I wish Harry and Megan the best but for me there was only one wedding to attend this year and it was the one of Nadia Marken and David Ward. After waxing lyrical about how coffee is served on Southern China Airlines and Dutch biscuits it would seem rude to speak less about the whole point of my trip but it involves people who deserve some privacy although I am emboldened by the fact that my sister has her own blog. There are things simply put, I cannot share but I will try to get across something. We raced home Tuesday morning along Bexleyheath in my sister’s car. British traffic is more aggressive that I’m used to and it gets really interesting when driving around the narrow streets of suburbia. My sister though was an old hand at driving on English roads, more an English driver now than an Australian one. Her wedding was in less than 24 hours but she was for the most part relaxed if mission focussed. Dave took my brother and I to a local burger joint that he and Nadia frequented while Nadia went for a hair appointment. Having lost some weight on the flights over I chowed down on some delicious greasy food. Dave seemed to know the manager well and I got the sense that this was one of the hangouts for them and their friends. This is also where I met Dave’s parents who are two very lovely people.
Dave’s siblings and our parents couldn’t make it to London. Dave and Nadia will travel to Canada to celebrate their wedding there and next year will come to Australia to celebrate with us. I’ve called it the tour throughout the Commonwealth but don’t know if it is catching on. Dave’s family and our family have experienced some of the same emotional journeys in watching their loved ones fall in love with each other far from home. There was something reassuring in getting a chance to talk to people who have had a similar experience to your own. On top of that they are pretty cool people in and of themselves. Dave’s Dad can cut a rug pretty fine even if the floor is made out of hardwood and can reverse any motor vehicle out of a tightly spaced park.
Dave’s Mum has the biggest heart and so it was no surprise when her and me volunteered to help unpack with Nadia at the reception venue The Crown Tavern in Lee that afternoon. We arrived with all the tables and chairs already set up by the fantastic staff, Nadia surveyed all and talked to the manager.
Place settings, table plans to go on easels and welcome signs all designed by my sister were unboxed and set up. I was impressed to see a bride well organised and decisive without being stressed. There was something relaxed in how she had picked up me up from the airport and gone from one location to another ticking off things for the wedding but now the day was coming to an end. We were located on the second floor of the pub with a beautiful balcony outside with plenty of space to smoke cigars. I wondered if such a thing had been as big a consideration for her as it was for me when looking at wedding venues. There was a dancing area away from the assembled tables with a bar and a fireplace that had a bookshelf painted on it. I loved it. At the end of the main room was a long table and I was informed that I would be seated on the end of it with my brother. Dave’s parents would be seated at the other end. I nodded, touched by the gesture.
I was asked throughout the day how I was doing with jet lag but I stayed up quite easily until that evening and work up comfortably early Wednesday morning. I believe this was primarily because I had already been running on London time when I was in Brisbane but who knows. Along the main thoroughfare of Bexleyheath there are plenty of pubs with long histories and odd names. I went into one and encouraged by my loosening pants ordered some toast and a coffee which came to less than five pounds I think. The quiet Wednesday traffic seemed to consist of mostly old regulars a lot with thick working class English accents. No families or tourists but the manager didn’t seem to mind, not exactly a peak time for business and I liked the quiet.
I then made my way to my sister’s place where we were served generously by Dave, Johnny Walk Blue each in a tumbler to celebrate while Nadia had her hair and make-up done. This was where I witnessed Dave’s Dad impressive manoeuvring skills with a motor vehicle. I met some of Nadia and Dave’s best friends in England which was a real privilege. I wrote years ago that my sister has a family now in England and this was my chance to get to meet them. They too are fine people, all teachers, and all super smart and dare I say kind of hip. They reminded me of a recent Judd Apatow show in the way that they spoke, quick witted, political and philosophical with a smattering of deadpan and earnest. I could only dream of talking like them.
The ceremony took place at Danson House upstairs in the Sir John Boyd room. The earliest records of Danson estate go back to the late 1200s. Originally built in 1766 Danson House had fallen into some disrepair during the 20th century. English Heritage and Bexley Heritage Trust worked to restore and reopen Danson House from 1995 to 2005. Since then Danson House has become the register office for Bexley borough and I was told at one point the impressive number of weddings that go through there on an average Saturday. I think each ceremony is done over a 30 minute period as opposed to the hour or two allocated to the Churches I looked at in Australia for my wedding. The official running the ceremony was a sweet woman who when told my brother was live streaming the wedding on his phone to my parents was visibly touched and said hello to them on screen. From then on she made sure my brother was close to the action with a good view of proceedings. My father, mother, older sisters, sister in law and wife watched in the middle of the night from the other side of the world. Where I had expected myself to be instead of where I was now missing my wife. When the phone was held up to me I spoke briefly and smiled.
I’ll tell you the truth gentle reader, I didn’t do this for my sister nor did my presence serve her wedding well. I came because I wanted to for myself and I’ll never be sure if that was the right call but she came for me and so somewhere deep inside me I was driven to go for her. Someone I discussed the possibility with simply said “Yeah but she’s your sister.” And it struck a nerve so there I was in Bexleyheath but to what success I can’t say. No matter my sister beamed on her wedding day and I got to be there. Is there anything else to consider but that?
The Sir John Boyd room only housed 25 guests, again a great honour my sister had given me to be included at late notice, and so all guests met up at the Danson Stables to enjoy the moment due to the rainy weather. Meanwhile my stalwart 73 year old father drove his girls’ home in the middle of the night after the ceremony around Brisbane. We received a text telling us everybody was safe at home in the tardy bright sunshine of an early afternoon as we left Danson Stables. The connection across vast differences and realities never ceases to amaze me.
Next we headed to the Crown Tavern in Lee. The formal proceedings got underway as four speakers, Nadia and Dave’s closest friends, got up to speak along with Nadia and Dave themselves. Most of these friendships went back to Dartford in 2009 or 2010 where a bunch of foreigners landed in England to teach. All the speeches were full of amusing anecdotes but what I enjoyed the most about was the sentimentality and open expression of love that they each carried in their own way. I was most touched by Dave’s speech, I’ve always loved a wedding and there is something very special about a couple in love on their wedding day and I was moved by the sight of how happy my sister and her husband were in that moment. I believe I had Pan fried Gressingham duck breast, duck leg croquette, chicory, roasted sweet potato and cherries in brandy followed by whisky treacle tart with clotted cream. Delicious whatever it was.
As the festivities got under way I went outside on the balcony with the smokers and had a cigar that my brother Earl kindly cut for me despite not smoking himself. The crowd waned and changed on the balcony over the evening but again and again it was where I returned. My father had kindly given me the jacket he took to London in 2002 and I was grateful for it since it had recently snowed in London and I didn’t know how cold it would be. On the balcony surrounded by Londoners and Canadians this jacket briefly seen being worn by me at Danson Stables was brought up.
I insisted I wasn’t that cold which I hadn’t been (pay attention to these words) and so began a long night of “enjoying” the cold. Having not felt very cold last winter and suffering through the humidity of a 6 month Australian summer I found being a little chilled refreshing but have to admit later on when I took off my suit jacket I was at times shivering. Nonetheless I enjoyed my company, it was like all the cool kids hung out on the balcony and everybody was very nice to me even though I was an outsider. I enjoyed just listening to them for the most part since they as witty as they were.
At one point we saw a fox crossing the road which is less likely to happen in my neck of the woods. Sometimes I stood out there for a brief couple of minutes alone and contemplative.
I saw the newlyweds cut their wedding cake a 3 tiered creation from 3 different friends with 3 different flavours, all impressively made.
I saw my sister share her first dance with new her husband and shared a look with my brother in that moment.
Later Earl danced with Nadia growing in confidence and busting some serious move whereas at the end of my song with her we had swayed in one spot not even rotating a full 360. Finally the time came for Nadia and Dave to leave and we wished them well. Two of her friends, a wonderful married couple were also staying at Bexleyheath Premier Inn and we ubered home with them. Again my outstretched notes were denied. I was due to fly out in 24 hours and so had decided I would see some of London but the most important part of my trip was now over. My congratulations and best wishes to the happy couple Nadia and Dave. It was so lovely to spend time with you on your wedding day with your English family.