It was Viktoria, Fiona's sister's wedding today. The ceremony happened in a church in Newport Pagnell, which is a charming little place, surrounded by rivers, just off the M1. We used to go there from time to time when I was a kid. I remembered a fascinating shop in the town which sold old newspapers and magazines. I was pleased to see it still existed.
The weather was almost perfect for a winter wedding; blue skies, bright sunshine. It was perhaps a little breezy at times. The wind was pretty cold, and everyone seemed to be slightly underdressed, one assumes because they saw the sun shining so bravely!
The service was slightly over-the-top in its relentless references to god. A vicar, in my view, has entirely failed in his or her mission when the word god is said more often than the word love. Vik, who is a card-carrying pagan, justified the repeated mention of the G bomb by adding "and goddesses" in her head every time the almighty was mentioned. Fair enough, I say. God is but a concept which can mean different things to different people. Besides, the vicar was a woman called Mandy, which is such an un-vicary name that I would forgive her almost anything. In any case, a female vicar by her very nature ought to be more open-minded than most! I left a message in her prayer basket asking her to pray for members of the African LGBT community who are persecuted in the name of Jesus. I felt this might give her some food for thought.
Vic and her new husband Chris entered the church to the exquisite Winter by Tori Amos and exited to Loud Like Love by Placebo. There was a fabulously surreal moment, as we all ambled out of the church, when we could see - but not hear - the eight bell ringers in the belfry, tugging frantically at their ropes with all their might. There was something about the potency of the rocky Placebo number which somehow made it look like the bell ringers were in a music video. As we left the church the rock music gradually gave way to the actual sound of the bells. It was a rather extraordinary effect.
Fiona had arranged all the hymns, and a brilliant 1960s Western Film soundtrack (a request from Vic), for string quartet. She chose local players, two of whom were people I recognised from my days at the music school. One of them, Richard, was the kid with cancer, who always seemed to be wearing a hat to cover his lack of hair. I was thrilled to see him all grown up, and to find out that he'd had three children of his own. The radiation therapy obviously didn't effect him too adversely!
We threw rice and flower petals at the happy couple. I stood down-wind of the bride and ended up with a face full. I was picking bits of petal out of my waistcoat for hours afterwards! I once went to a wedding where they'd cooked the rice by mistake...
The wedding breakfast happened in a country pub outside Olney. Most of Fiona's family are from the area, and it was really rather lovely to hear those old town names like Bozeat, Rushden and Raunds said properly. It made me feel a little homesick in fact, quite what for, I'm not sure. I haven't lived in those parts for over twenty years.
We drove from Olney to Yardley Hastings for the after party, passing en route a large piece of road kill, which Fiona's father, Uncle and I all noticed independently. It was the size of a small deer, but rather fury and a sort of sandy colour. Malcolm thought it was an enormous fox. I decided it was one of the legendary wild wallabies which are said to roam the countryside around Bedford. Fiona, who didn't see it, felt it was more likely to be a dog, which, in retrospect, makes a little more sense, although quite what a dog without an owner was doing on a winding B road two miles from the nearest town I've no idea.
We spent a couple of hours decorating a village hall for the evening do. It was great fun. Viktoria has a very good eye for interior design, and we managed to make the place look like a wonderful pagan grotto.
The band helped to bring the theme even more to life. They were a brilliant four-piece folk group who played original material. I was thrilled to discover that the 'cellist was my old, dear friend Helen, whom I shared many a desk with in my youth orchestra days, probably from about the age of 12. It was so phenomenally lovely to see her again, and hear her playing so well.
The two of us spent a good long time with Fiona reminiscing about various trips. Helen told me how embarrassed she'd been when I refused to stand up for the queen after we'd played for her at St James' Palace. I'd forgotten all about that particularly incident. I had very republican views in those days, which have softened enormously in my old age as a result of seeing the ludicrousness of presidential systems around the world. If being a leader is a birth right, then it's something you can't aspire to, and therefore, something which ought to be fairly incorruptible. I have more respect for the queen than I have every prime minister I've ever lived under. If my Dad were dead, he'd be turning in his grave to hear me say that!