I am not a religious chap, in general. I don't like religion of any sort; the tunes are pretty but the words are sort of creepy. However, I do appreciate the role of symbolism and ritual in doing anything. They feature everywhere in life, and religious ceremonies are the best places to find them.
Last night was a triumph; a gorgeous ceremony in a beautiful church and the couple surrounded with love. Love is just as amorphous an idea as God, but I've seen more evidence for love than for God, so love is what I believe they were surrounded by.
We were due to arrive at 1pm, and 1pm is precisely the time we arrived. Although this seems obvious, within my family tardiness is the norm rather than the exception. We actually sat in the car for a minute, struck dumb by shock, before disembarking in the usual shambolic way. I know that in theory it is possible to exit a car with style and grace, but I am yet to discover the secret. We also disembarked the cake, the secret cake the photos of which were embargoed yesterday. It was extremely heavy; we carried not only a 10 kilo cake but the responsibility of the wedding cake. It added to the mass in no small way.
We shipped it onto the coach and made the greetings that one must make amongst family that one hasn't seen since the last religious rite. It's tragic that I only see these wonderful people at times of great sadness or great joy, but that's the way life is - we are brought together only to see it at its best and its word. Reality, that great squisher of dreams, interferes in the idyllic life we would otherwise lead.
The traditional greeting between younger and older generations are always the same: "Auntie So-and-So, how are you? It's so nice to see you! You've not got any older!" And, of course, the standard response, "Jono! It's been so long since we saw you last! Haven't you grown!" That's especially kind in my case, because my height peaked when I was 12 and the only way I've grown is outwards. The coach brought us to the church, an absolutely stunning early Gothic construction. It is Roman Catholic, and so the ceremony proceeded with all the pomp and circumstance inherent in that institution. The words were excellent, and I am glad that someone chose to change the usual ones just a little - cherish has a less misogynistic tone than obey. Their voices were a little quiet, but what do you expect - they were binding themselves together three times, which has always been a powerful number in mystic systems. The Christians still have three parts of a one God, and marriage binds a couple three times - before God, before the State, and before the love of their friends.
Soon the ceremony was over, and it was time for pictures, and hundreds thereof. The couple looked embarrassed and proud and nervous, and could barely stand to be apart. The dress was daring, a sheath with a good meter of train, and the bride was accompanied by her mother. They came out to the traditional shower of petals and cheers; the bride doesn't know it, but she's married into one of the most boisterous and loving families in the world. We went on to the reception, which had a casino downstairs in which my sister managed to win £110 on her first go. Beginner's luck, and I don't even believe in luck. The prices were extortionate and the staff added a service charge to every transaction, and although the setting was beautiful I have no qualms about naming and shaming the Millenium Gloucester as practically criminal. To add a service charge to every drink served is an absolute outrage, especially when a request for a large vodka and tonic was met with the kind of gawping expression one generally finds on a goldfish. I don't mind tipping - I've worked in bars, and I'm proud that I can usually earn a goodly sum in tips - but to just add it to orders regardless is disgusting.
My dad did his speech, and it was excellent, although a collective groan went up when he clocked in at only 8 minutes and 12 seconds - a sweepstake had been run, of course, and my cousin cleared up, having plumped for 8 minutes. My father's ability to ramble is legendary amongst my family, and the conservative estimate had been fifteen minutes. He did incredibly well, and I was massively proud, even if he went off-script a couple more times than I'd have liked. It didn't matter. He captivated the audience.
At long last we wound our way home; jollier and fuller than we'd arrived. And so I write this in the afternoon, with a head that only aches a little and still surrounded by the love of my family. It is something we carry with us always; like the Queen's crown or a wedding ring, it need not always be physically present. When the Queen is in the shower, she is still the Queen. If you wear your ring or not, you are married. And whether you are in the midst of your boisterous family or far from them, their love is still with you. Those still with us and those taken from us in sadness; all are with you and - do not forget this - you are with them.