|Girlie Friday evening, nails and 'stuff'|
Saturday May 24th 2014, a day to remember for Steph and Sam, but a whole weekend of laughter and emotion for us all. My little niece Steph, daughter of my sister Denise and her husband Paul, has grown up, found her perfect man and got married. Where did those years go? The bubbly, irrepressible, lovable girl, described by best man Matt in his speech as a ‘lovable little puppy’ when he first met her, looked a stunning, radiant, relaxed and forever smiling bride. You’re a lucky man Sam, but then again, although I don’t know him very well, he seems a very good catch. They’re a good match for each other and it is obvious to everyone that it’s a match made in heaven. The rain may have come down, but the joy not only on their faces, but on that of everyone present shone through and the weather mattered not a jot and may even have added to the occasion as people stayed close together to shelter under umbrellas whilst holding up dresses of others to keep them clear of the puddles.
|Friday night in Denise's conservatory, LtoR: Denise, Vicky, Steph, Sarah, Jackie and Rachel|
|Paul pops a champagne cork|
Our whirlwind weekend started at 6:03pm on Friday evening (we were three minutes late as the text we received on the way reminded us) and was a lot calmer than we expected. Sam and all his family from Essex, the South of England and France were staying at the Forest of Arden Marriott hotel, so the five of us (Steph, Denise, Paul and us) sat down to a great meal at D&P’s house in Solihull, followed by champagne later after the three bridesmaids arrived: Rachel, daughter of Paul’s brother Gerald and his wife Angela, Steph’s friend Sarah, fresh in from Palma, Majorca where she is teaching English as a foreign language (flew in on Friday afternoon, flew back on Sunday afternoon!) and another of Steph’s friends, Vicky (whose husband of one year Dave is a newish member of our Solihull Mountaineering Club!).
|Steph getting made up|
“Is Brian Cross your uncle” she enquired of Steph some weeks ago. “What has he done now” Steph thought, but it was OK, they had received the ‘Housesitting’ email we had sent round the SMC email group asking if anyone wanted their house and pets looking after while we are in the UK, and they had made the connection. Interesting that Steph’s first reaction was ‘what has he done now’! Ah, yes, the smell of champagne and nail varnish with lots of girlie chat and laughter, time to help Paul stack the dishwasher! ‘I don’t know whether to paint my toenails as well as my hands’ Jackie said, a not-very-common statement from her, I wonder if the bins need emptying….
|Saturday morning, still time for laughs...|
Friday night, late, 11:00pm, “I want to wash my hair and blow-dry it tonight” Steph said and went upstairs only to reappear stating that there was no hot water! More time to wait while the water heated (it’s going to be late tonight), but it done, we slept, we apparently all had a 4:00am ‘sleepless in Seattle’ moment, creeping to the loo hoping not to wake anyone, not realising we were all doing the same thing and then it was 08:00am Saturday morning and we were up and into it, Steph still smiling and relaxed (how does she do it?).
|...and a glass of champagne LtoR: Paul, Denise, Steph and Vicky|
|But there are still jobs to be done. That's Nick on the right|
Jobs started at 09:00am with Paul taking Steph to the hairdressers, while Jackie and I took off to take Steph’s overnight bag across to the Marriott hotel and then went back to the house we are looking after for Helen and Phil to feed Maggie, the cat with personality, (will tell you about that in another blog, too much else to write now!) and got back just after 10:00am, to the ‘emotional’ house, Steph had given both mum and dad cards, bridesmaids had given her cards, Sam had left a secret card, and everyone was in tears! So, the only dry eyes in the house we were ready to cook bacon sandwiches, as instructed by Denise. “Make sure Steph eats something” Denise instructed, “We don’t want her falling over”.
|Jackie applying make-up in one of the only spaces available|
“HP sauce with mine please”, “just bacon for me please”, just keep cooking I thought and Jackie, my sous chef, was a great help (no, of course she wasn’t in charge!). Rachel had arrived and, soon after, Sarah and Vicky and then the make-up lady with a huge kit of ‘stuff’. More champagne, that Paul has now mastered opening (I really wanted the photo Steph took on Friday night of him opening the first bottle!) and it’s feeling pretty in control, no nerves, just lots of excitement and laughter and a real pleasure to be part of the whole experience. It really is something very special being at the bride’s house on the morning of a wedding and something I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Richard the photographer arrived and he and I were competing for photos, but he did have a bigger lens than me, I knew my place!
|Looking good Steph, That's the hair done and make-up on, there's Richard the photographer coming up the stairs, camera at the ready, Nick greeting him|
|Another 'moment' as Steph presents Nick with a card cufflinks|
|Jackie helps Denise with her dress|
The wedding dress was out, Jackie’s Swiss Army knife was out cutting labels off, her deodorant was passed round, grips, sewing, teeth cleaning, people everywhere doing ‘stuff’, Nick (Steph’s brother) discussing photo schedules with Richard, while Paul and then Nick struggled to tie their cravats. Paul had a go himself looking in the mirror (no), Nick had a number of goes looking in the mirror (definitely no!), “don’t ask me” I told them, so Denise had a go and made a better job, Nick eventually getting somewhere close enough in time to pose for a photo with his grey umbrella (which he then forgot to take with him to the church!). Don’t forget the buttonholes! The white repro vintage Rolls Royce arrived, Steph gracefully descended the stairs after many hands had helped her on with the dress, followed by Rachel holding the veil (apparently she tripped going down the stairs as well as going up earlier!) and then Denise and the three bridesmaids were in the RR and away.
We had previously gone to the church with Nick, but had to return to collect the forgotten ‘brolly’, in time to see a very worried looking Paul waiting with the fabulous looking bride for the RR to come back to collect them. Paul had admitted to me how anxious he was about this moment, walking down the aisle with Steph and in particular, of course, his ‘father of the bride’ speech – he needn’t have worried!
|Time to get started...|
We didn’t know that many people and had never met any of Sam’s family and friends, but we recognised D&P’s friends Sue and Anthony, Denise and Mick, Paul’s three brothers, wives/partners and families, plus a few others, but also it was good to see my daughter Fiona, with my granddaughters Abbie (nearly 16, finished school on Friday and nearing completion of her GCSE’s, ready for sixth form if she gets her grades), Becky (14 two days ago) and little Jenny (9), not forgetting Fiona’s man of ‘one year on Monday’, James, who really deserves a medal. Fiona and Abbie are fun-loving human dynamos with voices to match, Becky is quieter and the star of the family, looking after them all, plus little Jenny, quiet and lovable, all making them a ‘bit of a handful’! James, although he has no children himself, has adapted to family life so well and is just amazing with them, able to handle all of them, particularly the irrepressible Abbie, who has her mobile phone apparently glued to her hand and cannot imagine life without it. They look a really happy family, always joking and having fun and the kids obviously adore James. It is very satisfying for me to see how happy they are and know that I have nothing to worry about.
|Nick discusses photos with Richard|
|Rachel's nearly ready and looking good. Time for a glass of champagne!|
|Hmm, now how does this cravat tie up Paul......|
|Not like that Nick!|
|Hey Steph, looking good!|
|...with a little help from your friends (well, mum in this case)|
|The bride glides down the stairs|
|Denise has a go a tying Paul's cravat|
|Looking cool Nick!|
|What a picture!|
|A proud moment, Denise, Paul, Steph and Nick|
|This is what it takes to make up a bride and three bridesmaids|
|The Rolls Royce arrives and we're off to church...|
Nick, as one of the two ushers (James on Sam’s side as the other one – he might be his cousin, I’m not sure), guided us to our pew with the usual words ‘brides side on the left, grooms on the right, please keep the front three rows clear for close family’. Church organ music and a choir in an historic church do make a great setting and in no time it was packed with smartly dressed people happily greeting each other, catching up and chatting, giving a church wedding service something so unique and romantic. Sam and his best man and brother Matt were looking suitably nervous and I had my first sight of Sam’s parents Mark and Marion, looking very elegant and every bit as D&P had described them. Ah yes, there’s Claude and his wife (Marion’s sister) from France, that huge handlebar moustache of Claude’s is just as described.
|A bridesmaid and mother of the bride 'selfie' on the way to the church|
|Sam and the best man in discussion|
I’m pointing out the people I know to Fiona, who knew less than me and suddenly the bridal march starts, we all stand and in walks Steph with a huge smile on her face, arm in arm with a very proud dad, followed by the three fabulous bridesmaids (don’t forget the flick of the veil, Rachel, as she turns through 90⁰ from entering to walking up the aisle and don’t forget, Paul, to walk on the grating so Steph can walk on the carpet and not get her shoes caught). Who cannot get a little emotional as you see that happening, hear that rousing church organ music and see such happy people, no matter how many weddings you’ve been to?
|At the altar|
A fabulous service, great hymn choice (just within my limited vocal range!), ‘Praise my soul the king of heaven’ and ‘Jerusalem’! The ‘wedding march’ and then…out into the rain! No problem, plenty of umbrellas, but most of all, plenty of happiness and camaraderie, who cares about a bit of rain, Steph and Sam certainly didn’t!
|Richard organising the photos in the rain|
|But do they look bothered?|
|Magic moments, Granny leading the way!|
The reception, at the West Midlands Golf Club in Barston, has a large room with picture windows out onto the lake and golf course, one of the holes being on a small island in the lake. Part of the package was a day’s golf for the grooms family which they, along with Paul, took on Friday, Paul completing one of his first rounds of golf with his second-hand, but expensive set of golf clubs. Only one ball into the lake by Paul apparently, but six hours instead of a more usual four hours for one round of golf shows it was much more social than competitive.
|The happy couple|
While we were stood around chatting in the beautifully decorated room, Lee the DJ, took hold of a retro microphone and started singing, or crooning ‘easy listening’ songs, really ‘setting the scene’. Claude and his wife and Jackie and I started dancing at the back of the room, really getting us ‘in the mood’. Sam and Steph had decided to split people up on the tables, so Jackie and I shared a table with Donald (Paul’s brother) and his partner, Claude and his wife, along with James (the other usher)’s mother and ‘Granny’ (her mother I think of 87 who was in the rudest of health and great fun.
|That's my family, Fiona, my daughter, on the phone, Jackie, Jenny, James, Becky and Abbie|
|And James taking a photo just to prove I was there!|
We had a great time on our table and really enjoyed their company, getting down from the table absolutely stuffed after the pre wedding breakfast canapés, a melon and sorbet starter, a huge lamb shank main course, a massive bowl of blackberry and apple crumble with custard (one of my favourites!) and plenty of red and white wine.
|The wedding hustle and bustle|
|These two are so photogenic - and so happy!|
The lull after eating allowed us to savour the nervousness of Paul, Matt and Sam, who were about to start their speeches, particularly when Lee presented Paul with a microphone! Any nerves were gone once Paul started and his speech was brilliant and well spoken, causing us a lot of laughs, he was a star! Sam was also very good and his slight slip up over complementing the bridesmaids, causing a good laugh, he took very well. I can’t remember what he said, but he blamed his own bad handwriting that he couldn’t read. Picking up his glass as everyone fell about laughing, he was heard to say “take a drink Sam….what I meant to say – and that’s why I should have typed this – was…” Well recovered Sam and your compliments to Steph brought a tear to the eye (damn, I’ve got something in my eye again, it’s not what he’s just said!)
|Confetti in the car - and a glass of champagne!|
|And off to the reception|
|Denise and Paul have a moment|
|Claude and his daughter have a dance|
The evening went like a dream, the sun came out occasionally, allowing Richard the photographer to complete the list of photos required, Steph and Sam cut the cake, did the first dance of the evening before us rabble got up to crowd them out, but the real coup was Lee the DJ/entertainer, who sang two sets and played dance music from old to up to date (I knew very few of the ‘modern ones’, but others seemed to be singing along) and was an absolute star. He was clearly loving what he was doing, was on stage singing (on his own or into the microphone) and dancing the whole night as well as playing music that everyone wanted. His enthusiasm was catching and he really made the evening go as well as the rest of the day.
|and James takes a photo of Steph, Jenny, Becky and Abbie|
|This was the 'Great Britain' bakeoff, with cake entries from Denise and the other Britain's|
|The 'Top Table' LtR: Rachel, Mark, Denise, Sam, Steph, Paul, Marion and Matt|
YMCA was a record to remember with Pete, one of Sam’s friends and a really nice guy, being the ‘Y’, up on stage, Sam was the ‘M’, Sam’s boss from the USA was the ‘C’ and another guy the ‘A’, all very impromptu apparently and all unknown to each other (other than all to Sam of course). In no time it was 12:30 and, for Sam and Steph after their continued energy and enthusiasm getting us onto and keeping us on the dance floor all evening, it was time for them to go, so, after a rousing chorus of ‘for they are jolly good fellows’ as they got into their taxi, they disappeared off into the night and we wound down the last half hour of dancing and headed for home very happy people.
|The best man shields Steph during photos. Sun turns to a shower|
|What about this for 'atmosphere? (Not one of my photos)|
|Paul delivers his speech|
|Now it's Sam's turn|
|Denise having a chat with her old school friend, also called Denise|
|Jackie, me, Fiona and Becky|
|James does the 'thumbs up' with Jenny|
|Abbie looks up with a smile|
|But is soon back to the 'usual'|
|Paul's elder brother Edward and Pat, with Paul's other brother Donald in the background|
|I don't know who this is with Steph, but it's a great photo. And that's Lee the DJ behind|
|Look at that cake, made by Steph's own hand|
|This picture didn't come out well, but I wanted to use it as it show's Granny, Eileen, dancing away with Sam. Isn't that fantastic? You should have seen her dancing to 'Come on Eileen' with Sam's American boss!|
|A bit of a wedding 'montage' courtesy of James|
|Sunday at Denises|
But it wasn’t over, Denise had invited everyone round for a buffet lunch on Sunday so, despite the late night we were up at 08:00am, rushing around again to prepare the house for the onset of the expected 30 odd visitors. There was plenty of preparation and, although Denise had thought of everything, there were lots of things to do and Jackie was her usual efficient self, taking some of the pressure off Denise, thinking and doing things before being asked, prompting Denise to describe her as her ‘star’! Another packed day, lots of laughs and chatting, more champagne (Sam bought a bottle with him, handed it to Paul and said “this is quite an old bottle”, so Paul, thinking it was probably past it’s sell by date was just about to open it thinking it would be good to get it out of the way first, was stopped by Sam who said “no, best keep it for later”. Old means ‘good’, ‘VERY good!’ Paul put it down and didn’t touch it again. “I’m not even going to open it” he said, “I daren’t!” And there it stayed, unopened, looking….expensive!)
|This is mainly Sam's family who I don't know well. On the left is Matt, Sam's brother and best man, with his girlfriend (or wife?), in the light pink/peach on the left is Marion, Sam's mum and on the right is Mark, Sam's dad|
|Paul's family, Gerald on the left, Edward 3rd from left|
Guests drifted off by 4:00pm and we packed up and headed off at 5:00pm with the obligatory slice of wedding cake, which was good, in fact superb. Steph with her friend Vicky had made it all themselves, ‘Big fat Bertha’ was the base, ‘Malcolm in the middle’ (apparently named after a TV show) and Titch on top. A real success and very, very nice. She’s also a good cook, is there anything this girl can’t do?
|Vicky, Dave, Angela and Rachel|
They are off to Bali to relax for a few days, then onto another Indonesian island to do active outdoor stuff (they both enjoy the great outdoors, Sam having done an ‘Iron Man’ and scuba diving etc etc), followed by four or five days in Singapore, where they are meeting up with some friends). If you are reading this on your honeymoon Steph and Sam, have a great time and have a Singapore Sling for us. Cheers and thank you for a wonderful time we will never forget!
|Paul with Sam|
See you when you get back Mr. and Mrs. Britain!