Ben and I attended his cousin's wedding yesterday, and, far from floodwaters, the Thames was actually at very low tide when the reception kicked off.
With a few pleasant surprises it was your standard wedding-in-a-box event: Catholic ceremony with a few hymns (and lots of giggling from the heathen congregation and bridal pair), a kindly if cynical priest ("For the past 37 years I've performed weddings on Saturdays, given Mass on Sundays, and sat on the parish annulment board on Monday mornings. I think I know more about marriage than most married people."), a creepy photographer straight out of the 1970's (complete with beige vest covered in big pockets) and a big beautiful white dress (with a fuzzy fur shrug that seemed a bit out of place given the day's unseasonably warm and bright conditions). They rented an old RouteMaster bus to haul the guests from the church to the reception hall (at a yacht club on the river) which was fun--mostly just for the dumbstruck faces of tourists in Greenwich) and we had drinks and group pictures out on the patio before sitting down to a wonderful dinner (start from the outside and work your way in with the cutlery, dear), followed by embarrassing speeches, champagne toasts, the cake-cutting photo op, and a brief dance party highlighted by--you guessed it--the Macarena and aunts doing the Electric Slide. Except it wasn't the Slide per se--just as bad, but it was some other awful 80's song with a correlating sequence of repeated kicks and turns that middle aged women seem to go gaga for. I stood by the door, ready to bolt, just in case the chicken dance or the hokey pokey came on, but the only other offensive dance-specific track was the Time Warp. There were disposable cameras on the tables, screaming children running amok, comprehensive seating arrangements, and white ribbons attached to every vertical surface. The vegetarian appetizer was to die for, and the dinner was fabulous. (I think I managed to be the only veggie, so I was fussed over a bit.)
As this was my first British wedding I wanted to do a quick breakdown of elements which were precisely like American package weddings, and those which varied, but honestly there were only about two things that I found different from any of the dozens of nuptials I've attended in the past few years: the cake, rather than being something inoffensive and crowd pleasing, was a traditional, industrial-strength fruit cake iced in marzipan, and there were no bridesmaids--not even kids, as I'd learned to expect. The ring bearer was a well-behaved French nephew who carefully brought them in on a white pillow, and after the kiss there was a flurry of confetti (not rice or birdseed) and snapshots.
The bride did not wear a veil, but I've only seen a couple of those lately in the States, and her dress had millions of tiny buttons up the back (and I did not see a zipper--you go girl!) and a dramatic seam across the front from the hip to the knee which offset the smooth fabric of the skirt from the attractively pleated and beaded upper half. I drunkenly commented on the genius of this seam, and how it cleverly provided movement by directing the eye to take in the entire dress in sequence, and was appropriately called a theatre dork. Her train was removable, and rather than bustling, the fullest point of her skirt was fitted with a wrist loop.
The assorted matriarchs of the clan all sported either big hats--complex polygonal affairs outfitted with feathers and flowers to match the wearer's dress--or other colourful, feathered hair accents which gave the feel somehow of a Southern Baptist church service combined with a subdued luau. Men wore suits, some for the first time in a long time, and enjoyed comparing linings among themselves.
All in all, it was exactly what I expected a wedding to be, which is not really what I expected. I actually found myself near tears when the newly married pair did their first dance while a ruddy-faced dj encouraged the guests to cheer them on in that energetically apathetic way they have. Everything was all right and nothing hurt. Stress levels remained at ceremony-normal. Everybody got drunk and taxis delivered us safely home. Plan A worked just fine--so fine, in fact, that nobody even needed a plan B. or C. or L. or plan "I got myself ordained to be your backup minister, just in case." How dare you have a normal wedding? An "oh that was nice" big day? An evening of lighthearted, forgettable speeches and Abba? This wasn't special, this wasn't a day to tell your kids about, or your national weather service... Why not have a big day worth remembering? What's wrong with a catastrophe? "and he lost his cufflinks!" is not a disaster, natural or otherwise. "My sister was out in the driveway with a meter stick trying to plot a track that was under less than two feet of water on the morning of the wedding--and then my ring went missing!" is a story worth mentioning at cocktail parties.
Oh sister of mine, you win. No other wedding will ever measure up, or mean so much. I'm sorry we had to go through it to make the memory, but I'm glad we have it.