I can’t really describe how I felt on the morning of our wedding. It was like nothing I had ever felt before or I expect I will ever feel again. For somebody who loves words as much as I do it’s odd to have an experience you cannot conceptualise afterwards. But for the sake of you, dearest reader, I shall try. I felt like I was seeing the world from behind the biggest pair of rose-tinted spectacles. It was like I was in the middle of the best trip of my life but there was no comedown. I felt like my blood was with champagne was bubbling through my veins. I didn’t feel blissed out, relaxed on wedding-zen like people had predicted. Instead I felt like a five year on Christmas morning who has just drunk a gallon of Ribena and was squidging a suspiciously My Little Pony shaped present. Everything was wonderful and nothing hurt.
I wake early, jumped out of bed and peer out over the grounds of the Elvetham. The sky is gray behind Elizabeth I’s oak; but it isn’t raining. Tiny triumph! I check the clock. It is 7am, seven hours to go. Too early to call anybody so I settle for sending a series of extravagantly exuberant texts to my loved ones along the lines of ‘I am getting married today!!!!!….!!!!!!’ just in case I had somehow failed to mention it over, say, the last year and a half. My mum roused by my text knock on my door and we curl up in bed together talking. Or rather she talks and I intercede every two minutes with ‘I’m getting married… TODAY’ proudly like a parrot that has learnt a new phrase. Until she leaves to go and ‘check on my sisters’. Translation: to converse with people who can say more than one thing. I settle back into bed, too hyped up to go back to sleep, and look at the clock. It is 7.12am. What am I going to do for six hours and forty five minutes?
It needs to be long and engrossing enough to occupy my attention but not completely distract me. I need comfort blanket television with a guaranteed happy ending something as familiar as the pattern of veins on the backs of my hand. I need Pride and Prejudice.
I watched Darcy say of Elizabeth that she was ‘handsome enough I suppose but not pretty enough to tempt me.’ while I lolled in the swimming pool sized bath under a mountain of bubbles. I didn’t know what the bridal suite was implying with the swimming pool sized bath but I was an almost married lady.
I watched Mr Collins’ rotund behind get out of his carriage while I scoffed my continental breakfast. From my room in the tower I could see for miles and amused myself by spying on my family eating below in the conservatory. Until I inadvertently spied on HWSNBN and couldn’t remember whether it was unlucky for me to see him or him to see me (the latter).
Then my hairdresser arrives and the morning seems to go into fast-forward. I watch Elizabeth meet Wickham as my hairdresser puts curlers in my hair. HWSNBN’s sister arrives like a knight errant delivering a love note from HSWNBN. I open it and it sprinkles heart-shaped confetti over the carpet. To my surprise I don’t cry as I read the lovely words.
He read my note at breakfast and is his sister tells me very, very nervous. Throughout the morning everybody who seems him tells me how nervous he looks and I start to worry. I, on the other hand, feel fantastic, so excited, so happy I wish I could bottle this bright sure feeling, taking sips to warm me in the future. Let me tell you, whoever ordained that the bride and groom can’t see each other on the morning of the wedding is a GENUIS. HWSNBN has to make sure everything was done downstairs, setting up video cameras, instructing ushers, and greeting guests as they arrived. I have to have my hair and make up done. I’ll take that deal.
Then our lovely photographer Jamie arrives just as the curlers were being taken out and Darcy was watching Elizabeth Bennett play the piano at Rosing’s Park. We giggle over my propensity to pose thumbs up like an eejit. ‘Get it out of your system now.’ Jamie says and I oblige grinning like a loon.
When the photos come back there is something wrong and it takes a moment for me to work it out. What’s wrong with my face? I puzzle, far more used to myself pouty, posed, half smiling. Until I realise: I was happy. Face scrunchingly, chin dippingly, teeth baringly, squinty eyed with pure happiness.
All the time this is going on my family are coming in and out of the room to have their hair done (mum and sisters) and read the paper and watch the madness from a safe distance (dad). While I fight an ongoing battle to prevent the January’s from dumping a tide wave of stuff in my pristine bridal suite.
My bouquet arrives and it is nothing like I pictured but better. It smelling like English country gardens, the floral scent of the roses undercut by the sharpness of the herbs. The powder brush pink softness of peonies contrasting beautifully with the faded vintage glamour of the amnesia roses and sweet peas. As Darcy is botching his proposal to Lizzie, my lovely aunt and cousin come to give me a present. My mum has lent me my grandma’s gold locket with pictures of her and my grandfather which I’ve pinned to my bouquet. My aunt gives me a land army badge that used to belong to my dad’s mum Hilda. It is perfectly Hilda and now I have something from both sides of the family to pin to my bouquet.
It is 12pm and I still haven’t cried. Which must be breaking all sorts of records and if I were a betting women would have lost me lots of money. Then my best friend Debs arrives to do my make up and bringing a letter from my friend Lianne, who wasn’t able to make it. Clever lady that she is, she gives it to me to read before she does my make up and I cry. Inside the hand knitted pouch by Lianne’s mum Carole is a heart shaped necklace and don’t dream it be it pendant engraved with a quote from our favourite movie Don’t Dream it be it. A hour or so later just before going downstairs I try to wrap it round my bouquet. But my hands have stopped working now. In a panic I shove it down my bra. Lianne who taught me the two bra technique in college (‘One to lift and one to separate’) would approve.
As Debs does my make-up I graze nervously at the complimentary fruit platter the hotel sent up for me. Did I say how my venue was the best? As my mum decides she needs her make-up doing too, my nerves start to kick in. It’s getting close to 1pm less than a hour to go and it still seems like there is so much to be done. My big sister wants to get her bridesmaids dress on so me and my little sister start helping her into it in the bathroom. At which point I have to stop my little sister from screaming at my big sister who was moaning about how much she hated the beige underwear she had to wear. We get her into the dress at which point my dad calls, oblivious to the mayhem, asking if anybody wants cheese and biscuits. This incites the cheese and biscuit incident:
Big sister: I do
Everybody shouting: you’ve put your dress on now and done your make up. You can’t eat now.
Big sister: sulks Here’s the thing nobody ever tells you that even in the surreal madness that is your wedding day you will still be you with all your good bits and your bad bits. I was still Rowan even on my big day I was still acting like Piggy in the middle and peacemaker to my simultaneously lovely and dysfunctional family. In the bathroom I help my little sister into her dress, ignoring the commotion outside. She peers out through the door. ‘Row, you don’t want to go out there.’
‘Big sister has just started crying.’
My natural reaction as peacemaker is to get out there tissue in one hand, comforting words at the ready. But here is where I draw the line. Helping my sisters into dresses on my wedding day fine. Mopping up tears on my wedding day not fine. I decide to stay in the bathroom for five minutes before getting cross. A couple of days before the wedding I appointed Debs my morning off wedding bouncer.
Debs: ‘But what does that mean?’
Me, drunk on power: ‘If anyone annoys me’ read my family ‘you have to tell them to fuck off politely. Say something like ‘the bride needs peace and quiet therefore you need to leave.’ I don’t know what Debs and my mum do but when I emerge everybody is calmer.
Finally it is time for Debs to help me into my dress. We’ve rung down to reception for rubber gloves because she’s noticed her nail varnish rubs off. To my relief the dress fits and after a quick glance in the mirror I realise I look OK. Debs leaves in a flurry of hugs. It’s just me and my family now and all we can do it wait. And I hate waiting. The bridal suite is the most beautiful room I have ever stayed in but I have been in bridal purdah since 10pm the night before and I’m getting incredibly antsy. In my head I look out the window fantasising about wrapping a cloak over my head and scampering over the grounds like a weird goblin bride thing. Which is how I end up hanging out of the window in my dress yelling at my friend Sarah and her little boy Benjamin I can see running over the impeccable green lawns. ‘Oi Sarah’ I say waving frantically until I realise that this is behaviour unfitting to a bride.
I look at the clock. It is still not time. In one of HWSNBN and I pre-wedding fights, oh yes there were many, was about whether or not I would be late. ‘I bet you a million, squillion pounds I will not be late.’ I promised him. Unless they get me downstairs soon I will lose a million, squillion pounds. ‘You look nervous.’ My dad says correctly identifying my mood then ruins it by saying ‘Don’t be.’ In my current state of mind this is an inciting incident equivalent to poking a bear in a wedding dress with a hornets nest. ‘Don’t tell me how I should feel.’ I hiss at him. I wanted to go downstairs NOW. Luckily at this point Jamie comes to get us and take some pre-wedding photos on the stairwell.
As we walk downstairs I realise that Jamie has got confused and taken us downstairs before everybody has moved into the ceremony room. I am faced with a wall of the wedding paparazzi made up of eighty of our nearest and dearest. I start to panic what if HWSNBN comes and accidentally sees me in my dress. I remember reading in some magazine that guests take their cues from the bride and groom. If you look unhappy people will pick up on it, so instead I decide to smile and wave at everybody. So some people had a sneak preview, by five minutes, of my dress? I don’t care: I’m getting married. Did I already mention that?
The venue staff shoo everybody into the ceremony room and I meet with the registrars. They interview me and as lovely as they are the questions still feel like they asked under water. I feel giddy with nerves as we wait in the foyer to go inside. The ceremony is the most important part of the day. I must not screw this up. After all my worries about how I would feel tearful or detached I am nervous but dried eyed and utterly present in this moment. I hug my mum goodbye and stand arm in arm with my dad behind my sisters. I can hear the last bars of the music I had chosen and can’t help my feet from moving in a little dance.
After what felt like days it was finally time to see HWSNBN. I couldn’t wait. We were getting married. It was time.