What a Wonderful Wedding
The sun shone brightly through the swan hatch on the morning of 12th October 2012, spreading light and warmth throughout our narrowboat. I gazed over the canal and saw the green of the trees giving way to the wonderful golden yellow, orange and red hues of autumn. These were reflected with perfect clarity on the tranquil water. I marvelled at how lucky I was to experience such magnificence. That's how my day began on Toby and Suz's wedding day.
Ian and I bumped into each other more than usual as we jostled for position in the bathroom I wanted more time and access to the mirror as I carefully put on my make-up while Ian was simply trying to complete his morning ablutions. Next, I pulled on the now unfamiliar stockings, and wriggled into my cocktail dress while Ian put in cuff links and knotted his tie. We looked at each other and chuckled with excitement. It had been quite some time since we had dressed in anything other than boating attire.
We swapped the gentle pace of the canal for the frantic rush of the motorway as we drove towards Godalming where the wedding was to be held. Arriving at the hotel an hour later, we stepped into another world. A dozen or so people were in the lounge of the hotel and we assumed that they were invited guests to the wedding since they too were dressed to the nines. We all looked a little out of place at eleven o'clock in the morning. After checking in to the hotel and depositing our overnight bag in the room, we wandered towards the group of splendidly dressed guests. Jo and Steve greeted us warmly as if we were long lost friends and we soon found ourselves chatting amiably with these strangers while we all waited for the coach to arrive (courtesy of the meticulous, almost military-precision wedding planning - someone with an eye for detail had been very busy).
On the coach, we began to wonder if the driver knew his way after we had, more than once, gone round a roundabout and retraced our steps. Did the driver have a meter running or was he giving us a grand scenic tour? We eventually arrived at Gate Street Barn; a collection of converted barns clustered in splendid grounds - the wedding venue. We were all directed towards the barn where the ceremony was to take place. Inside, the decorated barn with its majestic oak roof trusses was set up with seating arranged either side of a centre aisle that led towards a draped table at one end. Cameras had been set on tripods and were pointing towards the table in mute expectation. This is where the ceremony was to be conducted.
As Ian and I moved towards some empty seats we saw friends whom we had not seen in a very long time -too long. Helen & Jerry and Craig & Jemma with baby Polly. We switched direction to head towards the group and were soon embracing and chatting as if we had only seen each other the day before. At that moment, Toby walked through the rear door. Looking dashing in his wedding suit, he had a startled expression on his face like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car. We all laughed and reassuringly wished him well as Craig - the Best Man - ushered the dazed groom towards the decorated table at the end of the aisle.
One o'clock; we were asked to find our seats and an expectant hush descend over the assembled guests. After the obligatory 5 minutes delay the doors at the rear of the barn opened and Suz appeared on the arm of her uncle Eddie. She was radiantly beautiful in an exquisite, simply styled cream gown topped with a delicate lace bolero jacket, which all perfectly accentuating her tiny frame. Pure happiness shone from her eyes as her gaze fell on her beloved Toby. He, in turn, had eyes only for his lovely bride as she glided slowly towards him, accompanied by Uncle Eddie and followed by four, identically dressed, delightful young bridesmaids. I felt a tear of happiness prickle behind my eye as I thought of our own special day nearly 10 years ago.
The atmosphere in the barn was electric as well as solemn while we all shared the happy occasion and the Registrar started the proceedings. All through the ceremony, Toby displayed a nervous excitement while Suz appeared calm and composed. We were all to see how nervous she really was when she fluffed her vows and had to start again a number of times!
After the signing of the register, the Registrar introduced Mr & Mrs Smith to the assembled guests and the happy couple walked down the aisle together, hand in hand and with an air of excited expectation, hardly taking their eyes off each other. They were starting their new life together as they meant to go on.
Drinks and canapés were served in the adjacent Pheasantry (another barn-like building) while the barn was cleared and rearranged for dinner. Between photographs, Toby and Suz circulated and the guests chatted and caught up on news and gossip. We found that Helen is happily pregnant with her second child, expected in January, and Jerry couldn't hide his pride. Jemma and Craig are besotted with their lovely daughter Polly while Toby and Suz are gaga over their dog Jessie.
In no time at all, the barn was transformed from a wedding venue to a banqueting hall. Toby and Suz had opted out of the traditional 'high table' with all frills and were placed among their guests which is so typical of their unassuming, easy-going character. The speeches began and once again, breaking with tradition, the bride kicked them off with a lovely speech of her own; again so typical of the pair.
After the banquet had finished, we were once again directed towards the Pheasantry where guests mingled and the unusual, penguin-adorned cake was cut. While this was happening, the barn was efficiently transformed into a dance hall and the band 'The Mixtape' set up their equipment.
The band leader announced that Toby's Mam would introduce the happy couple to their first dance. A hush descended as Billie's beautiful yet powerful voice rose and filled the hall. The guests stood transfixed as she sang and after a while the bride and groom took to the floor. It was a wonderfully intimate moment as Mother, Son and Daughter-in-Law shared the floor. Billie's blessing on the union couldn't have been expressed more poignantly as she wrapped a silk ribbon of vocals around a couple who had eyes only for each other. All too soon, the spell was broken as Billie's voice faded; bringing the song to an end and others took to the floor. Let the dancing begin. In no time at all, it was carriages at midnight and time to return to the hotel.
I shall never forget that beautiful wedding that was so precisely planned but reflected Toby and Suz's relaxed yet adventurous attitude to life. I pray that the happiest times of the past are the saddest of the future for you both.