Category Archives: Food and Drink

A Pinch of Salt – Advice

So I thought I’d do an advice section. …And my first piece of advice is DON’T TAKE ADVICE. Everybody is different, and everybody needs to do things differently, so read or listen to advice and take it with a pinch of salt – as a personal experience. Not only is everybody different, but some weddings are nothing like others and generic advice can be counter-rpoductive.

But, just for the record, here is my pinch of salt!

1. The day doesn’t go fast – it’s full, it’s busy, but it goes slowly, and at the end of it, it feels like it has been more than a day. This is how it felt to me. I was so worked up with expectations from repeated advice that the day would go fast and I would have to rush around that it took me until the end of the reception to actually relax and go “off-duty”. Don’t let expectations shape your day (but yes, do make time to talk to everybody: we circulated the tables between courses and it was great!).

2. Don’t do the “done” thing. We stayed in the room together the night before, and it was completely expected that we would. And it was lovely to go to bed together and get up together, and I really needed Guy. Following the “traditional” route would just have made us miserable.

3. Wear blue. Wear black. Wear lime green and indigo if you want to. You will still look like a bride, people will still recognise you as a bride, and you will have a dress you can wear again, alter to wear again, or just look your best in.

4. Something will always go wrong. Your guests will be chaotic. Don’t get upset. Rise above it. It makes good storytelling later, and people are much more interested in the cake collapsing than what my dress looked like.

5. If you can have ceremony pictures HAVE THEM. Our ceremony shots are some of my favourites: they look so much more natural than the posed shots, they’re well spaced and we look at our best.

6. Have ushers. They are like gods. I have no idea how we could have done it without them.

7. Make things. People do notice the small details, and they get very excited about the little things you have made and personalised. Making things is fulfilling, exciting and saves you money – and if it doesn’t get noticed, you won’t mind anyway!

8. If it’s a “must-have” you don’t need it. We didn’t have a videographer or chair covers and we are glad that we didn’t have them. You don’t automatically have to have everything on your wedding day, and don’t let yourself get pressured into having things for fear of regrets. Decide whether it’s actually important to you and whether you would have thought of it by yourself. Make your wedding about you, not other brides.

9. Don’t put your soul into the wedding – focus on the marriage. Make sure you have new projects lined up for after the wedding and honeymoon and kick the post wedding blues in the teeth. I didn’t get this, and I’m pretty sure it’s because my life did not peak at my wedding day. It was a great day. One of many. And I have so many all-consuming projects anyway that the wedding just meant I put them on hold: now I am back to enjoying them!

10. Stick by your guns. Make sure that your guests are warm, confortable, well fed and supplied with alcohol. After that, your decisions are up to you, not them!

Things I’m glad I had or did:

1. Wore a hat. This is not usual, but it worked on me and I prefered it to a bare head. A veil was never an option, but the white detail worked the “bridal” look.

2. Travelled by rickshaw. Not only was this great fun, but it was a bit different. The guests loved them!

3. Had a getaway car. This was expensive for what it was and we would have been fine with a taxi. But we wanted the send off and everyone loved the car. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and we’re both glad we decided on this treat!

4. Learnt salsa and performed our first dance. A lot of people don’t like the idea of practised dances (although salsa is a kind of improvised dance), but I thought it was very entertaining and was something we enjoyed doing together and keeping a secret up until the wedding day. It’s also important to spend time together during the lead up to the wedding.

5. Had the evening to ourselves so that we could unwind and spend some time being close on our wedding day. A rave up would have left us with quite a different feel.

6. Had a drinks reception in Somerville. Going back to Somerville was important to us and whilst we were busy socialising and having photos, I feel it made our wedding ours and was an important tribute.


The Wedding Evening

It was a quiet evening – a time to relax, snack on our M&S picnic in the amazing corner bath – and generally chat about the day, letting ourselves straighten out to normal and get used to the idea of being married!

The Victorian Suite at Fyfield Manor was beautiful. The carpets were soft and white, and we were given slippers to wear indoors! It was also immaculate, but by the time we left little flakes of confetti had managed to get all over the place – oops! At least it was real petal…

After dinner and the bath, I made myself a cup of tea and we sprawled on the bed going through our cards and the guest book. This was really touching, and completely made the day. Some of the messages were funny, others were sweet, and one of them made me cry (only a tiny bit!) for the first time that day! The book got a bit battered over the honeymoon, but it was still worth it for the experience on our wedding night and a wonderful finish to our wedding day!

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


Final Numbers

We officially set our deadline for the 14th February, but for various reasons there were people who couldn’t tell us until closer to the time. The catering deadline for final numbers was two weeks before the wedding day, and whilst several people dropped out afterwards or failed to turn up on day, this was our final numbers check. And time to pay.

But when the catering deadline did come about, we were still waiting for a couple of people to get back to us with meal choices, which we told Cathy. Strangely, she didn’t seem that worried about our final payment being on time, and even after we confirmed numbers, the invoice was in no hurry.

I actually wanted it to arrive, wanted to pay off the catering, because then the bulk of the wedding would be paid for! It was exciting!

By April 20th we had paid for our food, our registrars, our cars, the florist and the town hall. All we had left to pay was a bit of cake ingredients and our first night accommodation.


Some of the suppliers were’t quite ready for the remaining deposit payment, but we were insistent – we wanted it all done and dusted. And once we started making the payments, we just couldn’t wait. We had actually missed the registry office and car hire deadlines by a couple of days – the registrars sent us a reminder only after we missed it, and Christopher Cars not at all. Luckily, they didn’t seem to mind (I presume they considered us in a pre-wedding frenzy of activity – in truth, I had a lab report due in and was trying to finish it before I took time off to get married!).

But it was done. And, with final numbers confirmed, we were able to finish off and stick together our table plan and place names with cork stands.

Since we named our tables after Oxford pubs, Guy and I decided to represent them in some way on our table plan. We had already included artistically rendered images of the pubs on the “book cover” table menus, so we didn’t want to do this again. Instead, we decided to make each table an old-style map of the surrounding area where that pub was to be found – or would, in the future, be found.

Guy got searching. And, before long, he managed to turn over a small mine of interesting, old maps covering different parts of the Oxford area. We chose one for each pub and he proceeded to size them appropriately for the plan, print them and cut out circles of map.

Meanwhile, I was making the main plan. I bought some large pieces of thick paper from Ryman’s (making the most of my student discount) and trimmed the ivory piece so that we could frame it within the blue card. I then drew out the room plan to scale and cut out lots of blue circles and rectangles to stick the table maps and various labels on. The glue made the plan a bit curly, but there wasn’t anything we could do about that – Guy even ironed the thing under a tea towel!

The place name tags were another matter entirely. We wanted to keep them simple, but still us and some fun. It was nice that some of our guests took them home with them after the wedding.

The corks came about because I had seem them done elsewhere and thought them appropriate to us, and simple. For a start, we both enjoy our wine, but more conveniently, I used to collect corks at one stage. We raided my old collection – there were about twenty. And got collecting.

We did pretty well, although we would not have made it without the aid of Guy’s parents – who nobly consumed cork over screw top wine in order to complete our collection.

We had champagne corks for the top table and ordinary corks for the other tables. I deliberately distributed them so that the widest range of corks appeared on each table. – I doubt anybody noticed!

The formula for name tags was simple: we printed people’s full names on the tags (if you have enough people at your wedding, there will always be a few people with the same name – we even had two people of the same full name!) and then underneath, Guy wrote down a role name (bride, mother of the bride, aunt of the bride…) or a nickname (either established or an “of the x story” variety). It took us a while to think of them all!

Hen and Stag Do

Let me start by saying I reall, really wanted to have our hen and stag do at the same time. But this didn’t happen. In the end, the people we were arranging it around couldn’t get back soon enough and we had to book, so they ended up being booked on separate dates… three weeks apart. I was very disappointed because in the end the friend who restricted the dates and made it impossible simply didn’t turn up. Something else came up. This also cost my best man money, who organised everything in good faith from those who said they were coming, so it was really unfair on him too.

The reason I mention this?

Because not only did I spent all of Guy’s stag do missing him and feeling left out of the fun, but when my hen came about I was bothered about him not being there and feeling that he had been sent away because of a silly tradition. We did want separate hen and stag dos, but if I had been a bit more selfish earlier, we might have got what we actually wanted left nobody been unhappy for it.

We didn’t actually wait too long before asking our best man and woman to organise the dos (giving them ideas of the kinds of things we wanted), but with the date organising delays and attempts to get initial numbers it ended up being pushed back and back.

For his stag, Guy wanted to go somewhere. He didn’t want strippers and strip clubs and, with the Cherubs underrepresented, he got what he wanted. Caz played with the idea of doing an archery session before the drinking kicked in, but unfortunately they were unable to secure a club in time (or, well, nobody got back to her).

They decided to go to Oxford. They booked somewhere to stay, a comedy for the evening and went pubbing and punting during the day.

In order to make it more fun, I decided to pack Guy a “Stag Survival Kit”. This contained:

– Stag Antlers, necessarily
– A tubey shot (to get him started, and also a little joke between us)
– Some rehydration packet drinks for recovery the next day
– A can of squirty cream (just to encourage misbehaviour)

Apparently I wasn’t the only person who had the idea of dressing Guy up, and it seems he ended up in fairy wings where they started in a pub:

A pink tutu, with a bottle of lambrini taped to his hand, during the punting:

And a Mexican (?) hat (!) in the Purple Turtle, or PT, the scummy cheap Union club (free entry for Union members), where he lost his stag antlers to a very drunk girl.

The next day, when I got him back, Guy couldn’t remember having any dinner, only that he was sure he’d had something for dinner, and he may not have paid for it himself – much like most or all of his drinks. We went to archery. He was still pissed. He lay on the grass in the sunshine and amused himself, whilst stinking of beer. Showering did not make it go away!

Photographs are courtesy of Guy’s brother, Harry.

Here is the crew:

Obviously with the best man and woman the “wrong” way round, we had mixed hens and stags.

Caz described the stag as “EPIC”.

For the hen, we were in Birmingham, and Guy once again went to Oxford: this time to do role playing with cecily.

I said I was quite keen on doing afternoon tea in the hen – but the lack of advance booking in local places resulted in us going to dine for a late lunch in the Museum cafe – a very nice place, but not exactly afternoon tea esque!

Then we all got into fancy dress and started drinking.

James arranged for Simon the Animal Man to come and show us exotic creatures. There were all sorts of reptiles, insects, bugs and feral furry things. We started out with a chinchilla on my head, and evolved to holding tarantulas (!). I’m only going to include a few photos here, as the number of animals we saw and held was ridiculous!

(these glow turquoise under UV light!)

We then had a cocktail guy come to make us and teach us to make cocktails. I won a bottle of fizz for my cocktail making, which I found a few days later rolled under the dresser. We still haven’t opened it.


So, just to contrast my last post on healthy eating and exercise, I thought I’d talk about ALCOHOL. Guy’s parents kindly offered to pay for the drinks we had. Originally, this was just supposed to be for the meal, but somehow it ended up being Somerville as well. We had already ordered the drinks for the reception when we had our negotions with college, and in any case had to choose from their selection. Thus we provided –

1 glass of sparkling wine per person

Up to 75 glasses of Pimms/Bucks Fizz, playing the balance by ear

Up to 15 bottles of wine, playing the white/rose balance by ear, and orange juice for everybody who wanted some.

I managed a glass of sparkling on arrival and a glass of Pimms, though I would’ve quite liked a Buck’s Fizz as well – nevermind, I was doing well for a bride to have got two drinks in! Guy got a Pimms as well, as I was sure that he would.

We picked our wines for the breakfast more carefully. We both enjoy wines and have been to several wine tasting events in efforts to educate ourselves and refine our preferences. In fact, we are having a wine, cheese and book-swapping party tonight that I write! Guy has a membership to the Wine Society, and we have enjoyed their wines in the past. Not only that, but they have an under £6 a bottle range of some very good stuff (that does not taste under £6) and do free delivery for cases. Full cases can be returned, and for that reason Guy’s dad decided to order an extra case of everything – he has a Wine Society membership too, of couse – which is what put us onto it.

We decided to look at wines under £7, and showed Guy’s dad the list of ones we were considering. We quickly settled on the Beaujolais Village red wine, which was a favourite and looked like it would work well with the rich main dish!

For the white, we were more hesitatnt, but Guy’s dad suggested the Society’s Own White Burgundy, a reliable grape that Guy’s family had enjoyed over many years, and not likely to be too quenched by the food.

Here they are on the table

As for the Champagne – I’m not entirely sure what we had!

We originally composed a list of sparkling wines from the Wine Society, at which Guy’s dad declared “I’m not toasting your marriage in sparkling wine!” At which I laughed, and told him he was a snob!

I wasn’t surprised, and had had a sneaking suspicion that he would want to spend more on the toast drinks, so was prepared for this. I told him about the £19 Society Champagne and that it was his money, he could choose what he wished. And he did.

Because the Champagne wasn’t put on the table, I don’t actually know whether he went with my suggestion or not. No matter – it was very good Champagne and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

For non-drinkers we provided the caterers with four bottles of sparkling elderflower presse, which is very nice and comes out a similar colour. We had a look at options, but ended up choosing Belvior because they are a reliable brand and come in pretty bottles. The caterers were given a complete list of who wasn’t drinking so that they could slip in with the elderflower in all the right places.

Despite ordering an extra case of everything, we had only 5 bottles returned to us this weekend! It is true to say, wine makes people happy.