Twenty seven years today I was betrothed to my wife Karen.
I vividly remember the breezy, grey County Durham day like it was yesterday. My brother Ian, who was my Best Man, and I arrived slightly late at the church. Thankfully, our poor punctuality didn’t result in my bride to be beating us to the church.
Ian’s chronic earwax problem meant he didn’t hear his alarm go off. I stupidly hadn’t set mine as a contingency and my parents had been too busy interviewing a lodger for my, soon to be vacated, room to wake us. Subsequently, we badly overslept, resulting in a mad fight for the bathroom when we came to hurriedly dress.
Once we were ready we took the short journey to the church, arriving 5 minutes late. I parked the car and we proceeded to walk up the gravel path towards the imposing church doors. Ian pointed out the path had seen better days. He was right and one of them was probably the previous Saturdays wedding!
As we increased our walking pace to make up lost time, we passed weathered grave stones tilting as if to defy gravity. On the fences either side of the path, a group of larks perched as though to give my brother and I a guard of honour. To this day, I’m sure I heard one of the larks say to me “Don’t do it!” and “I’ll give it six months!”
Our Ian, being very competitive, claimed to be perspiring more than me. I pointed out that it wasn’t a competition and we continued on our short stroll to the church entrance, in our top hat and tails.
Once inside the church my brother looked at the flickering church candles, which he said gave him an idea how to utilise his excess ear wax! However, I was too busy concentrating on the day ahead to focus on his business plan!
My apprehension wasn’t helped by the organist playing the musical score from the movie The Omen as we edged closer to the vicar. It has to be said, catching sight of an old woman sat with a ‘Kill The Heretic’ placard on the second row was a tad unnerving as well!
To add to the surreal feeling of the occasion, in front of her was a man in a Scooby Doo fancy dress outfit. At least I think it was a man in a Scooby Doo outfit! It could just have been that someone had brought their bloody Great Dane to church. Anyway, I had other pressing matters at hand, so paid no further mind to it.
Near the front of the church, I also caught sight of Avril my mother-in-law to be. Avril is the nicest person you could ever meet, well that is if she was the only person you ever meet! I gave her a disingenuous smile and suddenly realised why The Omen score was being played.
The vicar was an eccentric man who wore roller skates in church due to his infatuation with the musical Starlight Express. I has to be said his quirkiness did seem to unsettle the congregation. However, it didn’t really bother me, I was just relieved it wasn’t The Lion King musical he was obsessed with!
As I looked down the aisle at the clergyman he looked very unsteady, as he fought valiantly to keep his skates static at the altar. The fact Ian was pausing at every other pew chatting to the assembled guests seemed to irritate him somewhat!…….. That was no surprise, though, because he was doing my bloody head in as well!
My brother’s soundbites included “Our Gary’s cacking himself!”, “Sorry we are late. We were held up by Sioux Indian’s on Birtley High Street!” and “Do you know the difference between a penis and a chicken leg? ….. If not do you want to come on a picnic?!”
The women he said it to laughed nervously at Ian’s joke. However, the vicar wasn’t impressed with his wife being subjected to such an inappropriate question, joke or no joke!
A chicken leg
When we finally reached the vicar, I apologised for our tardiness. He smiled back and replied “No worries. By the way, have you ever seen Starlight Express?” I gave a nervous laugh, shook my head, smiled and went back to sweating. Our Ian looked on vacantly for a few seconds before responding “I’ve never read it your majesty!”. I assume he thought Starlight Express was an astrological newspaper, I’ll have to ask him one day!
As the guests were finally settled the organist struck up ‘Here comes the Bride’ and I turned my head to see a shadow of white with veil sweep majestically down the aisle towards me. My heart skipped a beat, and there was dryness of mouth at this vision of beauty. It was a feeling that only lasted fleetingly, however, as when this vision reached me it turned out not to be Karen, but a neighbouring beekeeper in full beekeeping regalia!
The Birtley beekeeper
He had come to advise the vicar and I that Karen maybe a little late due to his bees violently attacking her dad George at the gates of the church. Apparently, this was the result of him foolishly wearing his lucky honeycomb on his head for the occasion!
Several minutes passed, but after a stiff whisky, and having his wounds attended to, George was ready to proceed and the service commenced.
Following the bee attack, the service went off without incident. However, I am convinced we’d chosen hymns for the service, not the medley of songs from Starlight Express that had mysteriously appeared on the order of service sheet!
As the service came towards it’s conclusion, Karen and I were pronounced man and wife and signed the register. We then proceeded back down the aisle to stand for the traditional photos outside, whilst trying to avoid being blindsided by the clergyman on skates!
Outside the photographer asked Karen and I if there was anywhere picturesque we’d like our official wedding photos taken. When your wedding is in Birtley a question like that is a bit of a conundrum. Good views are of a premium in this featureless north east town!
After much debate our photographic memories of the day were captured outside of the Komatsu construction machinery factory. We’d narrowed it down to there, Bimbi’s chip shop or Birtley baths. After a game of paper, scissors and stone the crane manufacturers won hands down!……. So to speak!
As we waited to be gathered together in the group photos, our Ian amused himself by throwing his top hat in the air to try land it on his head. I watched on intrigued by this game, wishing I could join him instead of making small talk with people I didn’t know from the Komatsu factory.
Once the photographs were finally completed, we headed towards the cars for an onward journey to the Red Lion in Chester-le-Street for the wedding reception.
As I climbed into the wedding car to join Karen, I loudly announced to my brother, who was alighting another car, “I’ll see you at the Red Lion, Ian!” He smiled back at me, winked and shouted back “No you wont! I’m off on a picnic!”
As I sit now and look through our official wedding photographs, I can’t help but think “Who the bloody hell is that in the Komatsu uniform in my family group photo!!”