For me, it has always been about the ceremony. It’s my favourite part of attending other people’s weddings. Here you get to see the bride in all her finery for the first time. Even better, you get to see the groom face as he sees her for the first time. The room swells with emotion as they say their vows. Finally there’s the relief as they pronounced man and wife. In short wedding ceremonies are brilliant.
They are also terrifying. A wedding ceremony is the great unknown. I had plenty experience of socialising with friends and family, guzzling yummy food and dancing like a loon. But reciting legally binding vows in front of 85 family and friends? I had not frame of reference, nada, none.
HWSNBN and I took rather differing approaches to the ceremony. HWSNBN wanted to keep it short and simple something to get through and then enjoy the day. I knew no matter how I approached the ceremony would be full of heightened emotions. It is the most important part of the day: the reason why it’s called a wedding and not just a really expensive party. So instead I focused on making sure the ceremony choices we made were meaningful, reflective of us and something to be savoured.
HWSNBN was unsure: he thought the Sing-a-Long was silly, he didn’t think the effort required to draft our personal vows would be worth it, why didn’t we just keep it simple? Reader, it took a lot of persuading but finally he gave in. One of the accusations about civil ceremonies in that they can be short and meaningless compared to church ceremonies. I wanted our ceremony to be the focal point around which the rest of the day revolved. As I rehearsed the day in my head in the months leading up to the wedding, I only ever got as far as the ceremony. But on the day the ceremony was nothing like I imagined. It was far, far better.
When you left us dear reader, I was waiting with in the foyer with my dad and sisters. I could hear the first couple of bars of At Last by Etta James, the song we were walking down the aisle to.There was never any alternative for us. I’ve always loved her voice, the lyrics seem like they were written for us and after eight years of dating, it felt àpropos. First my big sister set off. She had been petrified of walking down the aisle by herself as we rehearsed to the music the night before, and halfway down the aisle stopped dead with a beatific expression on her face. The registrar came and collected her, one of the many reasons why our registrars rocked. Then little sister starting walking after 25 years she was finally a bridesmaid.
I wish I could have seen both my sisters walk down the aisle. I think that is one of the greatest frustrations of my wedding that there were so many wonderful things I wanted to see. But I was too busy taking part. Oh to be a spectator at your biggest moments!
Finally it was the turn of me and my dad. I linked my arm with his and he held my hand as we walked down the corridor and turned into the room. At my side at this moment like he has always been from the beginning. Everybody was standing up, the small room filled with people, blocking my view of HWSNBN, damn them 🙂 I was so impatient, I had been waiting all morning to see him and those extra seconds seemed like a lifetime. I am really glad we didn’t see each other before the ceremony as it really helped add to the gravitas of what we were about to do. But it was the oddest feeling. For eight years HWSNBN has been the one I share everything with and then we were separated, unable to even speak on the morning of our weddings. I needed to see him. Now.
Then we reached the end of the aisle and I saw HWSNBN standing there, looking more nervous than I had ever seen him. I am the cryer in our relationship, I can count the number of times HWSNBN has cried on one hand. But as I came down the aisle, he started crying. I hugged my dad for the last time as a pure January. Then I turned to HWSNBN and hugged and kissed him even though the registrar told me mock jokingly I should wait until the end of the ceremony. I was so happy to finally see him.
As the registrar outlined the legal guidelines I began edging forward on my chair towards HWSNBN. We were already holding hands but any distance between seemed too much especially today. At one point I was practically in his lap. One of my best friends Ros came up to read ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ one of our favourite poems. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, and where have you been?, here it is:
The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Monck
The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are.”
Pussy said to the Owl “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?”
Said the Piggy, “I will”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
She had been practising by reading it to her baby and I had to bite my lip to stop from giggling at her clearly enunciated voice, which was so very Ros. Then as she recited the line ‘They danced by the light of the moon.’ she teared up and I started to cry too. I hug attacked Ros afterwards before she made her way back to her seat. I wanted to hug everyone in that room as if the joy I was feeling was too powerful it couldn’t be contained in just my body.
It was tough being up there just the two of us. I could see everybody I loved in the room and I wanted more than anything to talk to them. Traditionally the bride and her family and friends are on the left the groom and his entourage on the right. Symbolically it makes a lot of sense as you say your vows behind you is everybody you love backing you up. But practically it represented a problem, I could perfectly see HWSNBN family in the front row behind me. But I had to twist myself around away from him to see my family behind me. I wish I could have seen them as I said my vows. However, I have the photos and they are magical.
When we had both met separately before the ceremony with the registrar they had quickly run through the order of the ceremony. All we had to do was repeat the words back to them or in the case of our personal vows read them aloud. Simples, right? It was fine throughout the ‘I do solemnly declare’s’ But the registrar read a long paragraph of text. As she was speaking I started to panic, there was no way I could remember and recite all of that back and HWSNBN has an even worse memory than I do. Thank god he was going first. In response HWSNBN said ‘I do? I do!’ and the room erupted into peels of laughter. That will be my enduring memory of our wedding ceremony that it was full of tears and laughter. I laughed so much that my veil almost fell off and the registrar had to interrupt the ceremony to pin it back into place.
Then it was time for our personal vows.
‘Rowan, I will always remember when we first started dating you said you did not see the point in marriage. I stand here today, gladdened that since meeting me you have change your mind.
‘I love you so much that you have become a part of my life and a part of my being. I promise to do everything in my power to look after you and make you happy and look forward to spending the rest of my life with you.’
Everybody laughed at the irony of me originally not believing at the point of marriage. HWSNBN said afterwards he was so nervous as he hates public speaking that initially he was annoyed at the laughter for interrupting before he realised that laughter was good. I had heard his vows before but I could still feel myself begin to tear up as he solemnly recited the words in front of everybody we loved.
Then it was my turn. I said:
‘HWSNBN, surrounded by the people we love, I give myself to you. In good times and the bad, I promise to share my life with you. I vow to love, respect, and trust you, always giving you the best of myself and forever believing that I am the lucky one to have met you. I can’t wait to grow old with you, as I know that together we will build a life far more amazing than either of us could even imagine alone.
‘I swear to love you til the seas run dry, until the sun grows cold and the stars grow old. And if there is another life beyond this, I will love you there too. With these words, and all the words of my heart, I marry you and bind my life to yours.’
I meant every word. Midway through I knew that I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Then it was time for the legal vows: the I do’s to seal the deal. I felt like we had the best of both worlds. As well as our personal, hand crafted promises to each other we said the words that millions of people had recited before us. As the best man stepped forward with the ring book I began to panic slightly. Not only did I try to put HWSNBN ring on his right hand. Damn you dyslexia. I was so pumped up on adrenaline that my fingers had started to swell. HWSNBN got down to the last knuckle before I took over and jammed that ring down to everybody’s amusement. Nothing was stopping that sucker getting on my finger.
Then HWSNBN’s close friend Roger stepped up to read an extract from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. For those who aren’t familiar with it, here it is:
Extract from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
by Louis de Bernieres
Love is a temporary madness,
it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.
And when it subsides you have to make a decision.
You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together
that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.
Because this is what love is.
Love is not breathlessness,
it is not excitement,
it is not the promulgation of eternal passion.
That is just being “in love” which any fool can do.
Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away,
and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.
Those that truly love, have roots that grow towards each other underground,
and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches,
they find that they are one tree and not two.
He read it perfectly with the right mix of gravitas and sentiment.
Then it was time for the bit HWSNBN had been dreading the Sing-a-Long. I loved singing hymns at church ceremonies: a glorious release of tension as the congregation unites in song.
And so we chose Bring me Sunshine by Morecombe and Wise: a song that always reminds me of my granddad and my big sister. Everybody really gave it some welly, some people even doing the Morecombe and Wise dance. And nobody seemed to mind too much that I hadn’t checked the printed lyrics matched the version on the song on the CD and cut off two verses too early. Ooops.
Then finally we were pronounced man and wife. And it was time for our first kiss.
We signed the wedding register. On the marriage certificate my signature is an indecipherable scrawl I was so nervous.
I showed HWSNBN my bouquet.
And we faced the wedding paparazzi.
Then we exited as man and wife to one of my favourite songs of all time Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Sadly we only heard one or two bars before we exited the room.
I did later make everyday dance bemusedly to it. Because I was The Bride, goddamit and I love that song! As we left we got tangled up somewhere near the door. Because of my train I had to walk behind HWSNBN all day in order to avoid tripping him up which I think he rather enjoyed. Like a game of snake I kept cutting people up the entire night as they hovered behind me waiting for my dress to pass.
Afterwards, HWSNBN said those three magic words: ‘You were right.’ Our ceremony was silly, it was moving and it was us. We were married.