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U3A Writing: Weddings

…The ceremony was a lovely blur. My main memory is of standing next to Jim and thinking that he seemed much taller than I remembered. On looking down, I discovered that he was wearing some ginger-coloured bell-bottoms with suede platform soled shoes with quite high Cuban heels. This was topped with a maroon belted suede jacket and later, as we drove away, a deer-stalker hat…

Liz Robison recalls her wedding day. Do watch out for Liz’s regular column in Open Writing, A Potter’s Moll.

By 5pm we were at Loch Lomond. The date was June 1973 and we had been married at Leeds Registry Office at 8.45 am that morning. The reception back at my flat in Headingly, catered for by my Mum and me, was almost literally a wedding breakfast.

It all happened so fast! We had intended getting married in July but they were fully booked then. However there was a cancellation on that June morning and as the following week was half term, we went for it, even though it left us with only a week to prepare everything.

Jim was living and teaching in Wetherby and by great good fortune some friends from USA who were travelling in Europe were here, also, so the ‘best man’ problem was solved. He also took Jim shopping for wedding clothes in a boutique (then a very new concept) in Wetherby, of which, more later.

Meanwhile, in Leeds, I made a wedding cake – Victoria sponge with jam and butter-cream in the middle, iced in white and shakily decorated with a cochineal heart and ‘Liz and Jim’ in spidery writing. Good job they were both short names – I never was much of a cake decorator. My mum came over on the Thursday and with a friend we spent Friday making trifles and sausage rolls.

I think I must have taken the day off work because I can also remember going down to Leeds on the bus to buy a wedding dress. This was in the days of maxi-skirts, so this dress was quite suitable for the plain wedding that I wanted – long cream crepe with short brown polka dot sleeves and long tie belt at the back. It cost £4.99.

Various relatives arrived in relays – one sister and her husband slept in the back of a van in the driveway. On the Saturday morning my brother dropped other relatives off at the registry office and then came to pick me up in his Hillman Imp.

The ceremony was a lovely blur. My main memory is of standing next to Jim and thinking that he seemed much taller than I remembered. On looking down, I discovered that he was wearing some ginger-coloured bell-bottoms with suede platform soled shoes with quite high Cuban heels. This was topped with a maroon belted suede jacket and later, as we drove away, a deer-stalker hat.

Outside afterwards there were jollifications, congratulations, hugs and laughter. Then I remember Mum saying, ‘Where has Jim gone? We need to get the sausage rolls in the oven.’ With that there was the throaty roar of a sports car engine and Jim drove round the corner driving a bright red Lotus 7 top-down sports car. I was gob-smacked. I knew he was interested in the car but I did not know that he had bought it the week before. One of my friends said, ‘I think your three-bedroom semi has just arrived!’

Well, it felt marvellous driving up The Headrow and back to Headingley on that bright sunny morning. We stopped to offer a flower to a policeman who said he was not allowed to accept gifts but relented when I said that we’d just got married, and tucked an iris into his tunic pocket.

In those days there was no wedding industry as there is today, evening do’s were unknown as were hen nights. All of which explains why we were up in Scotland by teatime.

Another wedding I remember with great affection was that of my god-daughter in a little village chapel in South Wales 16 years ago. The bridegroom’s mother was also the organist and she was so excited as the bride arrived that she could do little more than rummage around in ‘Here Comes the Bride’. At the same time the women of the village who had come to observe rose as one to peer over the balcony as Sian came down the aisle with her Dad.

Last year we attended a very different wedding, that of Sian’s sister. The wedding industry had swung into action with a vengeance in the intervening years and while everything about this wedding was lovely, it was also lavish, extravagant and stage-managed. The service was in the beautiful Norman church at Adel in Leeds and on a very cold but sunny late February day it was very appealing to walk along the path to the arched doorway with spring bulbs beginning to show alongside.

The reception was in Wetherby at a hotel geared exclusively to weddings, where many people stayed the night or the weekend. Everything was beautiful but I kept thinking of the expense – for example all the chair backs (100 of them were decorated with fresh roses and silk bows.)

Two funny things that stand out in my memory: one was the best man’s assertion that this was a love match, pure and simple – the bride was pure and the groom had always been a bit simple! After the reception there was to be a Ceilidh but we really could not stay late because as I explained to the bride-groom’s Irish Uncle Michael, we had a very old dog at home. To which he replied: ‘That’s a terrible way to talk about yer mother.’

Last year also saw the wonderful (second) wedding of my brother. It was what the bride called a bog-standard wedding – no hats, no flowers, no frills, but it was such a lovely, joyous occasion – one of the highlights of the year. The ceremony took place at the Registry Office at Moreton in Marsh in the Cotswolds. I was privileged to be asked to read a poem.

I chose a 300-year-old one by a woman called Anne Bradstreet and called ‘To my dear and loving husband’. As we processed from there to the Redesdale Arms on the other side of the market place for lunch, one of my brother’s friends from our Merseyside childhood said to me: ‘That was great that poem. What did you do? Did you Google ‘Love’?

As the oldest remaining member of our family, I made a little speech, mainly to convey our grandfather’s advice to brides:

Treat your husband like a dog –
Feed him well, brush his coat –
And let him off the lead now and again.

Last summer saw us in Dumfries for the wedding of an old friend. The close family went to Gretna for the ceremony while everyone else gathered in the village hall to greet them on their return. The wonderful feature of this wedding was the feeling of community. The bride’s friends had advertised in the village shop for garden flowers from any one in the village so the hall was decorated with buddleia, dahlias, penstemons, lupins, nasturtiums etc and the bride’s bouquet was honeysuckle.

A farmer who we sat next to at the reception had loaned a field for tents and caravans and when we arrived it had begun to rain, so it was a funny sight to see tents bulging and wobbling as people tried to get dressed in their wedding clothes. Even funnier was to see men in kilts emerge from the tents on their hands and knees. And kilts are fabulous at Ceilidhs.

On another level, I am something of a professional wedding-goer, as the choir I sing with is often asked to perform at weddings. This happens often at Flockton Church as our conductor is the organist there. We get a very privileged view of the proceedings from the choir stalls so we can view the outfits of arriving guests, the nervousness of the bridegroom as he waits with the best man, and also a great view of the bride, father and bridesmaids arriving.

Everyone gets twitchy when the bride is late – on one occasion the wedding car had got stuck behind a tractor and on another, the bride had forgotten her bouquet and they had to go back for it.

Sometimes there’s an unintentionally comic dimension. We sang at one wedding which had been postponed twice as the bride was giving birth. When the ceremony finally took place, the choir arrived at the back door of the church to find the bridegroom and the best man sharing a bottle of champagne in the graveyard – from the bottle.

The two offspring were bridesmaids – one a child in arms clutching a teddy bear and the other a stroppy 4-year-old who arrived at the front of the church only to declare: ‘I’m not stopping here,’ and suiting the action to the word, she took off down the aisle. The bride was somewhat overcome when taking her vows, but most of the congregation were shielded from the fact that she mopped her tears and nose with her veil!

Looking back you realise that the way we celebrate weddings has infinite permutations and how you choose to wed reflects not only your own beliefs and tastes but also the historical period in which you live and the fashions of the day.


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