Wedding summit 6: Base Camp (the actual thing!)

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In spite of chasing misplaced button holes round Oxford (don’t ask), we make it to the Kings Arms in time for a quick stiffener before kick off. I say quick, but the wearing of a slightly ridiculous cocktail hat (“you look like a cupcake”, says the Father of the Groom) does nothing to procure service at the bar – I practically have to beg, which leaves no time for sipping so we’re knocking them back like rugby players (England 37, Australia 21! “Good omen”, says son 3 sagely).

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“You lot look posh” says a large lady laden with shopping bags (we scrub up quite well); her eyes are firmly on our soon to be vacated tables. “Have fun at your wedding”. We intend to. Gin and tonic fizzing in stomach, we teeter across the cobbles to the Bodleian Library wedding venue beneath a sparkly starry sky (thank you God).

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The night before, we had sent the Groom on his way with venison, chocolate cake, fireworks and the St Halletts port we bought for him when he was still in utero. The cork falls apart but the contents are sublime. We leave blister packs of paracetamol out in the kitchen just in case the port is banging the brain drum on the morning of the Big Day. The last hours had been spent filling teeny bottles of sloe gin for the guests (we’ll be OK if the heating fails, then), writing endless labels to tie to them, using protector spray on the serried ranks of new shoes (just in case it rains, just in case), practising readings, memorising the time plan, and going cross-eyed trying to stick on bits of false eyelash (just me, not The Men). No wonder we all have butterflies.

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Perhaps the lashes were a step too far ..

Hats off to Len the Library Man, that’s all I can say. He is a totally new kind of superhero. We are gathered excitedly and whisperingly ready for the ceremony. The huge oak doors at one end are twitching a bit so we know the Bride is hovering on the other side. The Father of the Groom has the most important index finger in the whole room because he is in charge of triggering the music. He presses the button. Nothing happens. There is more jabbing. There is a clatter as half the equipment clatters to the floor. The bobbing bottom of the FOTG’s brand new suit can be seen as he ducks towards the floor trying to redeem the situation and sort out the recalcitrant cabling. Urgent raised eyebrows are signalled over the pews. If called upon I could sing  “How Much is that Doggy in the Window” backwards – it’s my party piece. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been called upon to perform. I’m just wondering if that gin & tonic was quite strong enough to fuel my vocal chords when Len comes to the rescue. Hallelujah! Some twit in the catering department has unplugged the all important music system for the sake of a refrigerator. This is one (and possibly the only) occasion when I’ll take my Champagne a little off-chilled, thanks.

With a soft 1,2,3,4 the Yeah Yeah Yeahs start singing “Hysteric” and we’re off! The bridesmaids are beautiful and poised, the Bride herself is astonishingly radiant, The Groom is handsome and ever so slightly emotional. Of course it is all perfect. It jolly well should be after all those weeks of thought and dreaming and planning and tasting. But nothing quite prepares you for the extraordinary emotion of watching your child promise until death us do part devotion to the love of his life. And watching the love of his life declare her love for your child. I am clutching a tissue and trying to hold it all together. The waterproof mascara makes it through the vows but a bit of false eyelash  is now bungee jumping down my right cheek like a hairy centipede on a thread of glue. So much for that bright idea. I yank it off quick before the photographer picks me up in the background. At least, I hope I do. This is the photographer who seems to have chosen clogs as her preferred footwear for shimmying discreetly across the flagstones as she contorts to snap the best shots.

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The knot has been tied! Mark Knopfler is twanging away at Walk of Life . At last! We can move on to wining, feasting, merry making and embarrassing Dad dancing. The Harry Potter fans are thrilled to find themselves on location. The rest of us went irredeemably gooey at the love and cherish bit and are soaking up the very real magic of a Christmas wedding – and a few glasses of bubbly. Hurrah!

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Wedding Summit 5: Snowdon

We’re slithering down the final mountain on the road to “Being Ready”, which is wedding Nirvana. The Bride has left her hated stressy job so she is able to smile now (and get down to some serious last minute wedmin). The Groom just can’t wait for it all to be over. Loads of stuff has been done (yay!) and loads of undone stuff is creeping out of the woodwork (boo!). We have all been given important jobs to do and are tapping clipboards in an imperious fashion. As the Person With the Best Hand Writing I am importantly writing labels. I am also giving thanks that I was not given the award for Best Wielder of Loo Brushes or anything along those lines.

The rings are ready. Pretty essential. For a while we thought we might be witnessing an exchange of Haribo rings which wouldn’t have lasted very long at all. Half the family has come down with throat infections. Well two people, but that includes the Best Singer. (“Oh no! Not him!”) so it seems like half the family.

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I have a dress! I shall go to the ball! It is very sparkly so there is a distinct risk that I might look like a Christmas tree but hey! ’tis the season to spangle and what’s more ’tis too late to change all that now. I also have many pairs of shoes. This is because I can’t make my mind up – and I know that’s a first world problem, but it’s still mighty tricky: love heels, can’t walk in them; love sling backs, can’t walk in them either (are there any men still reading?). Oh but they are all so beautiful. Anything you want to know about shoes at the moment, I’m your woman. I have scoured Leeds, Cheltenham, Oxford and Selfridges so you don’t have to. I saw some spectacular shoes in Leeds – they were sky scraper stilettos and they were being worn in a wobbly way by big men. Now that any male readers have stopped reading, I can tell you that these men were also wearing suspenders and corsets and a fair amount of mascara and lippy. Blimey, I thought, the night life up here has seriously hotted up since the 70s (when I was of clubbing age in Leeds). I was trying to be all broad-minded and not stare but my eyeballs were out of control, swivelling all over the place: it was far too entertaining a pageant to ignore. And it was freezing out that night! Possibly just as well for the blokey in the teeny lacey panties. “Aha!” we say in unison (and, it has to be said, with relief) as we stroll past the Grand Theatre and spot the lights advertising The Rocky Horror Show.

I have spent far too long online viewing shoe porn. I have started to think that £700 is actually quite reasonable for a pair of party shoes. I possibly need tharapy. What will all those men do with their Manolo look-alikes now that the show is over?

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Back at the wedding coal face we are printing off directions and beginning to wonder where on earth the lovely vintage car will be able to stop in central Oxford to disgorge the Bride and her entourage. Taking our roles seriously, the Bridegroom’s father and I tripped into Oxford yesterday to a) shop and b) reconnoitre. The a) bit went well and we collected handfuls plastic shopping bags quicker than you can say ringing till. We especially enjoyed the b) bit that involved paying a visit to the pub proposed for the pre-wedding stiffener. We could barely get through the door for all the spirited drinkers who had got there first. I thought tired shoppers just went home for a nice cup of tea, but oh no – it turns out there’s an entire underworld that heads for an immediate pint with all their bags piled up round their ankles. Yes, at 4.30pm! Where on earth will we find a perch for Grandma next week?

Parked at the main entrance to the venue was a graffiti-ed caravan full of latter day punks complaining about climate change, or spending cuts. Or maybe they were junior doctors. It was hard to tell – but the megaphone made sure that it was not hard to hear them. I do hope they will move on. Just for the evening. Everything else seemed jolly festive. Pretty lights, singing children, smells of mulled wine and hot dogs. That’s better. Bring it on – we’re (almost) ready! Now we could just do with a bit of snow please …

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Eye eye captain!

Well this is mighty peculiar … Day 1: It’s as if I’m standing in the dark watching a huge wild bonfire with flames darting all over the place. Day 2: It’s still pretty dark and I’m looking through a veil studded with coppery glow-in-the-dark worms, wriggling like mad. Day 3: The light is returning and I’m seeing the world through glittery scrunched up cellophane.

If you are waiting for a confession involving magic mushrooms on an Indonesian beach, you’re going to be bitterly disappointed. “I’d rather stick pins in my eyes” is not an expression I shall be using again in the foreseeable future because I now know what it feels like and I shan’t be taking it up as a leisure activity any time soon.

I have been in the hands of a Handsome Eye Surgeon in Oxford. He is very easy on the eye while you can still see, but has zero bedside manner. It is his job to stick a needle in my eyeball, not to make me feel happy about it. Fortunately he has a lovely black nurse called Molly (the colour is relevant here). It is her job to drop anaesthetic into my eye and to tell me that this is a very easy peasy thing and that I can hold her hand if I like.

Handsome Surgeon strides into the room and scrubs up (good sign). He starts chatting about his trip to the Manoir last night to clebrate his birthday. Is he trying to put me at my ease? The thought that is trundling round my brain like a hamster’s treadmill is “Hangover! Trembly hands! Eek!”. His PA made him a birthday cake that looks like an eye ball and when you lift the lid off you can see the retina and a retinal implant! I’m feeling a bit queasy now. I love my cake but I’m really not sure about cakes that look like body parts. Nadiya never produced anything like that in the Bake Off tent. I guess it must have looked a bit like this one ..

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Poke. “Did you feel that?” “No” Damn! I meant to say yes! They can’t possibly have put enough anaesthetic in my eye yet. But it’s too late. A large sheet of white paper has been stuck over my face and they are snipping out a hole for my eye. I can feel the scissors. I daren’t move. “Remember to breathe”, says Molly, helpfully – at which I let a lung full of air escape and the paper flaps about. I try to remember to breathe in again but without sucking the paper into my mouth.

Handsome Surgeon is discussing syringes with Molly. There will be two. Two? Why on earth does he need two? I want to sing Lalalalala just in case he’s about to discuss the needles: I seriously don’t want to know if the needle is 3″ long. I don’t sing though, because I don’t want to put him off his stride: this a man who thinks nothing of tucking into retinal cake, remember. “Just inserting the needle..” Oh why do they find it necessary to say such things? Did I need to know?

I am totally rigid. So rigid that I can’t reach for Molly’s hand. Oh Lord, everything’s gone black. And sparkly. He’s blinded me. “Totally normal” says the disembodied voice. Not to me it ain’t matey. “Can you see my fingers now?” “No” My eyes are darting about trying to make sense of it all. Then out of the gloom a couple of Churchillian dark grey sausages appear – well, that’s unnecessarily confrontational I’m thinking to myself. A few more seconds and I can see the outline of the ceiling tiles.  Soon I’m sitting up and Molly is busy tidying up. “Can you see what colour I am?” she asks. “Yes, Molly, I can see what colour you are”. She roars with laughter. “In that case, you are going to be absolutely fine.”

She congratulates me on being so brave (who? me?). But disappointingly, I don’t get an eye patch for my trouble, nor a jelly baby – certainly not a slice of that cake.

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Wedding summit 4: Kilimanjaro

Oops – it seems I forgot to post this. Oh – you might as well read  it anyway …

 

Right – there is some catching up to do. We are now on an 8 week count down to The Big Day. I am happy to report that the job list, which started as high as Everest, has been reduced through K2 and Annapurna to Kilimanjaro – a mere 5,895 metres, and so low that someone I know has climbed to the summit. It’s still nearly 6000 metres though, and I’m still in need of oxygen.

The efficient groom has compiled a spreadsheet of wedding costs. This is now officially known as the OMG spreadsheet. The efficient groom adopts a lugubrious expression and asks if I remember a couple of his mates. Of course I do. It turns out they are getting married too – in a registry office ceremony followed by a meal out with both sets of parents – full stop. Simpler, cheaper but nowhere near as memorable or as much fun, I reassure him. Not sure it worked.

It is a Saturday morning in September and here we are in an industrial unit close to the Cowley car plant. It’s only a couple of hours since we polished off our Weetabix, but we are perched at a linen clad table contemplating a menu of 2 meaty main courses and a veggie option followed by two puds. Everybody is saying things like “I really don’t think I can ..” ” I’ll just be taking a weeny little bit ..””You’ll have to eat mine ..” Yes, the happy fiascos and parents have been called up to a menu tasting session with the chosen wedding caterers. I’m going to love this.

First up is a duck breast – perfectly pink and tremblingly succulent (just as perfect breasts should be). There is a bonbon of confit duck! That was fun. There is also veg & potatoes and jus (no, that’s not the same as gravy) (apparently) – indeed quite a plateful, but within very few minutes it seems that all the plates have been scraped clean – even the flexitarian husband has tucked in with gusto. The empty plates disappear and a round of tasty lamb rump is set before us and somehow that is scoffed equally quickly. Truffle gnocchi should keep the veggies from gnawing the table legs. Embarrasingly, we even manage to tuck into apricot crumble and sticky toffee pudding.

I think we can groaningly say that our stomachs have been thoroughly lined – so we head off to Majestic to buy a lot of different wines to taste. Woohoo! In the olden days we used to screech into the Calais hypermarche to fill a shopping trolley with French wine at unlikely prices. This excursion felt a little bit like that, but without the Townsend Thoresen sea sickness and the obligatory bent baguette. And the prices are now unlikely in a different way.

On a roll, we skip along to a French patisserie to discuter wedding gateau possibilities. Monsieur le Patissier is tres excited et happy et chats for longtemps to the bride et groom while waving les mains dans l’air tres expressivement. Malheureusement, quand we decide to partir, le happy Patissier commence to clean his glass cake shelves un peu trop vigorously et le tout lot collapses avec un grand bruit. Zut alors! Nous hotfoot back inside the magasin to say “Quel dommage!” et aussi to say “Any chance of gateaux a half prix?” Le pauvre homme! Il dit “Bof!” (like tous les francais), ” Just prenez tout!” So we do et nous skip out feeling tres heureux. Quel happy day!

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So – we can tick off food, wine, even cake – almost. If only I had something to wear, all would be right with the world..

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We’re back

Crash bang wallop. That’s the sound of us thumping back down to earth in “Lovely Stansted” (the pilot’s words). Rubbish landing, by the way, Mr Pilot – I had to grip my tablet tightly to stop the kid behind me being hit over the head by an episode of Bargain Hunt which would have served him right for repeatedly kicking the back of my plastic seat during the entire journey (shouldn’t little children just fall asleep during late night flights?). Stansted airport post midnight is definitely not a lovely place. “But isn’t technology great?” smiles my nocturnal son as we join the curly queue to have our retinas recognised. 15 minutes after planting his feet in the designated spot and posting his passport in the slot the right way up, he is still dancing about trying to find a gadget that actually works.

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As we pass through passport control I eye up the gateway for “EU citizens” and the other for “All other passports” and wonder how long it will be before we have to join the aliens’ queue when travelling in Europe now that the Brexit people have had their wicked way. And I’m still waiting for a border guard to say “But your passport photo looks nothing like you! You look so much younger and more beautiful in real life!”. Just like I’m still waiting for the Waitrose check out blokey to ask me for id so that I can slope off with my bottle of Beaujolais.

It’s not long before I’m back in the driving seat negotiating the left hand side of the road, promoted forward from my back seat position in Italy which is the best place for someone of a nervous disposition who screams a lot when faced with cars driving on the wrong side of the road. It also freed up a front seat for the men who all speak the same weird navigational language. “At the next roundabout you need to make a 30 degree turn” says son 3. What? By the time I’ve mentally conjured up an O Level protractor the roundabout is way behind us. Husband just nods sagely (as if this is normal) and employs the indicator (contrary to popular belief, Italian cars do have them).

So we’re home. The windscreen wipers are hand jiving, somebody is droning on late night Radio 2 not playing enough music to prop our eyelids open and we’re already thinking about work later on this morning. And the suitcase full of holiday washing smelling of suntan lotion mingled with sweat. We really are back down to earth.

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Ravishing Ragusa! (and chocolate ravioli?)

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Gelato update! Today’s flavours: Marsala wine and lavender. Sublime. For once, I actually deserve this coppa-full. We are in Baroque town number three of our explorations, Ragusa – and happily we are finding it the most beautiful.  Always best to end on a high note. Right bang in the middle of the old town is the Gelati di Vini shop which is a marvel in several ways: a) it doesn’t close down in the middle of the day, b) it sells wine flavoured ice cream and c) its ice creams are divine.

Ragusa is an upsy downsy town – all yellowy pinky houses clustered up its steep slopes. All those steps! I thought we had planned the day right this time- long leisurely lunch followed by a stroll round town while the sun is cooling in the afternoon. The lunch bit was good and the memory of the ricotta stuffed ravioli with a tender pork ragu sauce and a glass of historic white wine will remain with me long after I return to my salad in a tupperware box in the office kitchen routine.

The heat, though, has reached Saharan levels as we tackle those steps (scorchio scorchio!). “Come on Team!” cajoles husband from several flights above, “The view will be worth it!” (bloody guide book). On this occasion, though, he is right and the viewpoint comes complete with an American couple who are happy to take photos of us seconds before I dart back into the shade to swig from our inelegantly huge water bottle. I’m from Oxford, for heaven’s sake: 22 degrees is a heatwave to me. All this 35 degree+ business is steamily inhuman.  The ice cream is our treat when we pass Go again.

We have several food memories to carry away with us. The delicately iodine-flavoured sea urchin spaghetti, for one; rabbit taglionini for another; octopus with toasted almonds .. and the chocolate ravioli from the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Modica. They are sold as little pastry parcels of sweetness in a pretty cellophane bag. “Hey, they look tasty! Let’s get a bag of those” I say, feeling like a kid in a sweet shop (hold on a moment ..). “They have meat in them” says the lady behind the counter. I wasn’t expecting that. “Seriously?” “Yes, meat and chocolate.” I check the list of ingredients later and she wasn’t fibbing – veal is there along with the cocoa and sugar. They are utterly delicious.

 

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The Troggs

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We are seeking out the spirits of the troglodyte people who lived in the nearby caves yonks ago (from 2000 BC says unreliable guide book) (I’ll get over it). I’m excited about this because it seems that religious hermits holed up here and had mystic experiences: I’m hoping it’s not too late to pick up the vibes. We are following signs to  “La Gotta dei Santi”. “Santa’s Grotto!” exclaims son 3 with more enthusiasm than we have seen since we set out. (“Sorry, why are we going to look at caves?”) (He is nowhere near a mystic experience yet).

The question on my lips is why is it that we always seem to be traipsing about in the midday sun? My goodness it’s hot and the rocks are throwing the heat back at us. It’s easy to see why the Troggs leapt into the caves. Unsurprisingly, we are the only people out here and it’s beginning to seem a bit creepy. We find the Our Lady cave (Our Lady gets everywhere in Italy) which was a tomb and has odd scribblings on the walls. Mobile phone torches light the way into the recesses for everyone else but I’m staying firmly by the exit and daylight just in case something jumps out from the shadows. I don’t even watch horror movies.

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Further on and several foraged armfuls of wild fennel later, we reach Santa’s Grotto which was a church in olden times and we can make out the remnants of frescoes all around the walls. They are portraits of saints and bishops, apparently. Disconcertingly, they look as if their faces have been deliberately gouged out. “What do you think all these little holes in the ground were for?” I ask. “Baby tombs” says son 3 as if he knows what he’s talking about. When we discover that the path to the next lot of tombs has been washed down a steep slope making our progress impossible I think we are all a little bit relieved. We make our way back to our nicely simmering car, madly shaking bugs out of the fennel and musing that, if we came back in September we would also be able to collect almonds, walnuts and figs  – all growing like weeds. No good vibrations this time, sadly – not even a wild thing.

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