Today’s my Pearl wedding anniversary. Thirty years since I walked down the aisle of a County Durham church with my new wife.
On that sunny September morn, the Best Man (my brother Ian) and I arrived slightly late at the church. Our tardiness the result of our kid’s watch being set to British Summer Time instead of Birtley Summer Time. Thankfully, though, our poor punctuality hadn’t resulted in my bride-to-be beating us to the church.
Arriving five minutes late, on parking the car our kid and I proceeded to walk up the gravel path towards the imposing wooden doors at the entrance of St John’s church, Birtley.
As we briskly strolled towards the church, Ian pointed out the well-worn path looked like it’d seen better days. I concurred with his sentiments, musing one of them was probably the previous weeks wedding.
Donned in light grey top hat and tails, we increased our walking pace to make up lost time, bypassing the weathered gravity defying grave stones, tilting as if bowing in reverence.
On the fences either side of the path, a group of larks perched bestowing Ian and I with a guard of honour. To this day, I’m sure I heard one of the larks tell a feathered acquaintance “I’ll give it six months!”
Once inside the church, my pre-service apprehension wasn’t helped by the organist playing the macabre musical score from the movie The Omen. Edging closer to the vicar, this angst further fuelled on witnessing a woman holding aloft a ‘Kill The Heretic’ placard.
Nearer the front of the church, I caught sight of my mother-in-law to be. I gave her a disingenuous smile, she growled back and it suddenly dawned on me why The Omen score was being played.
The vicar was an eccentric man who, due to his infatuation with the musical Starlight Express, wore roller skates when undertaking his services. It has to be said his quirkiness seemed to unsettle some of the congregation, although I was unfazed by this eccentricity. I was just relieved it wasn’t The Lion King musical he was obsessed with!
Looking down the aisle toward the altar, I witnessed the clergyman fighting valiantly to keep his balance a consequence of his skates appearing to have taken on a life of their own.
The fact our Ian was procrastinating by nattering with assembled guests seemed to irritate the vicar…….. However, this wasn’t a surprise, because he was doing my flaming head in as well!
My brother’s soundbites included asking a female member of the congregation “Do you know the difference between a man’s appendage and a chicken leg? ….. If not, do you want to come on a picnic?!”
The women he told 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.
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 to indicate I hadn’t, before returning back to the groom’s job of perspiring uncontrollably.
Our Ian looked on vacantly for a few seconds following the clergyman’s query, prior to responding “I’ve never read it your majesty!”. I assumed at the time our kid must’ve thought Starlight Express was an astrological newspaper, but wasn’t inquisitive enough to confirm that.
When the guests were finally settled on their pews, the organist struck up ‘Here comes the Bride’ causing me to turn my head and look toward the rear of the church.
In my line of sight a veiled shadow of white swept majestically down the aisle towards me causing my heart skipped a beat and raising a proud smile on my perspiring brow.
It was a feeling that only lasted fleetingly, however, as when this vision bot to within a few yards of me it became clear it wasn’t my wife to be; moreover a neighbouring beekeeper in full regalia.
The beekeeper had dashed in to advise the vicar that Karen maybe a little late due to his bees violently attacking the father of the bride at the church gates. A consequence of him wearing his lucky honeycomb around his neck to bring his daughter good fortune, or at the very least to her senses.
Several minutes passed, but after a stiff whisky, and having his wounds attended to, Karen’s old man was ready to proceed, and the service commenced.
Following the bee attack, the service went off without incident. That being said, I am convinced we’d chosen hymns for the service, not the medley of songs from Starlight Express which’d mysteriously appeared on the order of service sheet since the previous evening’s wedding rehearsal.
As the service came towards it’s conclusion, Karen and I were pronounced man and wife. After signing the register, we proceeded back down the aisle to stand for the traditional photos outside, striving manfully to avoid being mowed down by the out of control 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; aesthetically pleasing views being 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. It won the accolade after beating Bimbi’s chip shop and Birtley baths during a game of paper, scissors and stone between the bridesmaids..
Waiting to be congregated for 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 about fork lifts with employees from the Komatsu factory.
Once the photographs were finally completed, we headed towards the cars for an onward journey to the Red Lion Hotel, Chester-le-Street, for the wedding reception.
Prior to jumping into the wedding car to join Karen, I loudly announced to my brother, who was about to climb into 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!”