Tuesday, 21 June 2011

My wedding memories go up in smoke

For at least half a century, the guiding principle of my life has been thinking: “What could possibly go wrong?”

But my light is clearly dimming now. Because it never occurred to me, until I pitched up for my Trolleybus Driving Experience last week, that it would have a power pedal worked with the left foot. This created something of a challenge as I have driven automatic cars for decades, and come to regard my left leg as a completely useless appendage when behind the wheel.

The result was a certain jerkiness in the ride which I thought might at least have kept my passengers awake and on their toes (or their backs, if they were rash enough to stand up). However, my son managed to sleep soundly in his mother’s arms throughout. Daddy driving a trolleybus seems unlikely to feature strongly in his early memory bank.

Another thing I never foresaw, though it seems obvious with the benefit of hindsight, was the desirability of formulating a watertight Plan B in case a disgruntled bridegroom took it into his head to burn down my wedding venue shortly before the event.

Peckforton Castle ablaze
My fiancée and I originally planned a civil ceremony at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, part of which went up in smoke at the weekend, but were luckily upgraded to a religious service in the parish church through the spirited and spiritual intervention of Rick, the splendid vicar.

Of course, when we made that arrangement we did not know that Peckforton boasted a trained barn owl that could swoop down to deliver the rings, Harry Potter style, at the high point of the ceremony. If only we could have combined that with the 1662 Prayer Book and three rousing hymns, our happiness would have been truly complete.

As it was on our wedding day, February 2009

As it was, we had a glorious reception in the Drawing Room of the Castle, apparently the seat of Sunday’s fire, and spent our wedding night in the now collapsed bridal suite above. It seems slightly surreal to read that rooms so firmly fixed in our long term memories have simply gone.

The Drawing Room awaiting our wedding guests

We organised our wedding quite quickly – because you cannot hang around at my age – and were only able to hold it at Peckforton owing to a late cancellation. Without such a stroke of luck, it is hard to understand how anyone manages anything other than a long engagement, given that every decent wedding venue is booked up literally years in advance.

Knowing how much work goes into planning, my heart went out to those who must have been panicking about the need to find somewhere else to host their big day, until the glad news came through that, in true Blitz spirit, Peckforton would be keeping calm and carrying on.

Continuing to think positive, those at the wedding party on Saturday all had a night to remember (as they called the original film about the sinking of the Titanic) and no humans or owls were injured in the conflagration. Though with the groom helping police with their enquiries, the honeymoon presumably did not get off to the smoothest possible start.

Apparently it all started with a dispute about the bill. The interesting thing is that I distinctly remember having to pay for our wedding in full six weeks before it happened, so there was not much scope for argument on the day. I assumed that this was standard practice, but am now wondering whether they did an internet search that exposed my long history of broken engagements, and decided that it was not worth taking a chance. Even the bride wondered until the very last minute whether I would actually turn up.

Which pleased me, because it showed that both the hotel and my new wife were following that very sound policy of thinking: “What could possibly go wrong?”

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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