We are on our way to a wedding. The weather is dreadful, a combination of snow, ice and sleet, so we leave early, foregoing breakfast. By the time we arrive the snow has been replaced with a biting wind: it’s not a good day to be changing into your finery in an exposed village car park. Needs, however, must.
The church is packed but we manage to squash into a vacant pew near the back. It’s Arctic. Almost as cold as it is outside. Two of my nieces squeeze in next to us, shivering in their pretty but thin dresses. A late arrival tiptoes to a spare seat but he’s about as inconspicuous as Dame Edna Everage. He’s got a warped sense of humour or he’s colour blind. Either way, it takes a big personality to wear a brick-red suit covered in large white clouds.
The music strikes up and the groom, cutting a dashing figure in his army Blues, turns towards the bridesmaids who appear in black dresses and orange shoes, followed by the pretty bride, more conventional in white. We launch straight into a hymn, or rather praise choruses that are new territory for me, so I stand mute and let my attention wander. There are a lot of eye-catching outfits, many unsuitable for the cold weather and one or two, I’ve got to say, that should have been left at home. We’re supposed to be in bright colours and wearing vintage but I have failed on both counts, opting for the forbidden black and several warm layers. Everyone at the front sings with enthusiasm, but the rest of the church is mostly silent. Top tip to future brides and grooms; if you want a rousing congregation, choose hymns that everyone knows.
After what feels like ten minutes, I glance at the service sheet to see what to expect next but it turns out we still have a lot of singing to get through. Someone near the front raises an arm. I crane my neck to see what the excitement is about, but I’m too far back to get a proper look. A second arm goes up. Then the bride adds her own, slowly waving it from side to side. What is going on? The professional singers have their eyes shut, hands in a ‘don’t shoot’ position but far from looking worried, they are in a state of musical rapture. It dawns on me that I am witnessing the church equivalent of a rave. I sneak a peek around me at other members of the congregation who too are swaying. “Oh, God,” I think, appalled. I catch my son’s eye and have a sudden, irrepressible desire to giggle. This I must not do.
A woman with bright orange hair gets up to take the first reading. She has an Australian twang but I’m too distracted by the hair to follow what she’s saying. Another Aussie, who’s flown over especially for the occasion, brings a light touch to the Address. Then we’re back to the singing again while the register is signed and many more chorusses and waving of arms.
The newly weds exit to the Star Wars theme tune and loud clapping. Everyone else stays in the church for tea. As most of us haven’t eaten a thing all day, there’s bedlam around the laden cake table. I’m momentarily thrilled to discover there’s gluten-free cake but my enthusiasm dissipates after one bite. An elderly lady doesn’t appear to like her cake either as she drops it into someone’s open handbag.
At the reception we stare across the threshold of a cavernous tithe barn and scan the empty room. Embarrassingly, we are the first to arrive but there is nowhere else to ‘hang out’ and we were in need of a warmer location. A waitress appears with a tray of hot Pimms which we pounce on, though there’s no sign of any food. There’s a selfie corner – a nice touch – which my younger son makes a beeline for, taking charge of the Polaroid camera and pegging our images to a large board. Giant Jenga and Connect add to the entertainment by which time the barn has started to fill. I only know family members so am startled by a strange lady wearing thick glasses who bares down on me. I suspect she’s had a head start with the Pimms because she’s not all that steady on her feet.
“How are the girls?” she asks a little sternly. This throws me. As far as I know I have only ever produced boys and say as much. She takes great offense at this and wanders away.
Our table is in front of the main door which means that there’s a constant draft as people come in and out. Aside from a couple of speeches there’s just a lot of milling round. We’re all basically waiting for the food to arrive. My father-in-law, who is facing a long journey home, starts to worry his lift will appear before he’s had anything to eat. I ask a passing member of staff, trying to ignore my rumbling stomach, what time they expect to serve up.
‘A bit later than planned,” she says brightly and gives me an approximate time.
My heart sinks. Another hour to go.
In the loo a blond Australian (they’re everywhere) also has food on her mind.
“I’ve been to three weddings in the last year,” she complains over the noise of the hand dryer, “and they’ve all been the same. The last one kept us waiting five hours. I fell out with the groom over it.”
Now is probably not a good time to mention my inside information about the delayed meal.
By the time we do eat my older son is so hungry he’s become dull-eyed and listless. He demolishes a mounded plate of roast potatoes and then sets about eating most of mine. Beyond the point of hunger, I pick half-heartedly at watery vegetables.
As we leave, we call the friends we’re spending the night with to tell them that we’re on our way. They have cooked us supper and got in a movie to watch.
‘The fire’s lit,’ my friend tells me; she knows all too well my intolerance to cold. I feel my appetite return.
‘What are we having?’ I ask.
‘Toad in the hole followed by Tart Tartin.’
‘We’ll be there in ten minutes,’ I say, suddenly famished again. ‘For God’s sake don’t start without us.’