Category Archives: Ceremony

The Wedding Day

And so the day of the wedding arrived.

I’ve already said a lot about our plans, but here are some extra details the day itself. Often unplanned details…

We had ordered breakfast to our room the night before, so that we could have a delicious feast and soon-to-be husband and wife in our dressing gowns, rather than dressing, dining with others, then returning to our room to change! …Perhaps it works for afternoon weddings, but for a morning wedding, it just seems silly! We had toast and jams, poached eggs, fruit, and a small pile of pastries which we devoured. It was an impressive breakfast!

Then we started getting ready. I had washed my hair the night before after swimming, but Guy showered and used Vanilla Vanilla body wash (as he doesn’t wear scent. I wore my usual scent, CK’s ‘Eternity Moment’, because I thought it was important to wear my signiature smell on my wedding day!).

He also made sure to give himself a good, close shave. This was something he had put a lot of thought into, because he wanted his face to be perfectly smooth. He’d picked up some tips for following the grain of the hairs on Groom Power (which also warned him not to leave any polish on his shoes before he danced with a woman in a white dress!). So, a few pratices, a nice new razor, and a little bit of advice from – stranegly enough – Neil Gaiman‘s blog, worked the trick (for those of you who are curious, I suggest you hunt out the reference yourself!).

First, Karina, our photographer, turned up, and took some artistic pictures of our wedding outfits before we put them on.

And soon after my mum turned up – with bubbly and cassis – and began attacking my hair whilst I was still doing my makeup.

Then my uncle turned up – and started photographing us!

And then Caz turned up for Guy! She whisked him away for his steadying pint, and he went outside before putting on his jacket and waistcoat so that I wouldn’t see him all prettied up. By this point, I was still in my dressing gown.

Finally James turned up. My mum whisked off back to her room, and he had to zip me up! And then he left with our case to join the taxi group up to the Town Hall and I went back to lure out my mother.

Walking through the hotel, an elderly couple crossed our path and realised that I was a bride, despite the blue dress. They wished us the best of luck (then said we shouldn’t need it) and we continued on our way, weaving crazily through a very complicated hotel layout until we found ourselves in the foyer. Our rickshaw was early and already waiting!

We arrived at the Town Hall in good time and picked up our flowers. Actually my mum got given Guy’s buttonhole, and my granddad didn’t get one so they swapped halfway through the reception! The ushers were a bit rushed off their feet – but you wouldn’t know it seeing the ceremony room!

Guy was, of course, in the ceremony room by then, and I had to go to see the registrars. Several people saw me on the way in and gave me the nod – as if it were a bit cheeky for them to notice the bride before the ceremony. Brian was striding backwards and forwards across the stairwell rehearsing his reading.

I went in to see the registrars with my mum and best man, but both quickly vanished to other tasks. I think my mum had a mini meltdown, but she was back to escort me down the aisle in no time. The chat with the registrars was very straightforward and quick, so mostly I just sat there waiting. They asked me to confirm some basic details and then asked what I was going to write when I signed my name. I was a bit confused and tried to describe my signiature…! It turned out they just wanted to check that I knew to sign my maiden name.

I’ve already covered the ceremony, so I’ll skip to after it finished.

Guy and I stood outside (me shaking) hugging people and shaking hands as they all filed out. It was great to talk to everyone and be able to look them in the eye without freaking out this time! Somewhere about now, I was told that my necklace catch had slipped round to the front (I adjusted it) and that the lemon layer of the cake was collapsing (I asked them to remove the top layers and leavethe rest out for us to cut – you’re supposed to cut the bottom layer anyway!). So much for big disasters!

Everyone assembled on the steps and we came out and got bombarded with confetti. A lot of the boys were really keen to mob Guy!

Then we took the rickshaws over to Somerville for photographs and drinks! We got cheered by a group on the way there and another on the return, not to mention the people standing staring at the town hall. It felt bizarre, like we were on stage or something – and the smart clothes we were wearing seemed out of place in the middle of a busy city filled with ordinarily clad strangers!

The drinks reception steadied me a bit. And we also got a nice surprise – a flypast! It was a lucky coincidence, as we were only outside for a couple of hours, but it came directly overhead and people took photographs!

‘Our’ flypast:

Before we left Somerville, Guy and I shared our first moment alone together as husband and wife! But if you think it was a romantic one, you will be amused… We were due to get the last rickshaw out, so we lingered in the quad as everyone was going. Then we had an idea – we would be busy at the reception and may not get chance to pop to the loo! So we scurried into the Somerville toilets whilst we had the chance, meeting again between the men’s and ladies and then wandering out through the college together (luckily my dress did not require assistance: I only buy clothes I could climb a tree in). Yes, that was our first time alone together as marrieds!

Back at the reception, James announced us in his loud teacher voice, and we all happily tucked into our starters before the speeches (by then it was about 2.30, not that I was wearing my watch). My granddad did a nice speech, welcoming everybody to the event and then beginning, “I first met Rowena when she was 1 day old…” and including a story about me as a baby getting very excited about a gang of rough-looking hairy bikers. He managed to knock over some wine and call Guy ‘Clive’ once, but nobody minded!

Caz did a great best woman’s speech. She didn’t actually tell any embarrassing stories about Guy, but kept hinting that she was going to! Afterwards, she was definitely relieved that the speechmaking was over and she could enjoy her food.

Guy’s speech was a mishmash of parts of the proposal and relationship stories, with a few references in it just for me. He spent the entire speech bending over his chair and squeezing the back of it with his hands – I think he was nervous!

Then I said a couple of words and Guy and I did the thank yous together.

We actually called the caterers out to thank them, which apparently was appreciated and few people do – although they did point out to us that we hadn’t eaten most ofthe food yet, so our thank yous were a little bit premature!

Here are Guy’s parents’ faces after he revealed that I had named them the “sanest people” helping us with the wedding!

James didn’t make an official speech, but introduced them and recorded them on a little dictaphone I gave him. However, at the end of the reception, he decided to make an impromptu speech about how proud he was and how difficult he thought I would be to match, yet how perfect Guy was for me…

The reception food was amazing. I made sure to ‘share’ some of my vegetarian with Guy, but I was still massive when we finished. The caterers asked me if I would like a bit of all four layers of cake – yes please! – and the same for my “new husband” – so dessert wasn’t exactly dainty either. And a large slab of the rum cake went into our bag for the honeymoon along with the bag of cards the ushers brought us, the guest book and Cathy’s cork.

The Jaguar Royale was a little late, but it was worth it to see it sweep up and turn around in the road (cue more staring from strangers!). I put on my going away jacket and we jumped in (my mum was so enthusiastic about hugging us that she nearly came too!).

Then we waved our goodbyes and drove out of Oxford with the evening air rushing past us. We didn’t notice that we’d never had seat belts on until hours later!


The Week Before the Wedding

My mega-super-over-organisedness was a godsend the week before the wedding. I had been working to a deadline in labs and been basically up to my ears, so being able to relax for the week beforehand was definitely needed. Not, of course, that we didn’t have plenty of wedding preparation left to do. Like prepare my speech, for example, bustle the cat off whilst we were on holiday, and, of course, bake the wedding cakes.

I really like this picture of me making the cakes because it shows my engagement ring bare of a wedding band. And I remember thinking, as I touched the cake, how loose the engagement ring felt on my fingers, and how it would be the last time I would wear it alone…

I also did lots of exercise, just some starjumps every now and then to ensure I would weigh in at dress size, and Tom and I went climbing on Wednesday after he turned up in Birmingham to help. I stuffed Guy and myself with vitamins and minerals and energy tablets to keep us going and as healthy as possible across the next few days and performed various “beauty” treatments on myself – like plucking my eyebrows and shaving regularly to avoid rash on my legs on the wedding day (needless to say, they came out in a rash anyway, but that’s what we have long dresses for).

Travelling to Oxford on the Thursday was tricky. I was incredibly paranoid about the cake, especially the lemon layer which was making a bid for freedom. We carried it with the metal sides of the largest cake tin around it in its box, just to add extra support for when the train wobbled. We got to the station really early and sat in the dark gloom of Birmingham New Street, chatting about rubix cubes (Tom is a rubix cube fanatic) whilst I periodically checked that the stationary cakes were okay.

It’s a straightforward journey to Oxford. We played cards. And arrived at the city we were getting married in about 10am. I hadn’t seen it since I graduated.

We went straight to Cecily’s, where we made the other two layers of cake, and then trotted out for a lazy pub lunch together, which was a really valuable time-out session and gave us a chance to catch up properly.

But soon we were all systems go again. Guy and I took the wedding stuff over to the town hall and then walked down to the hotel with only our outfits and the honeymoon case to burden us. Tom visited the florist and took them our vases.

We had planned a relaxing session in the hotel pool and sauna before having pre-wedding dinner with the family (mine, mostly). We took full advantage of the free facilities and swam (read: played in the water), hot tubbed and steam and sauna roomed for a couple of hours. We also bumped into Abby, who used to be my babysitter when I was a child, and I introduced her to Guy.

And then we dashed off to change and meet the family. Guy had already met much of my family, but he hadn’t my my great aunt Catherine or – and neither had I – my great uncle Goff. My mum had told me stories about Goff, but I had never met him, although he sent us Christmas cards every year in beautiful copperplate. I know some people don’t like to invite people they haven’t met, but my family is not very big and gathering for this event did draw people together. Everyone was excited to catch up


Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

Throughout the wedding, Guy and I were picking and choosing our traditions – holding onto sweet ones and throwing out ones we disagreed with or just thought were too much trouble and effort. But one tradition we did like was the old good luck rhyme,

Something Old,
Something New,
Something Borrowed,
Something Blue

We thought it would be fun to both (because, hey, why should it be just the bride?) make sure we had something old, new, borrowed and blue about our persons on our wedding day. Just as a little challenge.

With our colour theme, new and blue were not going to be problems. My dress was blue, his tie and waistcoat and pocket square, our flowers. New, too, was pretty much everything we were wearing, and whilst we had a few older things, we wanted old to mean really old.

So I decided I was going to wear my great grandmother’s engagement ring, which had been passed down from her to my aunt to me. It was gold and thus didn’t go with any of my other jewellery, but I wasn’t wearing it because it matched!

Guy’s something old wasn’t quite so old – but they were still pretty old: the cufflinks he wore were his christening cufflinks.

Borrowed was a bit trickier. Guy got a bit of a hands up on this, because his best woman, Caz, gave him a hip flask for the day containing Cuban Havana rum (the rum did not get returned to her!). I ended up borrowing hair pins and clips from my mum, which she used to secure the lace to my hair and I used to “bustle” my dress during the dancing (i.e. pin up the hem). When I tried to give them back, she said I could keep them – but I refused, on the grounds that they had to be borrowed!

We didn’t ask for photographs of any of our “something old/borrowed” things, so spotting them in pictures is a bit of a guessing game. With that in mind, I’ve put together some pictures – can you spot the “something” things in the below images?

[Answers follow]








You can just see Guy’s cufflinks (well, one of) in this picture.


I wore my great grandmother’s ring on my right hand ring finger. It fits perfectly.


In this picture you can see the hair pins holding in the lace – and you can also see the ring again.


This picture shows the hair clips “bustling” my dress as we dance. You can’t quite see the hair pins or cufflinks!


In this picture you can’t actually see anything! However, a sort-of lump in Guy’s breast pocket marks the place where the hip flask rested. It didn’t actually come out during the wedding because we were busy enough with the drinks we had ordered.

Boxing Things Up

As the wedding drew nearer, I spent a lot of time boxing things up and getting ready to travel to Oxford – and then on honeymoon. Some of the things I boxed up weeks beforehand, the cat went to the cattery on our last day in Birmingham, and the final items (cakes) were only boxed up the day before – in Oxford.

First I bagged up the wedding party bits and handed them out at the first opportunity, with the final few being given out or left for collection the day before the wedding.

All of the honeymoon packing went into one case – the smaller of the two. This included my trousseau clothes which my mother had bought for me – some summery skirts and a tunic.

I dumped everything on the bag, then began to fold and tesselate. So quickly this

became this


We also packed the two books we received as wedding gifts because they came before the packing began. They were the only thing we opened early, and we didn’t start reading them until we were on the train on the 20th May.

Packing up the wedding things was more of a squeeze. I packed 3 boxes – two for the caterer and one for the ushers to decorate the ceremony room. We put the seating plan on a large board down the back of the suitcase and the boxes of cake stand were never going to fit.

The caterer’s box contained some sheets outlining dietary needs, the room plan, and a colour-coded by dietary need plan. There was the cake knife and alittle plastic pack for each table with the name of that table and colour-coded plan of it stuck to the front… yes, I went hyper-organised.


Inside each pack were the place names for that table and the right number of sliced corks, a menu, a table runner and a load of cranes packed into decorated drinks cans to stop them from getting squished in transit.


The ushers’ box contained arch/aisle drapes and the ceremony table runner, doily confetti cones and a bag of confetti, 10 small blue umbrellas, the orders of ceremony and some balloons and balloon tree components.


I piled everything up in the library, and with all this, plus the box of vases and thank you presents, we made a rather ominous looking pile.

…Which did not fit in the case.

We had two amazing helpers which made getting it all to Oxford possible. The first was our usher Tom, who took the week before the wedding off and came up on the Wednesday to help make cake, pack up the last items and carry them to Oxford with us. He even had to make two cake boxes, because we discovered the originals weren’t quite big enough.

We made two cakes in Birmingham and two in Oxford, after we arrived at Cecily’s – so I had two cakes (the two biggest cakes) to carry in my arms on the railway. And Guy had his suit and my dress on hangers. And my hat in a bag. Tom had his own case (which we also filled up with wedding stuff) and we had our honeymoon and wedding items cases – 3 cases, two massive cakes, 2 wedding outfits, and 3 people. It wasn’t going to work.

So Caz came to the rescue. At basically no notice she turned up and carted off the two boxes full of cake stand (light, but substantially sized) and transported them to Oxford for us. And the first I saw of it was entering the ceremony, whilst it was all set up outside. Fantastic!

The Ceremony

Marriage doesn’t happen in an instant.

It grows. From the seed of your relationship, the first shoot, the sapling, to soon a whole new oak. We decided to get married when we were ready to push up out of the earth – it was exciting, new – but gradually we grew, settling into the idea, becoming definite in our intentions. We were a tree before we knew it, we felt married. And yet the ceremony had not yet taken place.

This shaped our ceremony. The ceremony is, afterall, the most important bit of a wedding, and we wanted it to reflect us and how we felt about our marriage. And so our ceremony was more a celebration of the tree we had become and a public declaration and legally binding contract of our love and commitment before friends and family.

If I was going to flower and embellish anything wedding-related, it was this.

The substance of a ceremony is necessarily literary (even music is often crucially about the words to the songs), and this is my forte. Literary embellishments were something that I could enjoy doing and didn’t require any special equipment. I wanted lots of readings. We spent forever trying to find a prose extract short enough yet meaningful enough, and eventually settled on a 6-minute (oops, a little lengthy) endpiece from Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’.

“I am not going to emigrate, you know; I wasn’t aware that you would wish me not to when I told ‘ee or I shouldn’t ha’ thought of doing it,” he said, simply. “I have arranged for Little Weatherbury Farm and shall have it in my own hands at Lady-day. Still, that wouldn’t prevent my attending to your business as before, hadn’t it been that things have been said about us.”
“Things said about you and me! What are they?”
“I cannot tell you.”
“It would be wiser if you were to, I think. You have played the part of mentor to me many times, and I don’t see why you should fear to do it now.”
“It is nothing that you have done, this time. The top and tail o’t is this – that I am sniffing about here, and waiting for poor Boldwood’s farm, with a thought of getting you some day.”
“Getting me! What does that mean?”
“Marrying of ‘ee, in plain British. You asked me to tell, so you mustn’t blame me.”
Bathsheba did not look quite so alarmed as if a cannon had been discharged by her ear, which was what Oak had expected. “Marrying me! I didn’t know it was that you meant,” she said, quietly. “Such a thing as that is too absurd – too soon – to think of, by far!”
“Yes; of course, it is too absurd. I don’t desire any such thing; I should think that was plain enough by this time. Surely, surely you be the last person in the world I think of marrying. It is too absurd, as you say.”
“‘Too – s-s-soon’ were the words I used.”
“I must beg your pardon for correcting you, but you said, ‘too absurd,’ and so do I.”
“I beg your pardon too!” she returned, with tears in her eyes. “‘Too soon’ was what I said. But it doesn’t matter a bit – not at all – but I only meant, ‘too soon.'”
Gabriel looked her long in the face, but the firelight being faint there was not much to be seen. “Bathsheba,” he said, tenderly and in surprise, and coming closer: “if I only knew one thing – whether you would allow me to love you and win you, and marry you after all – if I only knew that!”
“But you never will know,” she murmured.
“Because you never ask.”
“Oh – Oh!” said Gabriel, with a low laugh of joyousness. “My own dear – ”
“You ought not to have sent me that harsh letter this morning,” she interrupted. “It shows you didn’t care a bit about me, and were ready to desert me like all the rest of them! It was very cruel of you, considering I was the first sweetheart that you ever had, and you were the first I ever had; and I shall not forget it!”
“Now, Bathsheba, was ever anybody so provoking,” he said, laughing. “You know it was purely that I, as an unmarried man, carrying on a business for you as a very taking young woman, had a proper hard part to play – more particular that people knew I had a sort of feeling for ‘ee; and I fancied, from the way we were mentioned together, that it might injure your good name. Nobody knows the heat and fret I have been caused by it.”
“And was that all?”
“Oh, how glad I am I came!” she exclaimed, thankfully, as she rose from her seat. “I have thought so much more of you since I fancied you did not want even to see me again. But I must be going now, or I shall be missed. Why Gabriel,” she said, with a slight laugh, as they went to the door, “it seems exactly as if I had come courting you – how dreadful!”
“And quite right too,” said Oak. “I’ve danced at your skittish heels, my beautiful Bathsheba, for many a long mile, and many a long day.”
He accompanied her up the hill, explaining to her the details of his forthcoming tenure of the other farm. They spoke very little of their mutual feeling; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship – camaraderie – usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death – that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.

This was read by Brian, who is an actor, and did a brilliant dramatic performance with accents!

The poems we had less difficulty on, though we did read a lot of poetry in our search. The Shakespeare was particularly “mine” and the Donne particularly “Guy’s”, but both were poems we happily agreed upon together.

The Anniversarie, by John Donne

All kings, and all their favourites,
All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
The sun it self, which makes time, as they pass,
Is elder by a year now than it was
When thou and I first one another saw.
All other things to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;
This no to-morrow hath, nor yesterday;
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

We only had the first verse of Donne, which was the one we really liked – probably just as well, given how much we crammed into our wedding ceremony. This was our opening reading, and read very bravely by David, who was incredibly nervous about his reading, yet managed it superbly nonetheless.

Sonnet 116, by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove;
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

We actually found this poem when visiting my grandparents. My granddad had given my grandma a necklace with a couple of lines engraved onto it (she was an English teacher) and we looked up the whole poem. I then read through all the other Shakespeare sonnets before deciding it was the best one – I am nothing if not thorough.

This was read beautifully by Narmeen. I definitely think we picked the right person for this poem – the soft and gentle reading worked really well with the meter and contrasted what was to come next!

We asked Guy’s brother Harry to do our last poetry reading. We wanted him involved, but Guy did not want any family members in positions where they could make speeches! We decided a reading was safe and that Harry was bold enough to finish up the poetry collection with a funny one.

A Poem by Bee Rawlinson

Love me when I’m old and shocking
Peel off my elastic stockings
Swing me from the chandeliers
Let’s be randy bad old dears.

Push around my chromed bath chair
Let me tease your white chest hair
Scaring children, swapping dentures
Let us have some great adventures

Take me to the Dogs and Bingo
Teach me how to speak the lingo
Bone my eels and bring me tea
Show me how it’s meant to be

Take me to your special places
Watching all the puzzled faces
You in shorts and socks and sandals
Me with warts and huge love-handles

As the need for love enthrals
Wrestle with my damp proof smalls
Make me laugh without constraint
Buy me chocolate body paint

Hold me safe throughout the night
When my hair has turned to white
Believe me when I say it’s true
I’ve waited all my life for you.

We also wrote our own vows – both contracting and with exchange of rings. For those who are interested in the formatting, we opened with the registrar’s welcome and the legal Declaratory Words in traditional format:

I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I (name) cannot be joined in matrimony to thee (other name).

We then read the Contracting Words (again in traditional) directly after the personal vows and exchange of rings, and before the kiss! Readings came in after the Declaratory Words and after the Contracting Words.

I do solemnly declare that I (name) take thee (other name) to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife.

For our personal vows, we each read aloud from a scroll we had prepared.

From this day forward, I will honour and celebrate our love,
Through the better and the worse,
And during times of uncertainty.
I love you for the wo/man you are:
For your strengths, which make you amazing,
And for your weaknesses, which make you human.
I ask for nothing more than all you wish to give.
I trust you absolutely.
And I promise to be rational – not too complex – and to apologise when I am wrong.
I will miss you madly when you are far,
And hold you close when you are near.
I will be your trusty cornerstone,
Your unwavering defender,
Your shoulder to cry upon.
I choose to spend today and all of my tomorrows with you.

The words at the exchange of rings were read aloud by the registrar for us to repeat back.

I give you this ring as a tangible and lasting reminder of my love. With time, it will age and change, but only subtly, and throughout our lives it will remain as strong as when it was forged.

I accept the ring, and will wear it not by habit, but by choice. Let it reaffirm my love for, trust in and commitment to you, for as long as the sun and the moon shall endure.

We also decided to have a Flower Ceremony, where we each give a flower to our mothers, and a Drinking from a Quaich. For the flower ceremony, we had a vase of white lisianthus placed on the ceremony table and we each extracted a sprig.

Today, Guy and Rowena come together and establish a new family, stepping beyond the families in which they grew up. However, they do not want to forget their parents, who’ve helped them to grow into adults. In particular, they would like to specially acknowlede their mothers. As a token of love and appreciation, Rowena will give a flower to her mother, and Guy will give a flower to his. These flowers represent the blossoming of Guy and Rowena into the adults they have become.

C and V, would you please come forward to receive your gifts.

The Quaich was particularly important to me, because it was an opportunity to have said something on the importance of marriage.

‘Drinking from the Quaich’ is a traditional hospitality ceremony amongst the Scots, where a drink is shared in a two-handled drinking cup: the quaich. The ceremony has been used in weddings since the marriage of King James VI of Scotland to Anne of Denmark in 1589. The traditional Scottish drink is whiskey. Due to laws against consumption during civil ceremonies, drinking today will be purely symbolic.

Similar ceremonies exist in other cultures. In France, the “coup de marriage” is a two handled cup passed from generation to generation. The cup we use today comes from Guy’s parents; his father, Clive, was given it as a goodbye present from his regiment when he was a Captain.

In Eastern culture, a trusted high ranking officer of the courts would be appointed as cup-bearer; the cup­-bearer would drink from the same cup as the ruler to protect him from attempts at poisoning. This was a man willing to die for his king.

Today, the bride and groom will drink from the same cup, symbolising their absolute trust in one another and commitment to share all that the future may bring.

Offers to the bride and groom to drink together.

Guy and Rowena wish their union to be also the union between their two families and the wider community of their friends and loved ones. They would ask you to support them in their marriage, share in their joy and participate in their celebration today.

Will you do this?

They reply. The quaich is passed around the room so that everybody may drink from it.

This was the plan. But things were to go awry.

We had taken the idea of the quaich from a humanist wedding ceremony because these are much more interesting than civil ceremonies and we really wanted something interactive in our ceremony – it seems they are also significantly less restrictive!

A month before the wedding, and long after we had sent in a draft of our ceremony and had an email confirming that it was okay, we were told to remove the quaich ceremony. Apparently the church has a monopoly on eating and drinking, and you cannot do this or pretend to do this in a civil wedding ceremony for this reason.


We initially tried to deal with this restriction sensibly, by removing the drinking parts, then mention of drinking, then mention of cups, liquids, or the quaich itself. We bottled the quaich ceremony down and started cutting other things because the registrars complained that the whole ceremony was too long, which was one reason why the quaich ceremony had to go. The ceremony would no longer be interactive, but we could keep our words, couldn’t we?

No. The words were the problem.

This was obviously extremely upsetting, as we had put so much into this ceremony and wanted our [completely secular] ideas to be expressed. The Oxfordshire registrars even boast that they are especially laid back and generous with wedding ceremonies and pretty much let you do what you like; this only tells me how bad other offices must be, and how prohibitively narrow the laws on civil marriage ceremonies still remain! They eventually became quite cross when we continued to attempt to adapt our quaich ceremony and told us we were already being incredibly demanding with our extra reading and flower ceremony, and that we were lucky they let us have those.

I felt the situation was made worse by the registrars telling us to put the quaich ceremony into the wedding reception. This would have been a daft idea anyway: guests want to cheer, drink and party at a reception, not hear solemn speeches on marriage any more than they want to listen to prayers. But in my ideas this also made a mockery of the actual ceremony. Holding our own ceremony outside the legal ceremony only sends the message that it was only the “legal bit” and in no part meaningful that we must do it properly afterwards.

There isn’t a solution to this problem. I racked my barins for ideas, but everything was rejected. My mother promised to think of something, and they said no. We were banned from including non-religious historical wedding ceremonies or talking about them, or in any way adding to the ceremony after where they had drawn the line.

Yes, I resent it.

Yes, I missed it.

We had a quaich; we had bought the ginger wine; I had even printed all of our Orders of Celebration and painstakingly stuck the ribbons on after they okayed the draft we sent in.

It hurts to give up part of the romance of your wedding day, but it is a wedding day: they cannot take anything from our marriage. We are strong together, and we know that the sentiment was there, even if we were forbidden from sharing it (although I now share it on the internet!).

I will now move on from this more serious topic to talk about frivolous things – think of it as light relief, a bit like the Bee Rawlinson poem on the tail of Donne and Shakespeare.

So here are the things we made to decorate our ceremony room:

Confetti Cones

These were placed on the “pew ends” where people to get to them after the ceremony. We made a note in the Orders of Celebration not to throw them inside but to bring them onto the steps outside to throw with photos. Everyone was really good (I definitely expected naughtiness here!) and we have some fantastic pictures.

Balloon Trees

We weren’t allowed to have helium balloons at the venue, because some child or twonk inevitably releases them, they get stuck on the high ceilings of the Town Hall and eventually set off the fire alarms. This was a shame, as I quite fancied some in the middles of the tables, but they had a sensible reason to say no. I also liked the idea of having a balloon “tunnel” leading up to the aisle to really get our colours into the roo, (flowers would have been difficult since we had chairs not pews), and decided to use balloon rods and little bases.

This worked surprisingly well, although it was a lot of work making them. I used salt dough dyed blue (turns greeny blue) which is light but strong, inside paper cups which were covered in blue paper my mum gave me, or white paper with a bit of blue ribbon. These were light to transport and could be taken apart and put together on site.

I used a bit of curled balloon ribbon to make them even prettier.

My “balloon tunnel”:

Guy didn’t like any of my ideas for decorating the ceremony table: he was especially against boards with writing on them, giant letters or anything with our names on it! In the end we kept it simple, just the Flower Ceremony base and a table runner. No DIY whatsoever (cutting a table runner to size is emphatically not DIY – you wouldn’t call opening a packet of food “cooking”!).

And that’s everything – all the planning. All the same, nothing much really prepares you for walking into a room filled with your friends and family to have them all turn and stare at you (through a balloon tunnel). It was nerve-racking to say the least – I had to look straight ahead because I caught one guest’s eye and suddenly didn’t think I could make it to the end of the aisle. I wanted to be strong and I wanted to read my vows with meaning and stare Guy in the eyes as I married him.

Not looking at anyone (except Guy and the registrar) actually worked really well! Some people say hold the moment and look everyone in the face, but I made the decision that was best for me at the time. I relaxed a bit during the readings, and even though I asked not for chairs we had them, and thus were getting up and sitting down a lot, which kept us busy.

Everyone has said afterwards that we were both loud and clear when we spoke, which was definitely false confidence: he was as nervous as me! We raised our voices a bit – stage voices (but much more scary than being on stage, because this is personal and everyone around you knows you and will definitely see you again).

I do think it was a fast half an hour (or so… I didn’t check the actual time as we emerged), but this was chiefly because it was a full half an hour and everything that was going on interested me. I have definitely lost hours if not days reading or writing something that interests me on other occasions, so it was not purely because of emotion!

I didn’t cry. I was quite pleased about this, but actually I felt I was feeling less than I should have because I had to repress the nervousness so much that everything was a bit emotionally dampened. The relief I felt when we were announced husband and wife though – I was holding on for that. Whilst I knew we wouldn’t be interrupted, I was still paranoid that something would stop it happening or I wouldn’t make it through, but I knew once the contracting words were spoken that it was legal and all okay, and all I had to do then was squeeze my new husband’s hand and hold on until we were announced!

I had entirely forgotten about the kiss – but Guy hadn’t: and he had every intention of doing it ‘properly’.

(‘Properly’ in Guy’s book ended up as quite a long kiss… people commented!)

I actually came out of the ceremony room shaking – I seem to have quite a history of shaking! But this was a less debilitating shaking than those I mentioned before: and more like the shakey feeling you get after you’ve narrowly missed being hit by a car. Or falling over a cliff edge.

Here is us signing the register (this was an easy bit):

And finally – married!

Smiling because – hurray – it’s over! And now to celebrate!

Words cannot express how proud I am of my wonderful husband, and so pleased to have married him.

Structure and Timings

Circumstances thus prevailed that in the last summer of Oxford, the opportunity arose for the best kind of wedding research – another wedding! We were quite excited to go along, especially since we’d each only been to one wedding before, and I made sure to note all the little details and especially the pattern of the day, since Guy and I had really very little idea of the structure of a wedding.

It was a great day. One thing we did note, however, was the importance of organisation. The ushers need to know exactly what they’re doing and how the day will pan out so that they can provide support to you and your guests throughout it. What is more, buying matching ties/buttonholes/other items for the ushers is very important because it allows guests to identify them to ask questions.

I am a very organised person, and I was determined that our wedding day would live up to my high expectations. So we decided to tackle the issue with military organisation.

In their wedding album, Guy’s parents have a copy of the Op Order his dad wrote for his ushers and best man team (all friends from the army). We had absolutely loved this, and so decided to have some fun too. Each of the ushers and our best man and woman were given an instructions pack, indicating their roles and responsibilities chronologically throughout the day as gauged in mock-military tone. The pack included

– Step by step instructions for the day with initials/job roles to indicate who did what
– A contacts sheet, which contained the numbers for each other (with their names and roles) and of important contacts on the day: the florist, the Town Hall, Somerville, the rickshaws, the car hire company and the caterers.
– A list of the formal photographs we wanted with the groups arranged in a sensible order (Guy thought stripping people away would be easier than adding them in) for people to be gathered (do note to define terms though: we used “wedding party” to mean something similar to “bridal party” (i.e. all the ushers and best people) and some thought we meant everybody – every single guest. Oops).
– A quick guide to setting up the cake stand for Cecily (pretty simple, but you never know).

The pack contents were printed nicely on our wedding paper and handed out in plastic wallets (in case it rained) with the owner’s name on it (to avoid fights).

Not everything was done military style though! We produced non-military Orders of Celebration (neither of us liked the term ‘Order of Day’ – I thought it sounded German and Guy thought it sounded military) outlining the breakdown of the ceremony and then the various other components of the day so that the guests would have a clue what was happening and when. We printed enough for just over one between two and I think they were mostly snaffled as keepsakes.

And now I come to the other important thing we had learnt about weddings – don’t abandon your guests!

A lot of people are not familiar with the wedding location, so unless you have a church literally across the road from your reception venue, they will often need a bit of help. We did provide a map in the invitations, but felt it was important to go that bit further. If the venues had been far apart and parking was available, we might have organised car pooling, but as it was, Somerville is only a 15 minute walk from the Town Hall – in a dead straight line. So instead we arranged for ushers to guide the walkers and provided transport for a few people, with priority to ourselves, people we needed and elderly relatives.

And really, it’s a bit silly to hire pretty vintage cars for a 15 minute walk – they can get very expensive!

So we hired rickshaws.

The parasol you see here only got put up for the rickshaw rides, but I’m so glad I bought it (even hunting high and low for the off-white my mum insisted upon to match my dress and hat – which are different off whites from each other anyway). As we moved through town I had this big white orb around me and people recognised that we were a wedding party and cheered! It was lovely!

Some of the best rickshaw pictures were taken by my uncle Kevin, for our photographer was needed at Somerville to start taking the formal shots and spent much of the time we spent in a rickshaw in one herself. Kevin seems to have been very excited about the rickshaws and I have chains of second by second shots of them on their way.

We also used a rickshaw to transport my mum and me to the ceremony in the morning. I get carsick and hated the idea of getting into a taxi with a roof when I was nervous, so this was an extremely fun alternative!

The rickshaws were supplied by oxoncarts. Initially we had a lot of trouble getting hold of them (the only way to get an intial response is to leave an answer machine message – something neither of us like to do!), so I was very nervous about them being unprofessional and not turning up on time, especially for the morning journey. However, they were absolutely fine and in very good time on both occasions; we ended up leaving for the Town Hall a bit early because he was there waiting and I had to manoeuvre my mother away from another coffee (which would have got left or made us late)!


I always knew that I would not be having bridesmaids, even before I became immersed in the wedding world and heard all the dress-shopping dress-fitting expensive-makeup-demanding jealousy horror stories. The traditional role of a bridesmaid is to wear a dress she doesn’t like in a colour she didn’t choose, smile, look pretty, and maybe organise a hen do. So, in other words, dead weight.

I didn’t even have an idea how expensive bridesmaids could be before I rejected the plan absolutely. I wanted to get married: we didn’t need all the frills, and we could and would pick them and choose them! I resent being confined to gender stereotypes, and most of my friends are men anyway, so I felt no obligation to organise bridesmaids.

What you really need on a wedding day is someone who actually does something; someone who could be relied upon to sort things out if they went awry; someone who actually represents your closest friends and has not been preselected on gender, age or marital status!

My best friend, James, has known me since I was eleven; we work well together and share a sense of humour; he’s ‘solid and reliable’ and knows how to take charge of a situation (he’s a teacher!). And, of course, he’s always up for a challenge!

In full ‘teacher mode’:

So, if the groom could have a best man, why not the bride?

James was, understandably, a little confused about his role and responsibilities as my best man, and whilst I didn’t have a specific list in mind when I asked, this is what he ended up doing:

– making ~230 origami cranes
– organising the hen do
– fastening my dress (!)
– taking care of my handbag until the dinner reception (!)
– witnessing our marriage
– announcing us into the dinner reception
– announcing the speeches
– taking care of our honeymoon bag
– doing his own impromptu speech (!)

In fact, the role he ended up with was a pretty good cross between a Maid of Honour and a Master of Ceremonies!

We also considered ushers.

Ushers, unlike bridesmaids, have a point: they meet and greet everybody, direct people to and fro and generally keep the day moving and act as hosts when the bride and groom and their parents are preoccupied (as happens at weddings)… And since we’re flouting the gender roles already, our ushers were not going to be men, and neither were they all going to be from his side.

It was very important for us when picking our ushers to get scary, bossy, organised people. Or people who knew how to be scary, bossy and organised at the appropriate moment, anyway! When you hire someone for a job, you pick the person who is best at the job, and this was no different. Looking back, I am so glad we used this filter, because we do know some completely lovely, totally useless people and, given them the reins, I would have had a meltdown.

In the interests of symmetry, I must point out that we ended up with two men and two women, two of Guy’s friends and two of mine, and two tall people and two short people – but we did not pick them on aesthetics! They do look charming in this picture, though…


Cecily is one of the aforementioned Cherubs and longtime Somerville friend of Guy’s. An excellent cook, we immediately conscripted her for help with the wedding cake and, whilst her abode generally looks like a bomb has hit it, can definitely do scary, organised and in charge! She is also based in Oxford, which came in handy later on, especially for those who wanted to party after the wedding was over…


Tom of the getting-lost-in-the-fog-on-the-Pennine-Way-incident, an old school friend of mine, was also lined up. As a rule, he’s a bit of a bum, but if you ask him to pull his socks up he will take the challenge to new levels. For example, as a postie, he often works on Saturdays. Taking the wedding day off work would have been enough, but Tom took the whole week before the wedding off and came down to Birmingham from where he helped us pack up and transport everything to Oxford and thereon took on the role of head usher!


Oscar is an OTC friend of Guy’s. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security – because Oscar is a small but angry man, who takes on responsibilities with a military efficiency! On the other hand, he moved from Oxford to London during our wedding planning, and then forgot the wedding day: he thought it was a week later! Luckily he managed to find out via facebook and his train ticket.


Elizabeth is a Somerville friend of mine. Whilst housemates in our second year, I discovered that the ditzy Elizabeth hid a very scary super-mega-efficient Elizabeth when she took on an Entz Rep position and several other societal roles. She actually acted ditzily whenever I saw her on the wedding day, but stuff got done, so I suppose that was all part of the pretence.

Between them, the ushers did a fantastic job on the wedding day, including

– delivering vases to florists and other stuff to the Town Hall
– setting up the ceremony room
– transporting and setting up the cake
– setting up the cake stand
– meeting and greeting and giving out (some!) of the buttonholes
– organising the music
– organising rickshaw rides and guiding people to and from the drinks reception
– organising photo groups
– saving the cake from collapse (!)
– looking after the hat prize and cards, which then they made sure we took away on honeymoon
– getting the guest book signed by almost everyone
– sorting out what happened to leftover cake

So a lot of stuff!

Now, if only Guy could decide upon his best man…

The trouble he had was that there were three obvious candidates, and weighing up each of them wasn’t easy! He had already discounted his brother for the role, for as children they had an unrivalled rivalry… Now he considered all the responsibilities that went with the office of best man, and decided that there were three major roles of importantance: organising the stag do, giving a speech and being generally helpful and organised.

It was important to him that the stag do was fun and neither formulaic nor calamitous – in an A & E kind of way. As the best man’s duty to set the tone of the stag do, and with the cherubs in full swing, this would be no light task. As for the speech, well, the best man for this job would have to ensure his speech wasn’t too earnest and worthy, but make sure he didn’t do a shabby job of it either (notably, not being embarrassed was absolutely not part of the criteria!). Guy didn’t want to give the job to someone who would find it too nerve-racking. Being helpful and organised was harder: of course everybody had the best of intentions, but some best men would be too laid back, and others simply wouldn’t be able to commit the time. Tricky…

So, after lots of umming and ahhing, his eventual choice was Caz, who is very organised, but very busy: she works in events management. Oh yes, she.

So we had a best man for the bride and a best woman for the groom – neat!

Guy was worried about putting Caz under too much pressure, so we didn’t ask her to do much leading up to the day. However, at the last minute she dashed round to collect lots of wedding stuff we didn’t think we could carry and transport it over for us. She also performed the vital duty of taking the groom for a steadying pint on the morning of the wedding, and giving him his something borrowed. Like James, she witnessed our marriage, and of course took care of the rings. She was very nervous about the speech and said she might not eat much of the wedding breakfast, so we put the speeches between the starter and main breakfast so as to get them nicely out of the way without letting our guests starve. Needless to say, her speech was brilliant.

We decided not to kit out Caz with anything, although we bought ties and waistcoats (waistcoats were from Next Clearance – they have fab deals there) for the boys. James assumed his was hired, and was very pleased to discover he could keep it.

I bought gloves and pashminas for the women ushers, although one of them didn’t wear hers *sad face*.

And everybody got handkerchiefs/pocket squares, which I painstakingly made from excess dress material and ivory satin using my temperamental sewing machine.

I include our readers here, because whilst they weren’t the “wedding party”, we felt that it was an important role and chose people who were important to us and whom we thought would perform well! I will be telling you about the readings later, but here they are:

David – a friend of mine from Oxford.

Narmeen – a friend from Oxford.

Harry – Guy’s brother.

Brian – a friend of Guy’s from Somerville.

There are two more vital roles, and they’re even more important to mention here, because you wouldn’t know that they are two: walking me down the aisle, and giving the father of the bride speech. I have neither a father nor a stepfather to take one of these positions, so I asked my lovely mother to walk me down the aisle (but not to give me away, as I’m not into that kind of thing at all) and my grandfather to give a grandfather of the bride speech (which memorably started with the line, “I first met Rowena when she was one day old…” and taught me a few new things about my infant years!).

Here they both are – I expect you can guess which is which.

We didn’t arrange anything for them except buttonholes, and my mum eventually went for white and navy – to avoid the royal blue which didn’t suit her. She sent me a text the week before the wedding declaring “At 11th hour have dress!” She was especially pleased with her hat (which she continued to hide behind) and how she and Guy’s mum were accidentally coordinated (Guy’s mum had threatened to wear fluorescent pink).