Sunday, 7th November 2004.

The world according to...

(And, of course, I'm not writing about the election. It depresses me. I suspect, somehow, that a lot of the protest singers were secretly hoping for a Bush victory; their output is generally more prolific - not to mention interesting - when the Republicans are in the Oval Office. But enough speculation. I am going to write about the reception instead.)

We got to the Comfort Inn not long after we'd left the church. The car park was quietly full, and a throng of guests lingered in the lobby, drinking Bucks Fizz from a nearby table. You can't talk to everyone, even if you try. I got round to Sharon and George; Matt, Mike and Matt; my old next-door neighbours. We glimpsed a newly slim Heather, barely recognisable. (That sounds awful!)

Mr Hutchinson announced that they were running half an hour behind. This was by no means a problem, but when I asked why, he divulged that it was because "There's no mains gas here; we have it all in bottles".
"Yes. It's not often a problem, as long as you plan. Having said that, I remember not long after I'd started working here, and I had a call on my mobile one evening while I was on the motorway, on my way up here for a function. And they said 'Hugh, we've run out of gas'. And I said 'What do you mean, run out?'."
"But you've got it sorted now?"
"Certainly; it just means starting a bit later."

Cue the learning of a valuable lesson: when you're planning a wedding, leave more time than you need. The pressure is on you to use a tight timescale. There are good reasons for this: it's easy to become hungry if you leave it too long before eating, and people get bored standing around for hours at a time with nothing to do. But to construct a precise itinerary with little room for breathing space is simply asking for trouble, because it doesn't allow for the inevitable slip-ups and delays. If you leave more time than you think you need, you don't have to trim or chop or hurry. As such, our ceremony was ten minutes late starting, the photographs overran and we sat down to eat half an hour later than planned. And we rarely - if ever - felt rushed or hurried, and were able to enjoy the day at a leisurely pace.

The line-up was a good chance to at least say hello to everyone, however briefly, and once we were seated Ann rose to say grace. Unfortunately no one had allowed for the fact that we had piped music through the speakers in the function room, which meant that our minister had to deliver her declaration of appreciation and spiritual togetherness above the soaring strains of "Love Is In The Air". It wasn't too bad from our position at the top table, but I know that those who were sitting near the speakers had trouble keeping a straight face.

We managed to circulate round pretty much every table before the desert arrived; Mr Hutchinson arrived to inform us that they had somehow run out of tarts, presumably because some people had forgotten that they actually ordered cheesecake. I glanced anxiously towards the door, in search of a bearded, white-robed figure who could perform a minor miracle for all his followers, but seeing as Gandalf was nowhere to be found, we had to manage.

The food finished and Mr Knight rose to deliver his speech, which consisted largely of semi-embarrassing stories about Emily, quotes from Winnie the Pooh and an anecdote about the time he and Mrs Knight had conducted a group of concertgoers in an impromptu 'Jerusalem' on the way back from Proms in the Park, as they were passing King's Cross. "And going by King's Cross is a good idea. Whenever you're struggling, just remember the time the King of the universe hung on the Cross of the world, and remember what he did."

After Mrs Knight's poem - a warning against leaving the bathroom door unlocked - it was my turn.
"My wife and I..."
Applause, cheering.
"Thank you."
Sits down; reappears with Emily, who takes over.
"As James was saying, my wife and I..."

Toasts for the bridesmaids and Benedict. Then came Jon. I can't remember everything he said, which for my own sake is probably not a bad thing. Suffice to inform you he wasn't as embarrassing as I'd feared. Let me give you an example: "You must have heard about James' friend the water tower - you've been colouring the pictures - and the fact that whenever they drove past it they had to wave. And then there was the imaginary cat. And the time that James had a tantrum in the local supermarket because his mother wouldn't buy any food for said cat. But I myself have been mistaken for an imaginary friend in my time, because friends whom James has had for years who happen to have never met me have started to doubt my existence. Where's Mike?"

Out of the corner of my eye I thought I could see Mike. He appeared to be shrinking slightly in his seat.
"I'm real, Mike!"

Mike told me later that he wasn't embarrassed, just worried that Jon was going to make him stand up. Such was the nature of my best man's speech - mildly humiliating, but never too much so, even when he told everyone about the drunken message that I sent him after one of Kirsten's parties, reading "Hurrah! Pissed as a fart. I love everyone!" Instead, he stuck to quiet and good-natured ribbing, conceding that "there's no point in embarrassing James too much, because he does it so much better himself.

"As to the advice given to Emily and James by Mr Knight, I'd just like to comment on one of his points. Never mind 'occasionally reverting to childish ways' - I can't help thinking that occasionally reverting to adult ways might be more sensible. Like, for example, when you're filling in your tax return." (At this point I thought I heard Mrs Knight saying "Oh, so that's where we've been going wrong...")

Jon continued, saying various things about how I don't have a competitive bone in my body (which got a smile from my father, who knows full well that I inherited that from him). I think he made eighteen minutes in total, which perhaps undermined his point about the length of my online diary (55 000 words, and counting). But he didn't drag and didn't say anything untoward - all things considered I think I got off pretty lightly.

We were all chatting afterwards about Winnie the Pooh. "My favourite scene," said Jon to Mr Knight, "is arguably the one where Pooh and Piglet are chatting, and Piglet asks Pooh what's the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up. And Pooh replies "'What's for breakfast?' What about you, Piglet?" And Piglet replies, 'Well, I think - what new and exciting things are going to happen today?". And Pooh says 'It's the same thing.'"

I caught up with the band in the hotel lobby, and explained we were running a little behind. We managed to do the first set of open mic items before we did everything else. Five of the girls from church sang 'The Rose' - a beautiful, a capella rendition that more than made up for the apple pie bed that they left in our hotel room. Annie took to the stage and performed 'S'wonderful', long since a favourite of mine. Finally, Jon got up and read out the answers to the quiz we'd given out: embarrassing stories from childhood, with the participants asked to guess whether said incident had happened to Emily or to James.

Besides the cat, there was:

- Emily's childhood friends, Salary and Coreen
- My fear of giant tortoises (I don't care; tortoises shouldn't be that big)
- Emily standing in the (full) potty, reciting nursery rhymes
- My fear of the Hunny Monster (all right, I can't account for that one)
- Emily's impromptu concert during a hospital visit to her Grandmother, in which she had a ward of old ladies playing percussion instruments
- My expulsion from Sunday School (at the ripe old age of three)

Last question: who will be the most embarrassed by this quiz? This time it was my turn to shrink in my seat. It's unanimous.

We took to the floor for the first dance. I was a little taken aback to find Rita Coolidge coming out of the CD player, and then remembered that I hadn't taken it out after we'd left the church. And that the CD with the first dance music was in my pocket. I changed them over. To fill in the time, Ewan started to play the theme from The Muppets on his keyboard, much to the amusement of everyone there (particularly those who were involved in last year's Chaotic Chorus). Eventually all was resolved and we adopted the classic romantic lover's pose. I swirled her round as the unmistakeable piano introduction to Peter Cetera's 'Glory of Love' rose ominously in the background, before abruptly giving way to...Teletubbies.

Let me take you back a few months. To May, to be precise, and Kit and George's wedding. Anyone who was there will remember what happened when they had their first dance, but it wasn't until the following evening that something clicked. We were driving down the M6, listening to Cheggars' Choice - which, if you're not familiar, is a compilation album of bad records, many of which also happened to be number ones. We had just reached the Birdie Song, when Emily turned to me and said "Wouldn't it be funny to do this as our first dance?"
I smirked in reply. "Yeah."
There was a silence. Then: "We *couldn't!*"

But we thought we might. It's more fun to have an interesting first dance; people remember it. And so was born a monster. We tried some things out but it wasn't really working - at the heart of it was the notion, at least on my part, that there was no way we could really inflict such a dreadful piece of music on an unsuspecting crowd. Amusement value aside, the Birdie Song really is the pits: repetitive synthesised drivel of the lowest order, with an annoyance factor rivalled only by anything that's ever been released by J-Lo.

It wasn't until Gavin and Tor's wedding, a few months later, that the idea for having a "different" wedding song developed into something tangible. I remember the moment with vivid clarity. We were sitting in the bar in the hotel, chatting about something, when Emily suggested Teletubbies as an alternative first dance, purely on the grounds that it was more fun anyway and people would like it.

"That's a good choice," I said. "The only problem is that it's a slow beginning. It builds and builds and builds and then starts off, and we'd just have to stand there looking a bit stupid before the drums kick in. And by then all the novelty has worn off."
"Yes, I hadn't thought of that."

Pause. Light bulb.
"Hang on a second," I said, suddenly getting an idea. "What if we cheated? We start off dancing to a slow, romantic song, and then mix it so that it suddenly jumps into Teletubbies?"
"Can you do that?"
"Sure. I used to be a DJ. I got quite good at transitions between records. It's just a matter of finding the right song."

The Right Song, as it turned out, was found very quickly. It was the best kept secret of the wedding - no one knew. My biggest fear had been looking like an idiot in front of an audience that didn't see the humour. I was glad, if not surprised, to have this fear unfounded. Lots of the appeal seemed to occur as a result of Emily's expertly-timed (if not terribly well executed, at least not by me) choreography, which she'd scribbled on yellowing paper after watching an Ebay-purchased "Dance With The Teletubbies" video. And Alice Owen thought she'd come and have a dance as well.

When it was done, and we'd bellowed our last 'Eh-Oh' and were feigning sleep in each other's arms, Jon approached the microphone. "Do you see what I mean, folks? I'd just like to thank James for proving that he embarrasses himself much better than I ever could..."

And so began the ceilidh. Which was great fun. The dancefloor filled up - a little too much, actually - but despite the small space people seemed to enjoy themselves. The caller was first-rate, which was a relief as even the best ceilidh band can have their performance marred by an insubstantial caller. I danced less than I would have done on any other night, for the simple reason that you spend half your time dashing round the hall and checking that everyone is OK. But this was by no means a problem. While the first dance was going on, I checked with my father that the Teletubbies stunt hadn't led to him cutting me out of his will.

Open mic, slot two. Young child impersonates howler monkey. Andy and Kath do Emily's favourite song from Bagpuss; the one about the mice in the ballet slipper who row down the stairs of a big house in search of Stilton. My wife does her best Professor Yaffle impression in response. Mr and Mrs Knight perform - I finally get to hear 'Goodbye Horse', and then they bring forward another part song, a philosophical ditty that ruminates on the fact that "Life is but a melancholy flower". To the tune of 'Frere Jacques', then:

"Life is butter, life is butter
Melancholy flower, melancholy flower,
Life is but a melon, life is but a melon,
Cauliflower, cauliflower..."

And so on. Repeat ad nauseum. Em and I got up to do a song: it was REO Speedwagon's 'Can't Fight This Feeling', one of those overwrought ballads that you simply can't take seriously because it's so gut-wrenchingly awful. The problem lies largely in the chorus: "I can't fight this feeling anymore / I've forgotten what I started fighting for / It's time to bring this ship into the shore / and throw away the oars forever...". We got round this by exaggerating every 'or' sound with as much vigour as possible considering how late it was getting, and then adding a few of our own at the end. "We're going on holiday to Benidor / Look, it's Gavin and Tor / Woody got a thorn in his paw / Aww..." Amidst the applause, Ewan was shouting "Encore! Encore!".

Out in the lobby, my brother was talking to Matt, Mike and Matt.
"Tell me something, bruv," he said as I approached them. "Do you think the word 'gash' is rude?"
"What do you mean?"
"As in 'Let me see your gash'?"
I couldn't think of an answer to this, but just then Jon walked past.
"Jon," said Mark, "do *you* think the word 'gash' is rude?"
Jon thought for a moment, and then replied, "From what I know about you, I'm sure that you can think of ways to make it filthy..."

More dancing. We swapped partners about ten or eleven times in one number, which was great as you get to talk to loads of people. Emily spun and whirled like the fairy queen at some rural celebration of spring, and I had never felt so proud of her as I did that evening. We formed baskets with the Knights; she and I dashed up to one end of the hall, and she grabbed a slice of freshly-cut cake from the table, before dancing back to the middle waving it above her head. Even my parents were joining in.

All too soon it ended; the last dance was a frantic dash around the concentric circles of couples. It's tricky being the lead couple in such cases; it makes it harder to nip out to say goodbye to people. We'd got Clive and Linda to take our place, and managed to get back to the circle in time to join the last rotation. Things drew to a close; I paid the band and then went to get fresh air.

Hugh was propping up the bar, making notes. "Thank you for a splendid evening," I said.
"Thank *you*," he said. "Your friends are lovely."
"They've all had a really good time," I replied. "And ceilidhs are fun anyway. I was a little worried that no one would want to join in, but I'm glad that there was no need to be concerned."
"I'm a member of a rugby club," Hugh said. "And we organise barn dances. And, of course, there's always a bit of trepidation when it starts - the men don't want to join in. But by the end of the evening, of course, the floor is always full. And fun is had by all."
"It's quite simple," I told him. "Because everyone is doing the same thing - or at least trying to - no one worries about looking stupid. You feel less self-conscious when all you're doing is following instructions that everyone else is cocking up as well - you realise that there's no competition, no sense of trying to outdo the others, or shine individually. You always get one or two people who've done it before, of course - the experts - but mostly it's people blundering about having fun. And this lot are good people. The best."

I wandered back into the hall to witness my aunts in an intense discussion with Mrs Knight. Jon - who knew about the previous evening's troubles - steered me swiftly outside again. And the next thing I knew, most people had gone. You kiss and hug departing guests but five minutes later you have no idea who's gone and who remains. The whole thing passed in a whirlwind and I recalled the advice of a work colleague some days beforehand, when she said "It will just go. So enjoy it. Don't be afraid to stop and look once in a while, and see other people enjoying it." I was glad that I had done this, at least to an extent. And the photos would fill in the gaps.

An hour later, my wife and I had gone to bed, bringing to an end what I told her was "the greatest day of my life". It's funny, really - it doesn't feel like four weeks ago. Sometimes I can recall the vibrancy and colour of the day with a vividness that makes the days tumble into an abyss, and the whole thing seems like it just happened yesterday. At other times, when we're sitting at home of an evening, I'll look over at Emily and smile at the familiarity we've developed, and it's as if we've been married years. To all intents and purposes we were married for eight months before the ceremony, in all but name. We lived together knowing our future and making a start on that future - we just did the service and legal part along the way instead of at the beginning. But there is a difference, however subtle. I don't feel any less or any more for her strictly because of now being married - apart from the natural growing love that is added to on a daily basis, but that hardly comes as a result of the marriage ceremony; it would have happened anyway. Still, I feel different. A little more settled. And even happier. And that has to be a good thing.

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