We've been invited to the wedding of one of the Once and Future Mrs Swipe's former work colleagues. On the stroke of eight I open the door to D - Spike Milligan impersonating the corrupt police chief from LA Confidential. D is married to G, another of the O & F Mrs S's erstwhile workmates and named after an old Ava Gardner movie -
'G'. Maybe I've been reading too much Martin Amis of late, but the car he leads us to *has* to be called a Fiasco. It's low slung and has a dash so highly polished it looks more like marblized plastic than wood. There are no seatbelts and you immediately feel as if you've entered an episode of 'The Persuaders' as soon as you begin to cruise. The only anomaly is a large tartan rug spread out over the back seat - for G's flea-ridden pooch, I'm assured. I feel my legs begin to itch as soon as I've sat down.
The streets are empty so, before you can say Roger Moore and Tony Curtis in an ill-fitting safari suit, we're pulling up at the gates of Richmond Park. We're about half an hour early and, having squeezed ourselves out of the 'Fiasco' and de-creased ourselves, are just about to embark upon a circuit of the park to kill time when a North Face weatherproofed parkie appears, scuttling towards us. We brace ourselves for his 'gerroff me land' type spiel but none is forthcoming: he turns out to be nothing but benign.
Indeed, so benign that it's as if the body of Whispering Bob Harris is being animated by the spirit of Larry Grayson. Our guide proceeds to sit us down, furnish us with doll's house glasses of wine and fill us in on the glamorous history of Pembroke Lodge whilst we wait for the wedding party to finish their meal and speeches and joining us for drinks ahead of the evening reception. George III, his wife Charlotte, Queen Victoria, Lord John Russell, Bertrand Russell, David Niven and the former Duchess of York are all involved in this whistlestop history of the house in which we're sat. Bob/Larry (Blarry?) tells us that the Lodge was actually Fergie's desired London residence until palace apparachiks put the kibosh on the move. "It's so open here, anyone could get a shot through one of these windows" our guide, evidently still dismayed at the very prospect of such regal proximity to the great unwashed, informs us whilst examining some stray specks of dust he's picked up after a casual sweep of the Robert Adam fireplace. I'm furtively imagining letting off a few rounds at one of the Yorks with an AK47 when it dawns on me that he's probably thinking more about the royal couple's vulnerability to the papparazzi than to would-be assassins.
We sit looking out at the patio, ekeing out our wine as we wait for the other guests to descend. It's not long before we get on to politics. D and G (G was, I should perhaps mention, born in Baghdad of Anglo-Iraqi parentage) are both voting BNP. Well, they're the only ones prepared to do anything about immigration, it would seem.
The other guests start to arrive and it soon becomes apparent that we've made a couple of basic strategic blunders. Firstly, we forgot to establish from whence the drinks were due to be despatched. Furthermore, in our ignorance, we've sat ourselves about as far away from the liquid action as we possibly could and are now at completely the wrong end of a room that has rapidly filled up with sozzled wedding extras.
A procession of the O & F Mrs S's chums begin to make their way over to us. There's T who used to be a rep on Paxos but now lives in Dubai, works in cosmetics and has a South African accent that makes her say 'yissss' instead of 'yes' - when she isn't saying 'yarr' instead of 'yeah', that is. There's C who looks like a lot of fun; blowsy and red-dressed, Katie Brand wearing one of Lady Gaga's more restrained pill box and veil chapeaurial concoctions. Another T, who has two glasses of wine on the go, and whose amply beveraged presence reminds us of the desperate straits we're in booze-wise so we brace ourselves and squeeze our way towards the wine dispenser,
Another thimble full of vino secured, we get chatting with Digby (not, I'm assured, his real name) He doesn't look as if he would be but Digby was a veteran of the pub rock and early punk scene. He lists an impressive list of bands he saw before they became famous and many who never quite got that far. I start to feel I was born at the wrong time. I'm looking forward to chatting some more but we lose sight of Digby for the rest of the evening once I've ordered him up a Guinness from the free bar.
Yes, we've now been spirited through to the Belvedere room, past a lovely portrait of the happy couple that all the guests are expected to sign and a deligtfully seedy looking chap in a pale grey pinstriped suit whom I can only describe as looking exactly as Richard Harris would have if he'd ever been asked to play the role of Rod Stewart in later life.
The parents of S, the bride, are Greek-Cypriot and the family their daughter has married into are Scots but it's surprisingly hard in some cases to decide which side of the newly extended family the non-kilt-wearing guests represent. Matters aren't helped by there also being a fairly strong male gay presence, almost all of whom bear an uncanny resemblance to George Clooney and who, consequently, could also just as easily be either Hellenic or Celt. There are a few easy spots though - like the curly haired young Greek in a tight sixties suit who looks as if he could br the drummer in some hip new wave New York indie band and a young lass I'm sure has been on he cover of a Belle & Sebastian CD.
The happy couple take their first dance. S - the exact midpoint between a pre-nosejob Rachel from Friends and Grace from Will & Grace playing a Shakespearian bride, Rosalind perhaps? - looks radiant and beautiful. She has pearls in her hair. Those were pearls in her hair... J looks like a nice Paul Morley as he nervously leads his new wife through screaching, soulified version of 'Hallelujah' - incidentally, why on *earth* does no one *ever* use the Leonard Cohen version at these things? There's a decibel measuring display fitted in the ceiling and as the Mediterranean club anthems begin to pump out, the steady stream of loud green hyphens effervesces into an insistent red throb.
The lightshow bestows emphemeral gifts upon the dancers, flecking them with toadstools, mysterons, shamrocks, circles of Mondrian print. The old sit and watch, held in some distant reverie by the young: with their glossy platinum sheen, puppyish moves and Minnie Mouse shoes.
And then something magical happens. All the ladies are to join in a dance. A glitzy young blonde in perpendicular diamanté heeled shoes is paired with an ancient old Greek lady. The elder creaks towards the circle of dancers in an antique powder blue crocheted dress, bowed by the balling of the bones and flesh between her shoulders. The blonde looks off and makes embarrassed faces offstage as the old lady grips her hand and a ring begins to eddy around the bride. The circle turns and the years peel away to reveal a skittish young girl in a powder blue dress smiling a secret inner smile. These moves, she seems to say as her feet move surely through steps that have been handed down through centuries, these moves - I've been keeping them for just such a day as this. It's the glinting feet beside her that now look ungainly and unsure. The dance over, lady in the pastel blue creeps back to her pew; quiet, proud. Her young blonde partner remonstrates off to the side with angry flashing eyes.
It's now the turn of the men. I take my place in the circle, arms locked with those of the indie New York drummer. We start to wheel and kick around the bridegroom. I feel strangely elevated, as if aware of the power that this many men, arms linked together, might be capable wielding. The groom seems blithely unaware of the whirlwind of which he is the still, quiet centre. It's exhausting, but you keep on kicking, keep revolving until the bride breaks our circle and whisks her husband away. Exhausted but exhilarated I shake the indie kid's hand and collapse back against the wall I've been propping up all night.
There's a heady, intoxicating scent in the air; lillies combined with the smell of peppers on a grill. We're moving outside time. This is not one but many weddings, stretching back, stretcing forward in history. This is what ritual does and explains, perhaps, why we want and need it. Ritual helps us see beyond the now.
Time for the money dance. The O & F Mrs S joins the crowd flocking to pin money to the bride and groom. Strips of fifties cascade to the floor. Bare shoulders stare out in reproach at our collective tightness. The couple glide across the floor, sterling-bodiced, dada-armed. It's as if highlighting the economic aspect of the union like this merely serves to make light of it; it seems so playful an act that the gesture seems slightly absurd - absurd as the two smiling cash-covered scarecrow figures at the centre of it all before they troop off to divest themselves of several thousand pounds.
Those were pearls in her hair...
The music plays on, the dance continues. We hear "wake up Maggie..." and all eyes turn expectantly toward Rod Stewart/Richard Harris (Rodchard? Stewrris??), to no avail. He looks so aptly pissed! A blonde woman who's been in danger of tripping over gauzy tube that takes up the better part of her otherwise negligible skirt gets up to sing an old soul smoocher, 'Sweet love'. Our initial patience drifts through indifference toward outright contempt. She's only half way through yet several onlookers look as if they've lost the will to live. One Greek lady d'un certain age looks positively bereft. The vampy soul diva slinks off, 'American pie' starts up but is fortuitously cut off a mere two minutes in as the last slow dance number is played.
The music and the dancing done, we say our farewells to S. As we leave we're handed a beautifully wrapped and ribboned pouch that looks as if it ought to contain potpourri. "It's just a traditional macaroon sort of thing" says S, who still has pearls in her hair.
The 'Fiasco' whisks us home. We share one of the tradtional macaroon sort of things. They taste just like Farley's rusks, only the centre melts on contact with your tongue.
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