It’s been an incredibly eventful couple of days. Hilary’s wedding was a magical occasion. She was utterly radiant and sat in the church in a shaft of yellowy sunlight looking incredibly serene. The singing went well and it was a joy to perform Hilary’s father’s version of Panis Angelicus whilst he sat in the front pew with a big smile on his face.
The service wasn’t as long as I’d thought it would be. But even so there seemed to be a great lack of respect for its religious content from most of the guests. People were taking photographs with flashes, which I found embarrassing and inappropriate, not least because the light in the church was beautiful enough and would have been completely wrecked by a flash!
The vicar or whatever they call them in the Catholic church didn’t exactly endear himself to anyone during his sermon which was all about love. He rattled off some random story about a little boy called Ben from Yugoslavia who’d been asked if he loved his brother enough to donate a few pints of his blood for some form of live saving surgery. The boy had said yes and after the procedure had asked when he himself was going to die. He hadn’t realised that donating his blood wasn’t going to kill him. The wonderfully convenient point to the story was that this brave young solider had demonstrated true love for his brother to the extent that he was prepared to die for him. It’s this kind of nonsense that makes me proud to be an atheist. If someone had told that story on television, or in print, a huge numbers of complaints would have been registered and upheld. The story just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Why would a doctor or a parent not bother to tell a child that giving blood wouldn’t kill him? And more to the point, why on earth would someone in former Yugoslavia have a name like Ben? I’m sure the name was plucked out of thin air to make us feel the story was about a nice little Christian boy. The story wouldn’t have worked so well had it been a brave little Muslim lad from the area.
The wedding reception took place on the fringes of the Peak District with ridge of rolling hills in the distance, glowing majestically in the late afternoon sunshine. I’ve never been to a more grown up wedding and looking around, I realised with horror that all my university friends are now approaching middle age. There were laughter lines, pot bellies and flecks of grey hair almost everywhere I looked. And more worryingly, dirty teeth. It seems as we get older, the concept of stained teeth becomes more acceptable even though nothing makes us look more haggard than grimy gnashers! A lot of it, I guess, comes down to people being in long-term relationships. Marital bliss and a shed load of kids are often all it takes to make us forget to make an effort. And my God were there lots of kids! They talked and cooed and ran around during the speeches and whilst I was eating, one of them sat under the table and undid my shoelaces! The bright side was that my two godchildren finally got an opportunity to meet. One day, perhaps, they'll get married and I'll be the weird uncle with brown teeth sitting in the corner wearing wee-stained trousers!
Unfortunately, when Hilary threw the bouquet, everyone just stood and watched whilst it sailed through the air and hit the floor in a crumpled mess. I suppose marital bliss meant everyone decided someone else would gain more by catching it. The remnants of the bouquet were picked up by a gay bloke, so let’s hope he finds himself a nice man. I think he’s the marrying sort...
After the meal there was a little cabaret and a few people got up to show off a bit; the high point was undoubtedly the chief bridesmaid, Mez, reading Sassoon’s Everyone Sang; a more beautiful and appropriate poem, you’d struggle to find to celebrate the marriage of an opera singer.
Hilary came rushing over at one point and told me there’d been a mess-up with the first dance and that Nathan and I would have to sing Dancing Queen at the piano. NOW... And so with no notice, we got up and blagged our way through a sort of ballad version of the song, which went ridiculously well for a piece of pure improvisation!
Later on, us nearly middle aged people had a good dance to Rupert’s incredible selection of music, which started with Yes Sir I Can Boogie and didn’t really stop until ABBA sang Thank You For The Music. The highlight for me was jumping up and down like a maniac to Mr Blue Sky, and watching a room full of people doing expressive contemporary dance moves to Wuthering Heights. Philippa sent me a text this morning which read: “Abiding memory of you on the decks waving arms in air, ecstatic, during Wuthering Heights”. If Kate Bush and ELO can’t make you feel ecstasy, then you’re dead inside!
We stayed the night in a Travelodge family room, which seemed to involve a pull-out bed, and talking long into the night with sagacious Sam whilst Nathan slept beside us.
This morning we took ourselves to the Peak District, via the godforsaken slums of Stoke-On-Trent. What an unfortunate, confused, red-brick nightmare that place is! Young offenders institutes, shell suits, toothless BNP supporters smoking cigarettes in doorways, sallow-faced children with hollow cheekbones kicking footballs against windowless terraced houses, tall chimneys surging towards the sky… and yet within seconds you’re in the glorious Peaks, where the air smells of newly washed linen, and middle-class walkers in cagoules sit in coffee shops poring over Ordinance Survey maps.
The trip ended with a blustery walk in Dovedale; a rather charming place I'd remembered visiting as a child… and thankfully it hasn’t changed a bit.
On 28th March 1660, the fleet of boats had docked at Gravesend. No one seemed in any particular hurry to get anywhere and Pepys’ clerk, Mr Burr, went into the town to do a day of business. A curious incident took place. A chap, one Mr Banes, was hauled onto Pepys’ boat (from anther vessel) for drunkenly shouting “Vive le Roi”. I think it was his rowdy behaviour rather than the content of what he was yelling that got him into trouble for it seems that after convincing them all he was a gentleman, with a good grasp of Latin and French, and not one of the troublesome and obsessive Cavaliers, who had all recently been asked to leave London by Monck, he was allowed to go on his way. I bet he wouldn't have used his flash in church!