There is a new candle on our window sill. It was a wedding present from Adam’s father and his partner – a Yankee candle called Wedding Day. The wax is white and the label shows a posy of white flowers. When my own father saw it, he said, “What scent is Wedding Day?”
The official Yankee Candle site tells me that the candle is a sophisticated and soothing blend of florals and subtle fruits. The top notes are sheer citrus, aldehydes, and greens, with base notes of sweet musk, sandalwood and tonka bean. I used to work for Coty, a beauty conglomerate who represent a lot of the major fragrances, so I’m used to writing copy from product precis that read like this – a muddled and confusing garden, familiar words rising from wreaths of unfamiliar. I also know that writing copy for scents is almost an impossibility, since every concoction changes alchemically on the skin. A perfume that is a perfect fit with one person’s chemical mix of salt and sweat and the undefinable sits confusingly with the senses on another. You might have preferences, but for the most part you only know what you like it when you smell it on your own pulse points, throat and wrists, the silage you leave behind you in familiar rooms.
Some parts of our wedding were easily planned for. We didn’t have strong feelings towards a church wedding, and in the UK you can only get married in a small number of registered venues per borough. That led us to the County Arms, a pub which was easily reachable by public transport, within our price range, and had a small pub garden in case the June sun I was hoping for came our way. I didn’t want to wear white, nor did I want to spend a huge amount, but a scouting mission in Harrods with my mother and sisters taught me that I did, in fact, want to wear something high waisted and monumental, the kind of gown that stands up on its own and bursts from packaging exuberantly. I found a skirt that fit those requirements on Etsy, created by someone in Lithuania, and the top in TopShop after 100 Google searches of combinations of the words silk, satin, sequin, camisole, vest, evening, blush, ivory, cream, coffee. I put off buying the top for so long that TopShop nearly sold out of the one I wanted, and Maddy had to do an emergency trip to Oxford Circus two weeks before the wedding. I tried on the two items together for the first time in front of a mirror at the tailor on the hottest day of the year so far, with a flushed face and sweat trickling between my thighs. The date of the wedding, June 15, came from my hope for sun, and our desire to avoid Glastonbury.
One of my best friends, Rupert, who had wed the love of his life in January of this year, gave us a piece of advice, that I will always be glad we took: get ready together.
We had been wondering how best to navigate this. My sister and her two wonderful housemates had already agreed to let us use their big house, with its big garden, in Tooting Broadway, for the bridesmaids to get ready. But there was no obvious location for the groomsmen – we live in Finsbury Park and the wedding was in Wandsworth, making our house an hour-long taxi ride away. When Rupert made his suggestion, it suddenly seemed like the most obvious thing in the world. Most of the members of the bride and groom’s parties are good friends. Many live south. This way we could all leave for the wedding together, and the florist could give out the buttonholes and bouquets, and champagne and beer only had to be supplied to one location. It was so obvious, and suited us so well that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. After the decision was made, it was one of the things people expressed the most surprise about. Many believed it was bad luck that Adam and I spent the night before our wedding together, watching Game of Thrones and drinking negronis. Having done it our way, I don’t understand why you would do it another. I was nervous and excited before the wedding, and I got to share those feelings with my best friend. Why be a groom, waiting nervously at the altar, fearful that the bride might not show, when you could have sat outside drinking a beer with your bride-to-be, enjoying the last few minutes before the vows?
We didn’t get sun, or not much of it. On the morning of the day, Adam was despatched south to Primark to buy 8 clear plastic umbrellas, while I went to the hairdresser and had my hair styled by George, who turned me from a redhead to a blonde some 5 years ago. I took the tube from Baker Street down to Tooting Broadway, dodging occasional rain, and hoping my plait would hold in the wind (it did). My sister’s house was like a haunted Victorian mansion, each room filled with at least two bridesmaids in white dresses. I was lucky on two counts: to have enough people dear to me that even having seven bridesmaids felt like holding back, and to have those seven happy to wear a white dress of their choosing. In the lead-up I had plenty of questions from well-meaning (and incredulous) colleagues and friends about that, but it was an easy choice that I made early. White goes with anything, so whether I wore blush or the amazing rainbow Caroline Herrera dress I tried on early on the piece, it would work. In the end they all wore different dresses, and all looked uniquely amazing, accessorised with coloured shoes and lipsticks and earrings. The florist arrived; our wonderful friend Ally presided over the flowers; another wonderful friend, Billy, took beautiful pictures of everyone getting ready in the late morning light. The wedding photos are wonderful, but Billy’s capture the atmosphere of anticipation and excitement of the hours of preparation, as well as our comfort and pleasure in familiar company.
We took Ubers to the venue. When I arrived, many guests were already there, thronged at the front of the pub. We sat down with the registrar and celebrant, poised women who had clearly done exactly this four hundred times before. Adam and I sat together, holding hands – another moment which bride and groom would typically spend apart. And then everyone was seated, Taylor Swift was playing and I was stood at the side of the pub, arms linked with my father, ready to walk up the makeshift aisle. I knew I would walk too fast and I did, with Dad whispering in my ear to slow down. My skirt filled every inch of space between the chairs, and he did so well not to stand on my train.
When you do a non-religious wedding ceremony, you are provided with a very clear script, from which the celebrant will not diverge by one word. I have been to magical ceremonies in New Zealand, where the celebrant speaks at length about the couple, and the individuals, and their hopes and dreams, and at our wedding there was none of that. It was crisp, formal, legal, sensible. We had two readings that brought our own colour to the script – my mother reading an excerpt from The Odyssey, and our friend Rupert reading a blog piece written by Neil Gaiman, which he performed from memory, directly to us.
I was nervous about the ceremony. Nervous about standing there in front of so many people, nervous about how I would feel, nervous about whether it would feel farcical, in a pub, with people swilling pints behind a curtain and the kitchen trying to be quiet as they plated up meals at the rear. I was nervous in the moment; the quiver in my voice and the shake in my hand was undeniable. But – underneath the chandelier, in front of red roses and eucalyptus, reflected back in the mirror – there was something sacred about it anyway, from the formal vocabulary issuing from the mouth of a smiling stranger, to the poured-over words of the deeply contrasting readings, to our vows, spoken directly at each other. I felt the same when Adam knelt in our small Stockwell flat. That kind of promise, made with that weight of intent, shuts down the air around it. I, given to sarcasm and alleviating pressure with humour, felt no need to joke, just the working of the muscles in my jaw as I smiled at him, at once familiar and strangely serious. I cried twice, and snotted on my vows. Neither of us could get the rings on each other. My sister wept throughout. Adam had to follow me down the aisle as we walked to Queen – Best Friend, my skirt too wide to let him stand beside me. And he was my husband.
That was the hard part, and that was the best part. In the lead-up to the event I had spoken often of looking forward to it as a chance to unite all our favourite people in the same room; a once-in-a-lifetime perfect party. And it was that, but it was more as well. I have always been sentimental, and exhaustingly monogamous, and yet simultaneously somewhat skeptical of marriage as the ultimate union between two people. I have though living together, buying a house together, opening bank accounts together to be a far greater expression of trust and dependence. Now I believe there is something in the ceremony of it, whether you do it in a pub or a church or a registry office. It means something.
After the ceremony there was prosecco and photos. The County Arms is a beautiful pub, and it is situated near Wandsworth Common, but we were keen to do the family photos as fast as possible, and so the majority of them were taken on a grass verge near a bus stop, angled to keep the busy road out of the photos, and dog poo had to be scooped out of the way by an empty prosecco flute. The rain held off, and we didn’t need the umbrellas. Plenty of people had told me that the formal photos were unnecessary, but I’m still glad we got them – inside the pub, with 100 people, we would never have got the family photos we wanted. And we look elated, all with matching bouquets, clutched low across the white and blush. The photographer (Alice the Camera, truly brilliant) told us to look at each other and laugh, and so that elation is a bit plastic, but it looks real. And looking back at it from a distance of 3 weeks, the rain and the bus stop and the dog poo all feels essential. A London wedding, with London weather and smells.
Everything was touched upon by someone. The music throughout the day was chosen by my sister Emily (she also advised my to follow my heart and walk up the aisle to Taylor Swift). The place-settings were calligraphy by the hand of one of my bridesmaids, Alice. The photo wall was done by Lauren, the lights hung by Liz and Ally, the sweets put into jars by Nicole, the bunting left over from my hen do untangled by Adam’s mother and sister.
The photographer was recommended by one of the best men; the florist, Emily, by my godmother. Our friends Alice A and Luke witnessed. My hen do, organised by all my bridesmaids (especially Liz, Emily and Kathryn) felt so perfectly catered to me it hurt. Organising a wedding as ex-pat is a bittersweet thing, because there are always people who can’t be there, and places you might have liked to be. But in the end, I didn’t feel alien at all, but rather like we’d been lucky enough to gather around us, by some strange and lucky gravity, everyone we needed. People who needed, and loved us.
The speeches, after the ceremony, were my favourite part of the day: my groom on my left, my sisters surrounding me, large glasses of red wine that I had chosen for its deliciousness, and people standing up at intervals to say exceptionally nice things about me. Adam led off with a speech that was poised and practiced on his two best men. He was – as he is – warm and loving and funny, careful to thank everyone involved, nervous at the microphone, but not showing it at all. My sister Maddy then followed, reading out something I had written, then wrapping everything together in a sincere and beautiful testament to love. She shook as she read, and I looked up at her, in awe of her strength and the power of her words.
I didn’t eat any of the food except for the fries, but I hear it was good.
After dinner were three more speeches – the best man, my Dad and myself.
Chris, one of the best men, had been a rock throughout the wedding prep, from organising the stag do to helping practice the speech. He is a career best friend and a practiced best man, and his speech erred on kind rather than cruel (the tradition of terrible stories from the best man will never cease to confuse me). In the speech, Chris proved that he reads this blog, slightly to my detriment – so Chris, I hope you like this post a bit better than the other.
Dad spoke with the poise of a politician, with reference cards but a tendency to go off the cuff. He worked the room with smiles and wry humour and made me feel truly loved (even if he kept called me Maddy).
And then I spoke, to wrap things up. I had always intended to speak, but wasn’t entirely sure what I would say – Adam would take care of the thank you’s. In the end, it was easy and relaxed – having already cried and expressed mucus through my nose in front of the same crowd, I wasn’t nervous. After the speeches, I went to the bathroom and took off my Spanks and my (already extremely low) high heels and put on my Supergas, and felt entirely myself.
It was a day that felt entirely ours, from the doughnut we cut in lieu of a cake, to the dance floor absolutely packed with friends and family, new and old, singing their lungs out to the cheesiest music.
Our budget wasn’t huge, and we spent it on food (a candy station, a large array of late night beige snacks, with plenty of vegan options) and booze.
I didn’t speak with everyone; I danced with most people.
I stood in the spitting rain and wrapped layers of tulle around my friends’ cold shoulders. I took Polaroids of my cousins, my colleagues, our friends and family, everyone, capturing the moments in as many ways as possible.
Our wedding smelled like rain on hot pavements and un-mown grass; like deep fat fryers and sausage rolls and 60 people jumping up and down to Rihanna. It smelled like red roses and warm doughnuts. Every wedding is different, and our wedding wouldn’t have been perfect for anyone else. But it was perfect for us.
Adam. Since the beginning you have made me feel safe and sure and certain. You have never made me question how you feel, from our beginnings in Japan to our home in London. I love how honest you are. I love how loyal you are. You’re an optimist, a thinker, curious and kind to your core. You’re a problem-solver and a pun-maker and my partner. I am 100% myself with you.
We’re not the same. You’re numbers, and I’m words. You’re strategy, and I’m creativity. You’re facts, and I’m fiction. We are opposites attracting, two minds meeting. They say that all love stories are retellings, but this kind of happiness is brand new to me. Falling in love with you was so easy.
I promise to back you and to bolster you. I promise to be honest to you, and believe in you, and to trust in us. I promise to stick with you through the bleak times and laugh with you through the good ones. I promise to find the good in the hard bits, and to always seek silver linings.
You’re my best friend, my partner, my very favourite person and I feel exceptionally lucky that in about 10 seconds, you’re going to be my husband. Game on, boyfriend.
Hello! Welcome to our wedding. I have assigned myself three minutes for this speech, and you will probably be unsurprised to learn that two minutes of this are going to be about our cat.
When Adam and I decided to adopt a cat, we went to the Wood Green Animal Shelter, where there were only two cats available for adoption – a fluffy five year old called Alice, and a young ginger tomcat called Chunky.
When I went into Chunky’s cage, he was tucked up in the very smallest darkest corner of the enclosure – I couldn’t see him, except for two big eyes, and I couldn’t touch him. He made me feel sad, so I only stayed in his cage for a minute. I then met Alice, who flirted with me outrageously, and then bit me, so I fell immediately in love with her.
Adam was still in the cage with Chunky, who continued to refuse to emerge. The woman at the shelter told us that he had been bullied by the neighbourhood cats, and that his favourite food was fried chicken.
We left soon after, but we both knew what had happened. I had fallen for Alice, and Adam wanted Chunky.
We discussed it that night. I said that we were new independent cat owners – without parents around to do 98% of the work – and that we were better suited to a happy, trained independent cat, who would be affectionate. I said that we didn’t know what to do with a cat who was nervous and unhappy, and might never adapt to our household. Adam said that Chunky needed us. That evening we put a hold on Alice.
The following day, Adam went back to visit Chunky. He still wouldn’t come out of his cage, still wouldn’t be touched, and Adam reluctantly accepted that he might not be the right cat for us.
We waited three days for Alice, while she had her last vet checks, and then Adam went in to pick her up, during which visit he was told, to his delight, that Chunky had started mingling with the other cats, and that he was likely to be adopted soon, as people prefer young cats as a rule, and because ginger cats are the most popular shade of cat. After hearing this – and, I think, only after hearing this – Adam felt free to fall in love with Alice. She is now in charge of us both.
As I wrote out that story, I realised it perhaps didn’t cast me in the best light, but I have always been a sucker for ferocious women. And it showed Adam exactly as he is – kind in his bones, a backer for the underdog (or cat), a person always swayed to aid the person most in need. Adam is the person who unhesitatingly helps old women on the street, and always listens to both sides in the debate. He is almost annoyingly universally loved. I have always been inclined towards friendships with women over men (have you met my seven bridesmaids?) but was lucky to have accrued a few strong male friendships over the years. Upon our moving to London, Adam has slowly but steadily gathered them as his own, arranging them into various teams, of sports and gaming persuasions, and I know where their loyalties lie now. Rupert, you still belong to me. I am a jealous person, but I am also extremely proud of our wide shared net of friends. As well as our actual family, we have built real family in London, out of cats and people, and it has made our lives so much better.
Can’t believe I only assigned myself 3 minutes, what the heck was I thinking, have you read my blog? You should. I’ve been nervous in the lead up to the wedding, but now I am just extremely thankful for the family arrayed around us. My sisters Maddy and Emily, and my new sister, Laura, and brother Tom – and his partner Raluca and their amazing baby. My parents, who have been so generous and travelled so far. Adam’s parents, and Gail, who have given us so much of their time and love. All of our extended family, aunties and uncles and cousins and godmothers from overseas and over motorways. The big overseas Cayford contingent. Di, Ally and Corey, all the way from Australia, Rupert, Nicole and Lauren, from New Zealand. Friends I’ve had for 20 years, 10 years, 5 years, from school, university, work. The incredible team who organised and attended my hen do. All of our amazing friends, old and new, who have given up annual leave, loads of their time, a great deal of sleep, all of their talents, a huge amount of their patience.
Adam has mentioned those who couldn’t be here today, but I also wanted to nod to my grandmothers, Joyce, in Timaru, who is too old to travel, but I know would have loved to be here today with so many of her daughters and sons and grandchildren. And Nancy Holmes, who died 4 years ago at 101, whose love of poetry featured in our ceremony, and has filtered down to me through my wonderful mother, and who I am honoured to have known. There are some truly marvellous matriarchs in this family.
I wasn’t sure I wanted a big wedding – in fact, I have often described this day in the lead-up as casual, which is not how 90 people gathered in a room to eat simultaneously is usually described, but I now realise that this day not only represents a lifetime with the smartest and kindest man I have ever met, but also the only excuse I will ever have (apart from my funeral?? Not the same) to gather everybody I love in one room and tell them how much I love them, and how grateful I am for them. I am so glad you’re all here. Thank you so much for coming. Please raise a glass to all of us here today.