a wedding in the east and a plumber who likes a challenge, suits, tents and paper boats
14th July 2013
, an ex-student, and a lovely friend, is getting married. So I get up early for the long drive to , leaving the campsite at 7:30am, late enough that the campsite is starting to wake, so I don’t disturb anyone, but early enough, I think, to get to with an hour or so to spare to find the venue, find somewhere to park a campervan, and moreover get changed into a suit " yes, me in a suit.
On the way I am dropping camping equipment off at‘s house in . I had intended to camp in some sections, but the time pressure earlier in the walk meant I never did this … maybe another trip.
I know where his house is, in the valleys just north of, but roadworks lead to a diversion, and I take the wrong road leading down ever narrower lanes, some barely wider than the van itself, with potholes that threaten to send you careering into the high, earthy, hedge-topped sides. As I bounce over yet another pothole, I am glad that the exhaust fixings have been fixed.
I should simply throw the camping equipment through the door and set off, but of course spend longer chatting, not having seensince I set off three months earlier. We are writing a book, , about physicality and digital devices, and could do with talking more about that too, but put that off to a call when I am back on .
Arriving nearly the same time as me at‘s is the plumber who is also a water polo friend of ‘s. I guess being a plumber may be like being a fisherman, if you ever need to swim it is probably so bad it won’t help. Anyway, for whatever reason, the plumber had not been able to swim, so took up water polo, where you spend the whole game snorkelling inches from the bottom with a small metal puck flying towards legs, arms and head, as a way to learn to swim.
To make this small challenge a little more intense, down there for the first time, in that muffled deep resonant noisy silence of water, surrounded by flailing flippers, endless arms and shifting bodies, he discovered that he was also claustrophobic. I assume when I next meet him he will have taken to going to pop concerts in potholes.
As I drive away from‘s I realise I now have only just enough time to drive to , with nothing spare and also, from my turning tummy, that I had not yet had any breakfast. An hour later, where the joins the , I stop at the heat-packed services to grab a pie, and then move on, taking bites as I drive.
I have looked up the venue, the, on the web, so I know it is on , but is a long road, running nearly from the motorway to the centre of . I know from the area that it is closer to the latter, probably within the western ring road. A short way after crossing the ring road roundabout, I spot people gathered outside one church, but it turns out to be a afternoon service, meeting in . Then, nearly at the centre of , I pass the right church, suited men, dressed-for-a-wedding women and the sign ‘ ‘; this is it. I turn the van round and spotting guests arriving ask if they know where I can park a campervan.
"Turn first right after the church; it is narrow but then widens."
Of course they meant turn the first sensible right, not immediately after the church down a tiny no-through road, too narrow and car lined to turn the van, but where, thankfully, there is one, long place and I managed to park, with less than 15 minutes to go. In five minutes I change from shorts and T-shirt to full suit, tie and shirt, and join the family and friends gathering outside the church.
Of course, my timing was not as tight as I had thought, no wedding is on time, let alone a, and let alone ‘s.
Indeed,is still waiting for his parents to arrive with the wedding bouquet; and her father are in contact and holding off until they arrive. There is that lovely sense of vaguely organised chaos. In fact, it seems that is the one point of order in the proceedings, on the phone synchronising the different parties, explaining, to the best of his knowledge, what we should do. No nervous groom sitting foot shuffling at the front of an echoing church, but master of ceremonies of a sun-drenched garden party.
While waiting forto arrive, I recall the many times she waited for me when I was her master’s thesis supervisor (twice, two master’s degrees, but that is another story). I was always late, with people queued up, and would make little paper boats, each with its own name, and each no more than the size of my little finger. She would present them to me, when we eventually met, the longer the wait the bigger the flotilla, until the convoys and navies on bookshelf, windowsill and desktop were a constant reminder of my own tardiness.
I join a group that had started to wander into the church, but then we were asked to go back out as thetradition is for the guests to greet the bride outside and then enter after she has met the groom.
As I go back out‘s mother is in the porch and greets me with smiles and hugs. Although had scanned and mailed me the formal invitation, it had slipped though my organisational net whilst walking (not difficult); so I had never RSVP-ed and neither nor her mother knew I was coming. We share not one word of common language, but for some reason I am sure I don’t deserve, I have always been a favourite of ‘s mother, and she would often send a bottle of for me when had been home to for or from .
I have never been to awedding before, indeed I have never been to any sort of service. is a little jealous as she has read a substantial amount of orthodox writings and often listens to podcasts of ( ), but yet another trip down from would have been too much this summer, which seemed full of weddings. After the , the East kept closer to traditions going back to the first few centuries of the church, a point that writers frequently emphasise and, albeit gently and ever so subtly, the priest reminded us of this when explaining how the ceremony would be different from any we might be used to in an or church.
It turns out thepriest has a wife, who has lived many years in (a sort of with icons), and is sometimes called upon to translate at the surgery where she works. I suggest she should do a translation of the service, like there are translations of the .
The service is in three parts: first a civil marriage with the standard vows, and signing of the register with a lady, who I assume is an official Registrar, then a betrothal and finally a ‘crowning’. I assume the betrothal stage would have once been at a different time, maybe even as children promised to one another in days of arranged marriages, but now the two are printed as a single service in thetranslations of the service.
Some parts are spoken twice, inand , some just in , and some of the latter I recognise, such as the ‘ ‘. The service is full of symbolism, and both betrothal rings and the crowns, simple bands tied together with white ribbons, are swapped back and forth between the couple as if binding them together, like a threading through time.
As one of the guests remarked, the words of the service seem to have taken just about every reference to weddings or married couples in theand thrown them together in an apparently random order. However, knowing a little of the tradition, I am fairly certain each word will have been considered and its full theological significance pondered endlessly and at length over the last two thousand years.
Sadly I could not stay for the reception, so, clutching little wedding favours, for me and the whole family, I ask someone to help me reverse out of the tiny alley, but then find several of the cars have gone so I can swing myself round.
I set off, discarding layers of wedding clothing along the way, the jacket, tie and shoes, cast into the back of the van as I first got in, the shirt and trousers following soon after when I found a leafy suburban road to pause in. By the time I get to a garage to fill up with diesel (in a three-ton campervan, always a wallet-challenging experience), I am once more a sandal footed, T-shirt and short dressed walker, the suit neatly in the van’s ‘wardrobe’, and signs of wedding-ness fading with the miles down the, , and finally back to the .
As I pass into, I start to see familiar places: a sign for the , where the van had stayed for the beginning of the journey; the at . It is just three months ago, but seems like a lifetime; indeed it is hard to even envisage a life before walking.
Driving round thenorth of I pass a bright red, vintage vehicle, which looks a bit like a fire engine, but has ‘breakdown tender’ written on the side. A ‘breakdown tender’ sounds like the , but it looks more like . Then the characteristic smell of , I have hours of that to come later in the week, and the narrow lanes of the .
And so, eventually, to , where we had stayed once before as a family, maybe twenty years ago. It was 8:30pm, thirteen hours since I set off barely 15 miles away this morning – a mile an hour, I can walk faster.