Nothing Like A Good Wedding

Posted on: 07 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Will a French wedding proceed smoothly when a British bride and groom are involved? Mark Sampson finds out.

The Golden Age of Weddings is when you're young and all your friends are at it. Then comes a hiatus while you wait for offspring to marry, during which you rely on late-blooming romances.

Last time, I told you about Penny and Kevin and their preparations to unite late on as Mr. and Mrs. Brazendale. Well, their wedding made you hanker for many more.

The louring Saturday afternoon sky did not augur well. The méteo offered heavy showers with intermittent sunshine. But though I'm a natural-born pessimist, I believe that - when it comes to weddings - it will be all right on the day.

The guests waited by the Mairie for bride and groom. I love their village: there's a little square of green that reminds me of a picture-postcard English village. There is an ancient church, whose wistful bell almost compensates for the lack of a reassuring "pock" of bat on ball.

A wedding is a chance to dress up and I was glad to see that it was suits, frocks and hats-a go-go. I once took my daughter to the wedding of an ex-neighbour in the cathedral at Tulle. I was somewhat perturbed to notice that most guests looked like they'd just popped in after pulling up carrots from the kitchen garden.

The Brazendales-to-be arrived punctually in the Bentley of some expatriate friends. Because this is France, we then thronged quietly for 15 minutes waiting for things to start. I recognised the young, recently elected mayor as someone oft seen bustling about on a tractor. Resplendent now in a dark suit and Republican sash, he finally beckoned us all into the office.

But, oh calamity! Not only did someone - presumably Kevin's normally punctilious brother, Sean - forget the rings, but Penny also replied "oui" when asked - in French - whether she knew of any legal impediment. The mayor glanced anxiously at the bewildered bride. Murmuring, laughter and a fervent retraction ensued.

With rings safely on fingers and the paper authority handed over, we de-camped to the Brazendale house for the next stage of a traditional French wedding. The vin d'honneur is an opportunity to invite all-comers for some nibbles and a glass or two of something sparkly.

While the Brits quaffed and scoffed with gay abandon, the diffident French contingent held back in the courtyard, wary perhaps of an unusually diverse and copious range of canapés prepared by assorted Anglais, who cannot, of course, cook.

Slipping off early to set up the music for the reception, I missed Penny's eagerly anticipated next stage. "The Hoot", as she dubs it - a cavalcade of hooting cars en route for the reception.

I heard them coming from outside the barn that Keith and Miranda Payne offered as a venue. The couple met as components of a Rolling Stones' touring entourage and moved over here from south-west Ireland to turn this barn into artist's studio and rural art gallery. With diaphanous materials bought during a winter trip to India, they transformed the place into something fit for Nepalese royalty.

Seated incongruously beside the speakers, the two oldest guests conspired to scupper my reception soundtrack by turning down the amplifier to "inaudible". But nobody noticed. We were all too full of good food, bonhomie and more champagne than you could shake a flute at.

Afterwards, we were able to shift the tables, pump up the volume and dance. Max the postman - Max Facteur as he is known - who never misses an opportunity to air his hilarious English, roused spectators from their chairs and comprehensively dispelled the notion that the French don't know how to let their hair down.

Before taking their leave long after midnight, the newlyweds invited everyone back to their house for Sunday afternoon to finish up left-overs and drink still more champagne.

It didn't rain. The sun shone intermittently. And everyone glowed with warmth emanating from a happy couple and the sheer sociability of the occasion. Love and marriage: it proved that you don't need to hire a horse and carriage or fly to some exotic location and generally dispense trunk-loads of cash. In fact, it was everything like a good wedding.

Alas, it'll have to do me for the next few years.

Mark Sampson, May 2008

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