Sunday, 30 September 2007

The Reception

28 Sept 2007

The Reception

The claret, classic wedding car travelled, full out, at a maximum speed of 35 mph. Even though the couple left the church first, their guests arrived at Maple Court, a twenty-mile drive away, well before they did. While standing in the queue waiting to check in our room, I felt that I could at last, relax. The church ceremony had gone like a dream. The atmosphere was sheer happiness. I knew the rest of the day would be a pleasure.

We dumped our overnight case in the room, clocking the splendour of the four-poster bed.

Waitresses with trays of champagne greeted us in the gardens outside of the nineteenth century country house. We posed again for photographs in the seven acres of gardens. Kathryn and Aaron were snapped and videoed from every angle against a backdrop of ancient trees, extensive lawns and lush greenery. Although late September the trees held their colour, some faintly tinged with golds and reds. The guests, by now tiddly on champagne, were glad to co-operate when their turn came, forming giggly lines, raising their glasses, adjusting their hats and cravats, repeating the word: cheeeese.

Lizzy and I made our way to the room where the reception was to be held, in order to check it out before the guests came through. What a vision!

The reception hall, a conservatory overlooking a lake with a Victorian fountain, reflected the theme of the wedding: red roses. In the centre of the eight, white clothed circular tables stood a single red rose, in a tall slender glass, surrounded by rose petals scattered indiscriminately around the white crockery. Red glass tee-lights and little bags of ladies' favours: small bundles of almonds tied up in red and white net with satin ribbons and rose buds, were placed appropriately.

In the centre of the top table stood a towering arrangement of red roses with ivy trailing along the whiteness of the cloth.

Suspended from the ceiling was a white muslin canopy caught at the centre of the room with a red muslin circle. White fairy lights interlaced the canopy casting a soft glow on the room below.

“Wow!” Lizzy said. I made a similar exclamation.
“Your favours look so professional,” I said.
“Yes they do. There’s just enough with the touches of red against the white. Any more red would have been too much.”
I agreed.

Dan ate his soup, but left half of his chicken. I could tell he was nervous about his speech. Glancing along the top table I noticed that both best men had left half of their food. More nervous stomachs.

Set up at the end of the room was a screen with a data projector.

To be continued…

Copyright © 2007 BarbaraAttwood

Saturday, 29 September 2007

The Wedding

28 Sept 2007

“I’m not going to drink anything before the wedding,” Kathryn said.
“Me neither,” I agreed. “I want to have a clear head.”
But our good intentions didn’t last long.

With our hair coiffured to perfection, Emma the beautician proceeded with Kathryn’s makeup in our bedroom. The photographer hovered around assessing the best pre-wedding photo opportunities. The bridesmaids sat on the living room floor, resting their feet on The Independent newspaper, painting their toe nails claret with one hand, and eating sandwiches from the buffet I’d made with the other.
“It’s nearly eleven o’clock. Those minutes keep ticking away,” Dan said asking me to help him fix the wedding ribbons to the Mercedes we’d hired.

My turn for a makeover, but I couldn’t sit still. “The flowers have arrived,” someone shouted from downstairs. “What are they like?” I shouted back, as Emma patiently continued to apply the slap. “They’re beautiful,” Kathryn shouted excitedly. “Mine’s a tear-drop with deep claret red roses mingled with ivy, and the brides maids are cream and claret rose buds, hand tied. Amazing! There’s diamante’s attached to each rose.”

Another knock on the door and I heard the voices of the ushers who’d come to pick up the order of service and their button holes. Deep, male voices making jokes, laughing nervously. “Want a drink,” I heard Dan ask. “No, but we’ll have a sandwich.”

We’ll run out of time. Oh! When will my makeup be done?

“Crack open the champagne please, Dan,” I shouted, when the butterflies got too fluttery.“We all need a calmer, especially me.” Glasses of Bucks Fizz and champagne circulated around the house, upstairs and down. I gulped down a glass and immediately started to smile. “That’s better,” I said feeling the alcohol calming my stress while the bubbles lifted my mood.

The bridesmaids once dressed in their claret satin gowns performed their duties tenderly, helping Kathryn with dress, veil and tiara. The classic car, a matching claret colour, pulled up outside “Don’t panic,” said the driver, “I’m fifteen minutes too early.”

Thank God for that I thought, gulping down another glass of bubbly. It’s all going to be fine. It’s all going to be fine. The weather's cool, autumny but dry; hair’s done, makeup’s done, everyone’s dressed, fed and watered. It’s going to be wonderful.

At twelve o’clock I left in the Merc, following the bridesmaids in the classic car, heading towards the church. Aaron was standing by the church door, looking handsome in his morning suit, laughing with the ushers and best men. The bridesmaids, both five foot two, petite and pretty. The air was fresh, guests were arriving, kissing, hugging, complimenting each other on their outfits, chatting until the ushers ushered them in as the claret classic car appeared again in the church driveway. “She’s here. The Bride’s arrived.”

Standing in the front pew, listening to the Bridal March, looking down the isle, watching Dan approach with our lovely daughter on his arm, I got that unreal feeling again. As though I was an on looker. That this was just a wonderful, wonderful dream. Tears welled as they got closer and I realised this was real, as Dan stumbled slightly, perhaps with nerves, but looking prouder than I’ve ever seen him. Kathryn, tall and slender, was a glowing vision of pale gold crushed silk, her veil gently framing her face, the crystals on her tiara, veil, earrings, necklace and dress twinkled as they caught the light shining from the stain glass windows.

Kathryn and Andrew sat at the side of the altar holding hands, while
those gathered, watched, listened, sang and prayed.

A reading, by Jenny, Kathryn’s cousin.
…Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful… St Paul’s to the Corinthians 12:31-13:8
The bidding prayer, a poem by Maya Angelou Touched by an Angel read by Kathryn’s friend from uni, Sam.

Handkerchiefs dabbed away escaping tears, as Dan took Kathryn’s hand and placed it into Aaron’s officially giving her away. At the front of the altar, they exchanged their vows, Aaron laughing, stumbling over his second name.

Following them up the isle, with the wedding march filling the air, I felt so glad for Kathryn, for Aaron, for Dan and for myself and all our family. They seemed so right for each other. Let life be kind to them.

Outside their happiness was contagious, spreading like a virus, infecting the guests with their joy. The ushers, keen to fulfil their duties, all shouting at once, organised us into groups. The photographs were fun; the smiles so natural; amateurs and professionals clicking from every angle, until the pair left smiling and waving through the car windows.

Copyright © 2007 BarbaraAttwood

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Crazy Day

Everyone is arriving; nails have to be done, shirts ironed, sandwiches made, rehearsal at the church, meeting guests at the hotel.

Some guests have cancelled, evening guests up graded, table settings changed, name cards re-written, notice board rearranged and delivered to Maple Court.

Time is running out – it’s getting closer and closer. Kathryn is refusing to get stressed. “If anything goes wrong, as something usually does from anecdotes of friends’ weddings, I’m refusing to get stressed. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it, and you should, mum, so chill out.”

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Message from Jon

Kathryn and Andrew are on their way travelling up the motorway right now. I’ve been cleaning all day, trying to get everything shiny and bright.

Wedding cards have been arriving all week, and today we got a message from Jon. I’m going to get the best man to read it out at the wedding. It's sad he won't be here, but I'm not going to start thinking like that. He'll be with us soon.

Jon’s ringing tonight. I’m hoping Kathryn and Andrew will be here in time to speak to him.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The dress is in the building

Dan and I picked up Kathryn’s wedding dress from Beaux and Belles this morning. It’s a slim fitting dress with a long train, which was folded up inside the bag. Because it’s not a flouncy, sticky out dress the bag wasn’t as big as I’d imagined, and I could carry it myself while Dan waited in the car.

Dan was curious when we got home, but he wasn’t allowed to see it. I tried on the veil edged in crystal teardrops and imagined Kathryn, smiling, radiant on her father’s arm walking down the isle.

Thank goodness I made him try on those trousers.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Monday, 24 September 2007

Half Mast Trousers

“Couples don’t bother getting married much these days,” Dan said. “I’m lucky. Not that many fathers get to walk their daughters down the isle any more.”
“You’ll be in tears when you see Kathryn in her dress,” I said.
“I’m feeling choked up at the thoughts of it. I’ll be so proud.”

We were having lunch in M&S Liverpool after picking up Dan’s morning suit from Moss Bros. When we walked in the shop the assistant handed us the clothes bag ready to take away.
“Oh no,” I said. “You're trying it on first.”

Dan emerged from the changing room looking pleased with himself. "It looks good, doesn't it? Perfect fit," he said. I thought how handsome he looked. My eyes swept over his tall, slim physique, but stopped dead at his feet. The trousers barely covered his ankles and as he walked up and down you could see his socks. “They’re alright aren’t they?” he asked looking worried.
“No, they’re not. They need to be at lease three inches longer.”
“Have you got a longer pair in stock?” I asked the assistant.
Fortunately, they had.
“It’s a good job you came with me,” Dan said.
“Yes, they looked like the half mast trousers you wore for our wedding," I said thinking of the pictures in our wedding album.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Dan's Speech

In between washing the net curtains and cleaning the windows, in a pre-wedding clean up frenzy, Dan keeps asking me to listen to his speech.

It’s a good speech with an amusing anecdote from Kathryn’s childhood, a few north south divide jokes (most of the guests are travelling up from the south of England) and an appropriate amount of praising and thanking.

Kathryn taught English in Japan for four years after she left university and two of her Japanese friends are guests. Dan has been practising saying “Welcome to England” in Japanese. It sounds fine to me, but I’m not sure whether they’ll understand what he’s saying.
“You’ve got to bow after you’ve said it.”
Dan took a deep bow, Prince Charming style.
“Not that low. Just a nod of the head will do."

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Printing Paranoia

I am writing this blog while the printer churns out copies of the inside pages of the Order of Service for Kathryn’s wedding. I've been sat here for three hours, convinced the printer is possessed by malevolent forces determined to make my task as difficult as possible. I can’t leave the copies to print while I do something else because I have to remove each one as it prints, otherwise it smudges, even though Dan had assured me that the ink is smudge proof. It’s obviously not. I’ve a heap of smudged, upside down, and cockeyed rejects by the side of my chair. And because I'm a perfectionist I feel compelled to bin copies with even the smallest crease or mark. But I’ve got it sussed at last and am printing on the reverse side successfully – right way up - fingers crossed. The font, French Script MT, looks like old fashioned cursive handwriting. Very effective on the cream paper. Twenty more to do. I’ve printed loads more than we need in case of mishaps at the folding, guillotining the edges, or stapling stages. Dan's going to help me with that.

Folding the embossed card and sticking on the red rose and silver Order of Service sticker will have to wait. I’ve had enough.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Hen Night

The sound of a loud wolf whistle and the neighing of a stallion followed by the honking of a horn sent a startled look across Kathryn’s face, and she dashed to the window of her apartment.

There parked outside, fifteens minutes early, was a Karma Kar. A cream-coloured Ambassador, modelled on the old British Morris Oxford, a symbol of India, decorated with flowers on the bumpers and sequins, tassels and joss sticks inside. The Indonesian driver grinning from ear to ear shouted apologies for his early arrival. Downing the dregs of our champagne glasses and grabbing our bags, we went out to investigate.

Like all the events of the evening, it was a complete surprise to Kathryn. Her bridesmaids, Louise and Carla, had organised everything. As we settled in, Sar, the driver played calming Indian music. The journey was far from calm. He drove around the posh part of London for an hour honking, whistling and neighing at passers by. Some looked incredulous, others waved and smiled turning their heads in disbelief. A lone man walking down a quiet road hearing the loud neighing of a horse behind him turned round with a look of terror on his face, which turned to laughter when he realised there wasn’t a stampeding stallion behind him.

Waving the pink feather boa, a hen present from me, out of the window, Kathryn couldn’t stop giggling. A sudden wind blew it out of her hands, and we watched as it rose floating above the vehicles to our rear. In the middle of London’s traffic Sar stopped the car and ran down the road chasing the feathers, which kept blowing further and further out of his reach. Impatient drivers honked at us as Sar ran back grinning with the rescued pink feathers wrapped around his neck.

Our stomachs ached with laughter as we pulled up at the London Hilton where we had photographs taken with the men in top hats, who were as amused as we were with the Karma Kar.

On the 29th floor, with panoramic views of London, we were joined by the other hens who had travelled from locations all over the city: Kathryn’s friends, some who I’d never met before smiling and chatting and sipping champagne.

Secretly departing hens left to decorate our next venue, a privately hired karaoke room in the West End. On the lift down a man gave Kathryn a bunch of flowers, and Joyce and I a single flower. I’m not sure if he was part of the show or just a kind stranger.

Showers of confetti, streamers and balloons greeted Kathryn on her arrival at the karaoke. Her friends had bought her tokens and gave short speeches about what Kathryn meant to them. Listening to her sing a song in Japanese, I felt so proud, and so happy that she'd invited me. How lovely her friends were. But when her song ended the scrum for the microphone from these polite professional young women left me speechless. I’ve never seen such karaoke enthusiasts, belting out everything from Madonna's Like a Virgin to The Spice Girls Wannabe, shaking maracas and tambourines or wearing crazy hats supplied by the club. I sang Norwegian Wood with Carla’s mum. Jayne, after much persuasion, sang La Bamba with Alex. After that we didn’t get a look in.

The club where we finished the night, Funk, was packed with young trendies, dancing to house music. The pink feather boa, matching silk devil horns headband and ‘bride’ wand were passed around necks and shoulders from dancer to dancer. Bodies gyrating to the beat of the DJ’s sound. Spookily the hens surprised Kathryn by holding blown up photos of Aaron in front of their faces as they danced. A singleton hen disappeared with a tall, handsome, dread locked black guy. Jayne and I, a little drunk, sat on large sofas people watching, wishing we were twenty again. A gay man, who introduced himself as ‘the only gay in the village’ admired Jayne’s waist length blond hair asking if it was extensions. She assured him it was the real thing and she’d worn it like that since the sixties.

Reminiscing about our own hen nights, mine at the Blue Lagoon, a club by the docks, full of drunken Dutch sailors, and Jayne’s at the Regency, the first club in our town to have a gambling licence, I thought what a different world Kathryn lives in.

Funk was the sort of place Jon would like, but perhaps a lot tamer than the places he knew - in his other life. A life he never shared with us. He’s always there. No matter what I do. A presence so strong, sometimes, I can feel him in the room.

Outside at 3.30am new additions to London’s transport system, rickshaws and tup-tups bustled around touting for business from clubbers spilling out onto the kerb, laughing, falling over, clinging on to each other, kissing, singing, drunk or sober.

With goodbyes, thankyous, hugs and see you at the wedding, the hen party split. Kathryn lolled in the back of the taxi, the now tatty looking feather boa around her neck. The horns and wand long disappeared with the dancers.

“I can remember everything,” she said proudly. “It’s my hen and I can remember it all.”

"See you at the wedding!" we shouted out of the window, as the taxi negotiated its way through the crowd.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Prisoners Abroad

I met Pauline Crowe and her dedicated team at the Prisoners Abroad offices in Finsbury Park, London last Friday.

Jayne, Alex and I travelling down for Kathryn’s hen party, arrived at Euston Station at 2.50pm. The offices were only three tube stops away. Fortunately, Alex who lived in London while she was at university was able to negotiate the tube. Jayne and I trailed behind Alex, a tall slim girl with a similar build to Kathryn, carrying our weekend bags and cases.
“Do you think we’d have got on the right tube?” I asked Jayne.
“Of course we would,” Jayne said. “But we would probably be going in the wrong direction.”

After asking about Jon, Pauline explained the problems prisoners have in some of the developing countries, where they are unable to speak the language. They have no one to talk to, nothing to read and live in isolation. The jobs in the prisons are usually given to local prisoners, so they can’t earn money. If their families have disowned them, or haven’t got the financial resources to help them, they have nothing or no one.
“They are the forgotten people,” I said thinking of a comment Dan made.
“That’s where we come in,” Pauline said. “We can get them a small grant to help with necessities such as toilet rolls and soap. In some countries they have to buy their own food. We can give advice on how to get legal assistance.”

She showed us shelves full of donated books. Piles of magazines and newspapers sat waiting, ready to be posted to some individual who has no knowledge of what’s happening on the outside. I shuddered thinking of the misery.

“It’s something that happens to someone else, someone else’s brother, son, partner, no yours,” I said. “It’s only when it lands on your doorstep that you give prisons or prisoners a thought. That’s how I felt. It doesn’t happen to people like me. How wrong can you be?”
“It happens to people right across the board,” Pauline said. “There’s no class distinction.”

I talked to Gareth, who is going to help Jon with his rehabilitation.
“What’s interesting about Jon’s situation,” Gareth said, “is that you expect awful conditions in developing countries, but not in prisons in the USA. His blog has highlighted that.”
“Yes, if you read the first six months of Jon’s blog describing the conditions in Joe Arpaio’s jails: cells crawling with cockroaches; lying in your own sweat in a cell with no air-conditioning in 120 degree temperatures; your body iching with sweat rashes; being fed on food past its sell by date, throw outs from the supermarkets, rotten fruit and suspect meat, you can hardly believe its happening in the richest country in the world. It’s shameful.”

“How is Jon?” Gareth asked.
“He talks about nothing but his release. He has so many plans, but I think he’ll have to take things slowly. Perhaps you could help him with that.”
“Yes, you get excited prisoners thinking they’ll do this and that, but sometimes it’s more difficult. Adjusting to being on the outside can take some time.”
“It’ll be a period of adjustment for us all. But I want him home so much. I can hardly believe I’m even talking about his homecoming after all we’ve been through. That what we’ve been praying for is almost a reality.”

“The thing with Jon,” Pauline said, “is that he wants to come home. He wants to be deported. Many of the prisoners fight it, especially if they’re being deported from the USA to here. Usually their families moved to America when they were young and that’s where they were brought up. They commit a crime over there and get deported back to the UK, where they have no relatives or support. They do everything they can to stop their deportation, even refusing to sign their passports.”

In her office there were four and five cases and bags. I looked at them, thinking of the prisoners who had gone off to find lodgings, relatives or some kind of support.

“Sometimes the relatives in the USA come to the airport and cause a fuss trying to prevent the deportation. That’s why you might not be told which plane Jon is coming home on. You may just get a phone call from an airport to say he’s here.”
“Even though they know he just wants to get home.”
“It depends what the communication is like at the immigration holding centre.”
“What about getting clothes to him?”
“Again you’d have to contact immigration."
“As long as he’s out, I don’t know if he’d care what he wears,” I said, thinking of Jon sat on the plane grinning from ear to ear.

Jayne and Alex listened fascinated by a world far removed.
“Do you get money from the government?” Jayne asked.
“Yes, some, but we have to rely mostly on private donations.”
On the tube to Kathryn’s apartment Jayne said how impressed she was with the quiet dedication of the people we’d met at Prisoners Abroad.
"I'd like to do some fund raising," she said.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood
Site Meter