|Ian and Helen in the 'Old Mo'|
In fact it was more than a day, but a weekend, starting with a pre-wedding Balti and beer on Friday night for 19 of us, a full wedding day on Saturday for about 90 and a more intimate Sunday Tea Club in the Chinese Quarter of Birmingham for eight. The weather was kind, bright, sunny and hot, the company relaxed, comfortable, reliable and, as usual in top form topped with huge amounts of laughter, and the happy couple? Well… adorable and in their usual way, Helen looking radiant, happy, in love, but also a bit embarrassed to be the centre of attention, Ian looking his own man, very relaxed, happy and proud to be finally getting married. Even on this weekend they were ready to do anything for anyone at any time, even though they should be stepping back and letting others do things for them.
|Hilary, Pete and Brian in the 'Old mo'|
So, Friday night started as soon as people could arrive from the various parts of the UK (plus one from Canada), Tony and Nicky driving down from near Inverness in Scotland, Phil and Sue from Poole on the South Coast, Ian and Bev from Bristol, Fiona and John from the lovely Cotswolds and the rest of us making the journey of a few miles. After the usual ‘headaches’ of Friday evening traffic, people began to arrive at the Old Moseley Arms pub, for a pint or two. We were already there, having arrived just after Ian and Helen who had settled into a corner of the bar with a pint each, both wearing t-shirts with ‘last night of freedom – nearly married’.
|In Diwans. LtoR Joyce, Mike, Ella, Fiona, John, Bev, Iain, Ian and Helen|
|And the 2nd table: Manu, Crystal, Hilary, Tony, Nicky and Pete|
Always a joy to see them with their energy, enthusiasm and Ian’s dry wit, we were soon chatting, laughing, enjoying the beer and already immersed in the fun of the weekend. It just got better and better as Manu and Crystal arrived with Manu’s infectious hearty, loud laughter, Pete (adding more loud laughter) and Hilary, Mike (adding even more loud laughter) and Ella, Joyce, Nicky and Tony (yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s always the blokes isn’t it although the girls can be just as bad!), all adding to the level of the joy and volume. Already we’ve almost taken over the bar, with constant talking, laughing, it’s great to be all together again, how fabulous is all of this, can life get any better?
|And late arrivals Sue and Phil|
The second half of the evening continued on the same vein as we moved to Diwans Indian Restaurant (our favourite!) for Birmingham’s, if not the UK’s almost National Dish, a Balti! Jay (part owner of Diwans and waiter to Prime Minister David Cameron when he visited the restaurant in 2012!) looking after us in his usual fabulous way, remembering what each of us eat, despite some of us having not been there for many months. Fabulous although hot night, high summer is proving to be quite sultry, but fans suitably placed helped keep us a bit cooler. In no time it was 11:30pm and time we should go so as not to be too tired for the big day (even though Ian and Helen had woken at about 4:00am and had been up and about since about 5:00am!).
|Helen, Saturday at 11:45am!|
We had an important duty to perform on Saturday, Jackie and I were to be chauffeurs, in our fairly old car, which I had spent most of Friday washing and (for the first time since we had had it), vacuuming out the inside to within an inch of its life! Even though I say so myself, it looked pretty good, even though there are a few scratches on its bodywork and a couple of marks on the upholstery, it was good and ‘ready to go’. We left the toy tank that I found under the passenger seat, on the kitchen table at Denise’s as we knew it would confuse Steph (my niece) when she arrived there on Saturday (‘why is there a toy tank on the table?’ she asked, right on cue!). After dropping an overnight bag at Stephanie’s house, our ‘airbnb’ accommodation for the night in Kings Heath (will tell you about that later), we attached the white ribbon to the car and set off in the hot morning sunshine for Ian and Helen’s and their date with the Registrar in Birmingham City Centre.
|Ian at 11:50am!|
‘You’re too early’ Helen said, looking for the first time quite nervous, it was 11:40am, they were in casual clothes and we had arranged to leave just after 12:00 midday! ‘Have I got to get ready in 20 minutes?’ she said and disappeared upstairs. The list of ‘things to do’ on the side had almost everything crossed off, the marquees that Mike and Ella had lent and erected for them were in place, the giant Jenga and Connect Four games were in place as was the kids bouncy castle, plenty of chairs and tables and a shed full of a massive quantity of beer, wine and spirits with coolers and bags of ice. We completed a few jobs with Ian, who was as casual as ever and didn’t wander upstairs to take off his shorts and t shirt and put on his suit until about 10 minutes before we were due to leave – Mr Cool or what! The sky is blue, the sun is beating down and it’s hot, hot, hot – it’s going to be a good day! Even the squirrels and birds seemed to quite like the new things in the garden, exploring round this new environment while it was still quiet.
|A local squirrel eyes up the giant Jenga|
|Off we go then...|
Here we go then, into the car and away, the white ribbons fluttering in the breeze as we went and that inner happy feeling we always get when going to a wedding. We were early, well, it’s better than being late, but we were there while the wedding before them were waiting, and the one before the one before! No problem, it’s warm and sunny, in fact it’s hot and sunny, so we stayed in the car outside the Register Office with the engine running and air conditioning on to keep as cool as possible before stepping outside into the heat. Yes, this is the UK and proof that we do get good summers here!
|Jackie, Helen and Ian at the Register Office|
|Outside the Register Office|
As people arrived for Ian and Helen’s wedding we left the car and started to mingle, some people we knew, many we didn’t, but everyone is so friendly and happy it’s easy to mix and chat. There was no ‘official’ photographer, so we were all snapping away with a view to sharing each others photos. My little compact shockproof, waterproof camera was somewhat dwarfed by others SLR cameras with big lenses, but at least it looked like a camera and not a smart phone!
|The greeting outside, that's Bev in the blue dress|
|Jackie adjusts the best mans buttonhole|
|Even a photo of me and Jackie|
|Ian and Helen walk up the aisle|
Eventually it was our turn. ‘Well, that’s it, I’ve told them we’re here’ said Ian, ‘there’s no going back now Ian’ we all said and I think there was a moment of nervousness from him, but lots more from Helen! Everyone is so smart, Nicky in a dress, never had most of us ever seen that, Pete in a suit and tie, amazing! Lots of people as we’d never seen them before, all here for a common, happy purpose and now waiting for an event most of us wondered would ever happen. 16 years in the making, that’s the time from their first date to today – no-one could say they’ve rushed things, but it sets the standard: Ian and Bev, what are you thinking? What about you Tony and Nicky, Pete and Hilary and even Manu and Crystal? Who knows, this could become a more regular event!
|The moment of truth|
We’re in the wedding room, a new, open, airy and nicely decorated room, chairs on either side, facing the front, an aisle down the centre and a table at the front with the registrar waiting and a tv screen behind so we could see the bride and groom. Some music started (can’t remember what it was now, but it was uplifting and non-religious) and in they came to the flash of many cameras, a nice service, more music, this time Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’, they sign the register and Helen’s Grego name is history – it’s the new era of ‘The Harvey’s’!
|Phil takes a photo of the happy couple|
We’re given enough time for congratulations and photographs in the room and the registrars are very friendly people, but in no time we were being ushered out into the grounds at the back that lead out to the urban canal at the back of the Mailbox. There the previous party were finishing their photos and just dispersing and there is that slight feeling of it being a ‘sausage machine’, but it’s done with grace and dignity and it’s easy to put that feeling out of your mind. Someone said there were to be 24 weddings there on that day, and that was apparently a ‘quiet day’!
|The best man and Ian share a joke|
Manu became the ‘semi-official’ photographer and got people organised and lined up for the formal pictures, and ‘didn’t he do well’! I don’t think he was too amused when I said that we’ve finally found something that you can organise properly, but Crystal found it amusing! There were many great photo opportunities, it’s city life at its best with the beautifully restored canal system at its centre, backed by the Mailbox building, containing the BBC, where Jackie used to work, and many exclusive shops that don’t show the prices in the window (if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it!) and also The Cube, one of Birmingham’ new icons, offering, by all accounts, spectacular views from the exclusive and expensive restaurant on the top, along with a bar selling very expensive drinks (according to Phil and Sue, his boys Henry and Adam, plus a few others who took a tour up there just after). Birmingham really is a new vibrant city, combining old with new in a seamless and visually appealing way, it’s becoming a great place to visit!
|A great photo (taken by someone else) of the best man with Ian and Helen behind|
|The group photo (I'm not in it, but Jackie is)|
|Phil and Jackie in front of The Cube|
|A nice photo alongside the canal|
|Manu 'supporting' the gymnast statue|
|Helen looking a very happy girl!|
|Helen and Ian in 'Just Married' t-shirts|
Ian and Helen had many offers of a lift back, but we’d beaten them all to it, so back to H&I’s for their post wedding party! And what a party it was, an afternoon garden party at their great house in Moseley, backing onto Cannon Hill Park, surrounded by trees and other really nice houses filled with the nicest of neighbours. Drinks flowed, an excellent buffet was presented with enough food to feed an army and more cheese than you’d find in a cheese factory (that Stilton really was good!!) I took our car back to our base at Stephanie’s house in Kings Heath and walked the 15 minutes back through Highbury Park, so I could have a beer or two. I managed to chat to many people, a great chat with Lavinia from their ‘next door’ who came in with an empty plate saying she was looking for ‘something sweet’ at the buffet. ‘What about me?’ I said, ‘ooh, you’ll do’ she said and we chatted for half hour or so about all things, including rock climbing!
Phil’s son Henry happened by and I got up-to-date with his progress on his philosophy Phd, now in it’s ninth of ten years, soon to be Dr. Powell, just like his dad (but his dad will always be just ‘Phil’ to me, ‘cause that’s how I knew him when we were climbing buddies). Adam, Phil’s other son was there, newly single, he was a bit sad about it, but we had a good chat and, I hope, it cheered him up. He’s a good looking bloke with a great personality, so he won’t be single for long! ‘I enjoyed watching his bum wiggle during the dancing’ Jackie said – hang on a minute!!
|Helen and Jackie playing giant Jenga|
Talking of Phil, we managed an ‘old guys’ game of giant Jenga, which involved chairs either side with beer nearby. None of this ‘only use one hand’ stuff, we could use both hands, arms and body to support the stack and shuffle the blocks on top to stop it overbalancing! As you’d expect, daring moves were employed, removing improbable, supporting blocks, but moving things on top to balance, leaving it precariously balanced and swaying, defying even the kids, whose attention we had aroused, and their blowing at it and even stamping on the ground nearby hoping it would overbalance. I lost, it was when I held it in my arms to stop it overbalancing and a crucial block fell out leaving it just in my arms. My attempt to lower to the blocks below didn’t work and it collapsed!
|Helen and Ian play Connect 4|
|But it's all a bit too much for Nicky and Tony!|
|The 'rigged' bed full of balloons|
In no time it was after 7:00pm and time to leave for the evening celebrations at Highbury Hall (http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/highbury), a nineteenth century grade II listed manor house built in 1878 by Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain MP, Statesman, Birmingham manufacturer, mayor of Birmingham and Liberal MP. It was his son, Neville Chamberlain who became Prime Minister and obtained the doomed ‘peace in our time’ agreement with Hitler in 1938. It’s a beautifully restored manor, now owned by Birmingham City Council, with the majority of the extensive grounds accessible by the public. It’s five minute walk from Ian and Helen’s so they set off with most other guests, while Jackie, myself, Manu and Crystal, plus a few others tidied up and made the place a bit more presentable for them to return to. We also took the opportunity to fill their bed with balloons and soft toys (well, it has to be done doesn’t it!).
|Helen, Nicky, Adam and Crystal|
The evening at Highbury was idyllic, a great setting, beautiful warm evening, meaning we could use the outside as well, a great buffet (what, more food!) a barrel of 96 pints of Landlord real ale provided free by Ian and Helen, along with many bottles of wine. Entertainment was a live band of three (drummer, lead guitar and bass guitar), playing popular and rock music of excellent quality. It meant we (our usual group of 18 or so), after the happy couples first dance, were up on the dance floor almost for the whole evening, with ‘dads dancing’ in abundance! Fabulous!
|Time to cut the cake. That's Roddy dog on the bottom layer!|
We had a couple of great speeches from Ian and his best man Andy, Ian’s was like a cosy fireside chat. He looked so relaxed and comfortable, leaning on the end of the bannister of the great staircase in the grand hall with beer in one hand and microphone in the other, he gave a great, casual and romantic speech – he really is a happy man! (Remembering to thank Helen for marrying him and saying how beautiful she looked, after being ‘reminded’ by Jackie on Friday that that was meant to be his speech!) His best man did a ‘This is Your Life’ speech with slideshow, something he had prepared with Ian’s mum, much to her delight and had a touching toast to Ian’s dad who died some time ago. Very nice, very thoughtful and with nothing risqué (where did he get that very bad photo of Helen three sheets to the wind?), although we didn’t know him, he’s obviously a lovely guy and someone who’s been Ian’s friend since they were at school together at 11.
I don’t know how it happened, but it was suddenly after 12:30am and the staff were flashing the lights to signal the band to stop. They had played all evening, except for a 15 minute break, great music and, other than they only looked like they were 12 years old according to Jackie, they were very talented and played fabulous music (the lead guitarist needs to get jeans that fit him, I just can’t go with this saggy bottomed no belt stuff!). ‘Just one more song’ they said, the staff nodding, ‘would you like to sing Helen?’ Yes she would! Grabbing the microphone she sang an impressive rendition of ‘Valerie’ with her strong, great voice, a lot of dance moves and looked really professional. Well done Helen, we are proud of you!
|The band. A bit older than twelve I think!|
|Singer Helen - go for it gal!|
Most people had left, but our group of 18 or so remained, we still had drinks on the table and we, but especially Helen, didn’t want it to end, so we extend our stay until close on 1:30am, until the staff were clearly wanting us to vacate, so we made our way outside, said our huggy goodbyes and headed off to our beds, very happy people!
Our walk ‘home’, was back to our ‘airbnb’ house in Station Road. Airbnb is a website allowing you to book a spare room in people’s houses at a fraction of the price of a B&B. This one cost us £15 total for the night with Stephanie providing our own very clean room, towels and dressing gowns with use of her bathroom, kitchen and lounge. She even provided us with breakfast on Sunday morning at no extra charge and good, friendly conversation to ease us into a fuzzy morning! We can definitely recommend ‘airbnb’ as a great internet site for booking accommodation worldwide (we’ve booked airbnb accommodation for our first few days in the USA next month) and particularly Stephanie’s place in Kings Heath. It’s a modest terraced house in a residential road, very close to Kings Heath centre, but she is the friendliest person you could wish to meet.
|Oh dear, it's getting late!|
|But we don't want to go home! Usual crowd!|
Sunday we ‘moved house’, from my sisters, Denise and Paul’s, house in Solihull after house and plant sitting while they were on their Greek holiday visiting my brother Tony and Tessa for Denise’s 60th birthday (how did that happen!). Now we’re in Hall Green, house and cat sitting for Sooty (guess what colour she is), while owner Abigail is away in Cornwall for two weeks. We got this ‘assignment’ from another website ‘trustedhousesitters.com’, who advertise for people to look after their house with dogs, cats, fish, plants or whatever, while they are on holiday. It’s an international website that our two ‘sits’ in New Zealand came through. The other housesits we’ve done have been arranged by ourselves, so we’re pretty much ‘old hands’ now and love every minute of it. Abigail’s house is a small terraced house, but is beautifully restored with a long back garden and a very cute cat that we seemed to have befriended very well. We were ‘miaowed’ at and walked over in the night and we woke to find her on the window shelf next to the bed this morning – very cute!
|But finally we have to|
I’ve gone on a bit, as usual, but wanted to finish with our Sunday Tea Club, which is such a luxury and a great occasional night out we have with a select few. Last night it was Jackie and I, Ian and Helen, Manu and Crystal (the core), plus Pete and Hilary. We always meet in The Dragon, a Weatherspoons pub opposite Birmingham Hippodrome and then head off round the corner to the Chinese Quarter, where Crystal, originally from Hong Kong and a Chinese speaker, takes us into restaurants staffed and frequented by mostly Chinese people. Always the food is fantastic and we all just leave it to Crystal to choose what she knows we like, drinking hot Chinese Tea with it and making every Sunday Tea Club special and something we all look forward to. Last night, of course, was World Cup football night, but we ignored the TV in The Dragon and caught up with the final bit of extra time on the TV in the Fox and Hound pub we went into after the meal for a final pint, just in time to see Germany’s winning goal.
|Night-night Ian and Helen, thanks for a great day....|
A great end to a fabulous wedding weekend. Something tells me Ian and Helen are going to have a fantastic life together and we hope we can share some of it with them. We love them and all our friends to bits and can’t wait until we can get together again, we have such great fun together – life can’t get any better!