Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Unconventional Marriage

The average cost of a wedding nowadays is £20,000. But it’s possible to get married for a fraction of that and be spared all that pre-wedding hysteria.

Pip was 56 and I was 38 when we met, and by some quirk of fate, neither of us had previously been married nor had children. It didn’t take me long to realise that I had finally met the man I wanted spend the rest of my life with – and he seemed to feel the same – so I felt the situation should be honoured. Made official. Unfortunately Pip saw no reason to get married and ignored my increasingly less than subtle hints. Or so I thought.

We’d been living together for three years when we decided to go to Gibraltar for an early holiday in the sun. We had been restoring his boat White Heather for several years and felt we both deserved a rest. Several weeks before our holiday, Pip took me down to the empty shell of our boat and we climbed inside to view progress. In amongst the oily bilges, he went down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I burst into tears, said yes, and any progress on the boat was halted that day. We went to the pub instead.

When we sobered up, we discovered the problem was not who to invite, but who not to. Did we invite all the family, and all our friends? Where do you draw the line between guests and non-guests? We didn’t want a church wedding, but a quiet, simple affair. But where? Our friends and family are scattered around Britain, America, Australia and New Zealand and Cornwall is a long way from everyone.

As the list reached 150, Pip grabbed the holiday brochure. “Look,” he said. “You can get married in Gibraltar. Let’s do that!”

Delighted, I agreed. After all, I had left the brochure open at that page for some weeks now. Tying the knot in Gibraltar would only cost an extra £150 and would mean that someone else could deal with all the planning, administration and general migraine that accompanies most weddings.

The first thing was to find a dress. I couldn’t see anything I liked in the shops, so found a dressmaker in Falmouth and drew what I wanted on the back of an envelope. She sent me to a discount store for some material and a zip and my entire dress cost me £15.

Next came the problem of keeping it quiet. We had intended to marry in secret and tell everyone when we came back. But one of my brothers rang up. “My wife thinks you’re getting married in Gibraltar,” he said, which rather spoilt things. Lying convincingly is not a talent of mine.

Then my mother phoned. “You wouldn’t get married without telling me, would you?” came a quavery voice.

I clutched the phone wondering desperately what to say - I was damned either way. Shaking with guilt, I put down the phone and said to Pip, “It’s no good. We have to tell the family.”

When the news came out, there was outrage from young nephews and nieces who all wanted to participate in the wedding. Thankfully, my mother’s 70th birthday party coincided with our departure date, so we were able to have a non-wedding/birthday party with the family before we went.

We arrived in Gibraltar late in the day. The evening was warm and comfortingly dark, and the next morning we woke to clear blue skies and a temperature of 24 degrees C. For early May this was bliss.

Our travel representative met us in reception. Dennis was a courteous and efficient Gibraltarian who couldn’t have been more helpful. When he asked about flowers for the wedding, I smiled, remembering my childhood dream. “I’ve always wanted a bouquet of honeysuckle,” I said whimsically.

Unfortunately even Dennis couldn’t find honeysuckle, but he organised a photographer instead. My beloved blanched a little when Dennis asked us to meet him outside Mothercare the following day, but it turned out to be in a good cause. We were to meet a Commissioner of Oaths and swear an affidavit.

The day itself was wonderful. Dennis had booked us a taxi that took us to the registry office, an elegant old building with a big garden where our wedding photographs were taken. As we walked into the garden, I saw, to my delight, honeysuckle entwined round the iron railings. The photographer and registry clerk looked horrified as I ransacked their honeysuckle bushes and added handfuls of the strongly scented flowers to my bouquet. But a bride’s a bride, and this one had her wish.

The service was solemn and simple. Beside me, my intended paled in his new woollen jacket, and sweat poured off his brow, but he insisted later that this was nothing to do with forthcoming responsibilities. It was the heat. Dennis and the photographer acted as witnesses, I wasn’t arrested for attacking the honeysuckle, and we walked back to our hotel as man and wife.

The total cost of our wedding? £298. And I couldn’t have had a better day.

A shorter version of this was published in Brides in Cornwall Autumn 2008

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