Ruth Lownsbrough Sarah Lownsbrough Rachel Lownsbrough Matthew Lownsbrough Barrie Davies Jacqui Davies Beth Davies Oli Davies - well, just anyone from Tilehurst church, really."
The official group shots were finished, and Em decided that she wanted to go on the swings. Cue a frantic dash across the grass, shoeless, the photographer moving at the speed of light to get there in time to photograph her in mid trot. Surrounded by spods, we were pushed on the swings, before assembling an impromptu balcony scene by the slide; Juliet waiting for her Verona lover. Then to the climbing frame, and finally the tyre swing, her dress now containing several mud stains and a small rip, her face grimy with oil from the chain when we'd leaned in for a kiss. See Emily Play. Only with a bunch of spods could you have this much innovation.
It was tremendous fun, but Richard wanted some serious shots before we left, so we did those and then headed across to the church. On the way we bumped into Amy Maisey, nee Attewell. To say that Amy was a childhood sweetheart would be to exaggerate somewhat; suffice to say that she was my first crush, and it lasted for about eight or nine years, and was never returned. There was an odd circularity in having her turn up, however briefly. Eloise smiled at us from the pushchair.
Outside the church we were pelted with confetti before managing to clamber into the Mercedes. Matthew gunned the engine and took us down the drive, as Max Bygraves pelted out from the speaker. "I thought that this might be appropriate," he said. "It's from a compilation of children's songs - one of those nostalgia things."
"You're a pink toothbrush, I'm a blue toothbrush,
Won't you marry me in haste?
I'll be true toothbrush, just to you toothbrush,
When we both use the same toothpaste.."
It was my father's CD, actually, but I made a mental note to get hold of a
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