Unfortunately the events best forgotten are the ones that stick in the mind the longest. This story is from about twenty-five years ago.
I have always known that my family was at best eccentric, and at worst positively weird, especially in their outlook and actions. In fact, I can safely say that none of the family members I knew well were anything approaching normal. It was therefore with a certain sense of foreboding that I discovered, on a visit to the UK, that I was expected to attend the wedding of a cousin I hadn’t met for a very long time.
Would this somewhat distant branch of the family be normal? Not remembering too much about them, I certainly hoped they were. It is true that having eccentrics around at least dissipates the boredom, but sometimes it’s good to talk to someone whose conversation always makes sense.
We had been invited to the reception only, not the actual service, as it wasn’t, as I found out later, in a church. I traveled up from Brighton to London with my octogenarian maiden aunt. She put on the front of being a very proper person, dressed to the extent that I, as her escort, was forced to wear a freshly cleaned suit with a boutonniere.
Perhaps describing her as a maiden was a bit of a misnomer, even though she had never married, as some years later, when she had to be in a home, all she could talk about coherently was sex. She went on about how much she enjoyed it, how wonderful it was, and how much she missed it. Ad nauseam. I feel that my duty visits became much shorter because of this.
On this day, however, she embodied everything that was proper. She had an air about her that demanded respect. She was also rather much the Grande Dame. She never learned to drive, her explanation being, “There is no need for me to learn to drive. You see, I am a lady, so I will be driven.” I had no rebuttal for her argument.
The reception was held in the upstairs room of a pub opposite King’s Cross station, as several of the guests had to travel from the north. Not the ideal location, but then, I wasn’t paying.
Once we reached the upstairs landing, we noticed the bathrooms, and decided to visit them before braving the throng, which we could already hear on the other side of a set of double doors.
As I opened the door to the gents, I met Tim, the father of the bride coming out. I knew him vaguely, and he recognized me. Extending his hand, he smiled and said, “James, good to see you, glad you could make it.” I took in his appearance. He looked like a schoolteacher straight from the classroom. Casual jacket with leather elbows, suede looking shoes and a threadbare cardigan over a shirt with a nondescript tie. “Oh, crap!” I thought, “Things look to be going downhill. As I took his hand, I realized that they already had. It was wet. I hoped it was just water. I then recalled that he was a schoolteacher – of sorts. He held the chair of philosophy at Edinburgh University. Yes, I murmured to myself, this gathering does have the potential to be a lot odder than it should.
Once into the main room, my priority became finding a seat for my aunt. It wasn’t easy, as it wasn’t a sit down affair, as we had hoped. It was a buffet and see if you can find a seat job. Since my aunt was clearly the oldest person in the room, I managed to claim two seats around a small table without any problems, and parked her down. “I need a gin and tonic,” she croaked as soon as she could. “Better make it a large one.” Clearly she also sensed she was going to need some fortification.
Wending my way through the crowd, I passed the buffet on the way to the bar. It looked strange. Veggies, veggies and more veggies, along with crisps and a variety of made up salads and dips were all I could see. A short while later as I plonked down the G & T in front of my aunt, I mentioned this odd fact.
“Didn’t you remember, James?” she asked. “They’re vegans.” Well! That was just what I needed to hear. I was ravenous. Traveling is quite enough to give one a goodly appetite, but shepherding a near geriatric definitely adds a stress factor which sharpens the hunger pangs. I felt it a shame I didn’t drink spirits as, holding my beer, I didn’t think it would be enough.
“Christina, James, how wonderful to see you!”
We both turned to see Giglia, the bride’s mother, approaching our table. I stood, allowing my eye’s to catch my aunt’s. What the hell was she wearing? It looked like a green sack. I could see by my aunt’s admittedly almost invisible reaction that her sensibilities were somewhat taken aback as well. As a chorus we somehow spat out “Giglia, dear, how wonderful to see you.”
After a few moments of required pleasantries she asked, “Have you seen Nina yet?” She was the bride.
“No, not yet,” I replied, “we only just arrived.” She waved towards a window seat, and there was her daughter, Nina, dressed in what could only be described as a matching green sack. I heard my aunt’s indrawn breath. Not only was my aunt shocked at her uninspiring wedding day attire, but the bride was giving suck to her baby.
Giglia attempted a save by saying, “That’s little Jakey.” At least we hoped that’s what she was doing. “He’s an absolute darling. You must meet him.”
“Perhaps in a little while,” my aunt prevaricated. “I need to sit for a bit.” She had obviously realized that she needed to let the booze take effect before she braved any more of the wedding party.
A few minutes later, a rather shrill voice caught our ears, “Eh, were you at the ceremony then?”
I turned and saw a girl whom I immediately slotted into the bimbo category. “No, why did you think that,” I asked.
“Well, you’re the best dressed people her, and you have a buttonhole. You relatives then?”
I cast about the room, and realized we stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. It was a very informal do. It wasn’t the last time we fielded that question. Perhaps we weren’t the normal ones.
“Tim and Giglia’s parents were my first cousins.” My aunt offered her relationship.
“Is that their mum or dad?” She asked. I imagine weddings are one of the few times anyone is interested in exact relationships.
“Both,” she replied. Ouch! Now I remembered that Tim and Giglia were first cousins, and they were both my second cousins. Chalk up another family eccentricity. Was there more to come? Hoping for a few quiet moments, I went to the buffet to see if I could find anything edible.
No sooner had I returned to my aunt with the most salvageable of the buffet’s offerings than the speeches started. I managed to tune them out for a bit while I played with my veggies, and watched over my aunt. That was until I heard the words ‘groom who is a trumpeter’. Perking up, I heard, “…and he and his band will shortly be entertaining us.” I turned to my aunt who was already tearing off little pieces from her paper napkin, and rolling them into earplugs. Looking around the room, I understood. It wasn’t really big enough in here for a band, and they would be loud, especially as they would no doubt feature the groom and his trumpet. My aunt was by now busy stuffing the plugs into her ear. I hoped that would be enough.
It wasn’t. The strident noises that came from this collection of barely competent musicians were much too loud for any coherent conversation. Thankfully it was soon over, and my aunt breathed a long sigh of relief, freeing her ears from their stoppers. It had been anything but fun.
Then we were back to mingling for a bit, and caught up with the relatives we knew. In tune with the way, Lucy, Nina’s identical twin sister, came over. She wore a sack virtually identical to her sister’s, except it was red. At least we could tell them apart. It got depressing, as a procession of the unshaven, pierced, and sartorially challenged paid their respects.
The assault on my exhausted aunt’s sensibilities were not yet finished, as a smiling cousin advised us, “They’re going to have Jakey’s naming ceremony soon. There are five godparents.” His expression changed. “Well, they won’t exactly be godparents since god isn’t involved – if he exists at all.”
My aunt and I exchanged a telling look, as the five lined up held Jakey, and passed him one to another, while promising something of an atheistic nature.
That was it for my aunt, and we beat a polite but hasty retreat. Once in the cab, and on the way to the train station, my aunt remarked, “At least they had plenty of booze.” She had had plenty too. I prayed she didn’t drop off before I got her on the train.