Category Archives: Travel

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 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!


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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Getaway

Our original getaway plan was to take an overnight ferry from Harwich, but the logistics meant that we would end up having to leave our own wedding reception early (about 5pm…), so we started looking for somewhere to stay in Oxfordshire.

My best knowledge of how weddings worked was Robin Hood and Maid Marian leaving the church and jumping in their getaway carriage at the end of the Disney film. Perhaps naturally, this had led me to believe that at the end of a wedding you drove away on honeymoon rather than organised a disco and got yourselves bladdered. And I quite liked this idea (the getaway not the disco) – it seemed romantic. Guy was also keen: he wanted some downtime at the end of the wedding day to sit and recover and enjoy being married together. So whilst 5pm was stretching it a bit, we were definitely determined to have a day wedding and escape as newlyweds that evening.

It is actually very difficult to find a place to stay on a Saturday night because most guesthouses require a booking for the entire duration of the weekend. We were actually lucky enough to find Fyfield Manor, who were at the time in the process of converting to this policy and agreed to allow us a one-night booking. The Manor is in part the oldest building in Oxfordshire and family-run – they even make you your own breakfast from local and home produce.

On the night of our wedding we spent a lovely relaxing time there reading through our cards and our guest book and having our picnic in the amazing corner bath!

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In order to reach Fyfield Manor we decided to get a nice car. After a bit of research we uncovered what was dubbed the ‘car of sex’ – and then had to find one we could hire in Oxfordshire! We then discovered Christopher’s Cars, who were based in Reading and were happy to provide the chauffered service to Fyfield. Our driver was called Keith and did an excellent job.

Here is the beautiful Jaguar Royale Drophead –

It was an exhilarating drive. I don’t think we’d really had time to stop and being excited until this point!


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)!


Getting it Together

I can’t believe how long it took me to gather up everything from the wedding cupboard, pack it up, and tesselate it into the suitcase. An age.

We decided to use the big suitcase for packing up wedding stuff and the small one for honeymooning. Luckily, the seating plan on its board fitted perfectly in the back/bottom of the big suitcase, so that was verily that.

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For the catering, I made up all our table packs (name cards, menus, decorations) into little packs, printed off seating plans and dietary lists and put them into a folder, then I packed the whole caboodle up into two Abel and Cole organic veg box boxes.

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This took up a lot of suitcase.

A third Abel and Cole box holds the ceremony room set up/decorations lot.

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Oh, and then there’s these…

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Our cake stand. Which definitely doesn’t fit in the suitcase. Good job we have a helper…

Seriously, I can’t understand how people can carry any more. I know they have cars, but with large table decorations, ridiculously overloaded honeymoon packing, vast quantities of hair and makeup products… how it is not a massive stress and completely not worth it?

I don’t envy the friends who will be bringing home the leftover wine, presents, and much of this stuff…


Paying for the Wedding

As of today – the last hour or so, we have now paid for more than half of our wedding (the biggest expense, caterers, isn’t due until May 1st). I’m very excited about it! Never been so excited before about paying money – the Fiance and I danced around the living room!

Earlier on, we wanted to pay for things in full as they came up, but suppliers don’t like you doing this. I can see their point when small changes incur huge faffs rearranging what is essentially small change on the scale of the total cost – and I have changed our flowers a few times, although they didn’t even want a deposit from us!

So we paid deposits, like good children. But then today we received a call from the registrars saying that they wanted payment 12 weeks before the wedding day, and we were overdue! It is now 29 days… We’d never known the payment date (or had an invoice for the amount!) so we looked up the fee on their website and paid it electronically, presuming we’d got the right amounts.

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Everything in the garden was lovely. The Fiance updated our budget spreadsheet and made a list of everything else we’d paid in parts – flowers, transport, food and drink… And thus began the furious invoice hunting.

I located two – the cars and the flowers. Christopher cars were out at a wedding when I called them, but are going to ring me back to let me pay. Their payment was due on the 18th – two days ago (oops – but at least we realised and I contacted him!).

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The flowers, as I mentioned, didn’t even have a deposit on them. I trawled through the email conversation I’d had with Jemma from Austin Flowers hoping to find out when they wanted our money. When I eventually found it, it wasn’t very specific either – payment was due before the week of the wedding – around the same time as the catering.

Well, I decided I didn’t want to do this again in two weeks time, and it’s a Friday afternoon, so they should be open. I called up Austin Flowers and explained my business to be greeted with a very cheerful, “Oh! I’ll just look up your invoice!” In fact she sounded delighted that she wouldn’t have to chase me at some later date; I suppose if you’re as relaxed about payment as they seemed initially, it does fall to them to do all the chasing.

Payment over the phone was quick and painless. Another expense sorted: hurrah!

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Meanwhile, the Fiance was investigating other suppliers. The Town Hall didn’t pick up the phone, so he left a message with them, and they replied by email shortly afterwards telling us that we didn’t need to pay them anything until the 5th of May – two weeks prior to the ceremony.


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He also emailed Oxon Carts – the rickshaw company. They hadn’t given a date for remaining payment either. A few minutes later he got a response: the balance was due tomorrow: they were going to email him then, but he’d beaten them to it. Excellent. So I transferred the rest across online, and the Fiance gave them our payee reference code and explained what we’d done.

Sorted!

The only thing left is the Somerville drinks reception, which the Fiance’s parents are in charge of. The Fiance is emailing them everything they need.

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