Category Archives: Venue

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.


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!


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)!


Giving Notice

The dreaded moment had arrived – giving notice. Of course I was terrified: if I fluffed up, that could be it for marrying the love of my life.

And fluff up I did.

Luckily, however, fluffing up the spelling of your fiance’s middle name doesn’t carry the kind of implications I was afraid of! They put an ‘inconsistency mark’ on the record, and that, thank god, was that.

We gave notice in Oxford, which was where we lived at the time and where we were getting married, but before we were married, we moved to Birmingham. Had we already been living in Birmingham, Birmingham would have been where we gave notice, although Oxford registry office would still have been the one we dealt with when it came to the planning!

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It was a remarkably simple procedure, although made to feel scarier than it was by separating us and going through what wasn’t allowed in the ceremony… not that they told us everything, as you will find out later. And at this juncture, we had barely set the date!

Here are some of the things you will be asked to state:

– Your name, date of birth, address and job title.
– Your fiance’s name (and it’s spelling), date of birth, address and job title.
– That you and your fiance are free to marry, whether either of you have been married before, and that you are not related.
– Your wedding date, time and location. You can change the wedding date but not the location – if you need to do this, you have to pay to give notice again.

Also worthy of note is the registrar’s good intentions: they do want you to be able to marry, and do expect a degree of nervousness. They are there to help.

As for ID, if you are a UK citizen with a valid UK passport, bringing your passport is enough proof of ID (you do not need a driving license as well). You will also need proof of address: we brought our polling cards – a good trick if the bills are in only one name, or your landlord has started redirecting them and paying them for you… (!)

Our appointment took around 40 minutes, and that because we were asking lots of questions. It was very formal and formulaic, but that didn’t prevent me from becoming emotional the moment we stepped outside the offices, whereupon I threw my arms around Guy and started – yet again – to shake! But not quite so debilitatingly on this occasion. It was an exciting moment, and though I am sure many brides will feel that giving notice is just another bit of admin to work though, the act of making it legal was important to me and marked a new step in the journey. From now on in, what we were planning was a real wedding: it was going to happen.


The Venue – The Planning Proper

It seems strange to start on food and makeup, but they were only the beginning of a slide into wedding planning – a tumble down the slippery slope to suddenly finding ourselves online, searching for licensed venues in Oxford, Birmingham, Sheffield and Bristol – but mostly in Oxford.

It was like my wedding brain – our wedding brain – had perked up, or activated.

Our parents had already asked about where we would be getting married. When we told them of our engagement, my mum had said, “So, hotel or registry office?”

And we had said, “Neither!”

…I could practically hear the dread in her silence on the other end of the phone as the thought entered her head that we might be considering getting married in church…

Guy’s parents had asked, “So, church or registry office?”

And we had said, “There are other options, you know!”

We were not considering a church, of course – both of us are atheists, and I can’t imagine anything worse than being made to lie through the most important promise you will ever make. But equally we were determined not to marry in a hotel. Guy felt they were impersonal and souless: a place for comings and goings, but not to marry in. And we had another reason: if I wanted a personalised menu, we were going to need an external caterer. A package was never going to work.

This wedding forum has shown me that people look for venues, and view places they have never been before, but I had always assumed that you got married somewhere you had a connection with: because that is what is done with churches. I think this is lovely, and wanted to embrace the same sentiments.

What’s more, we wanted the whole wedding in one location: since we weren’t using a church, it seemed unnecessary to shuffle everyone around! And the first place we tried – the first place we thought of – was Somerville College.

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However, it was not to be. Somerville charged us far more than we could afford, including a £2000 fee just to have the wedding on the premises, additional to the admin fee and hire charges for the buildings; more crucial, however, was their date restriction: we had our hearts set on May (exam season… uh oh), but Somerville would only do a wedding on 3 dates in August!

We had a rethink. We approached Somerville and asked whether we could have the ceremony only in May, and then proceed elsewhere. The answer was yes! …if we got married at 3pm.

We were unhappy again. We wanted to leave for honeymoon that night, and were considering a late morning ceremony. Getting married at 3pm would mean we spent more than half of the day just waiting (I am notoriously poor at waiting), and the wedding would be cut short by a whole 4 hours. Somerville couldn’t offer us an alternative, and so, very sadly, we had to start looking elsewhere…

My mum was keen to move the wedding to Sheffield, where I grew up, but Oxford was where we both lived now, the city where we had met and fallen in love. Guy felt that this would be making the wedding “mine” rather than ours, and preferred the neutrality of Oxford, or Birmingham, where we would soon be moving for my PhD.

There was only really one licensed venue in central Oxford that was in budget, handsome, and we had a connection with: Oxford Town Hall.

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We had been to a ball there only a few months ago, eaten delicious food, and occupied two of the three rooms available for civil weddings and big enough for our party: the great hall and the Assembly room. My mum saw pictures online and loved the Assembly Room for it’s light and wood panelled walls.

St Anthony’s Ball at the Town Hall:

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The Great Hall:

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The Assembly Room:

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The third, smallest room, is the Old Library, and Guy immediately adored the idea of getting married in a library. The Great Hall was too big, seating 500 theatre style of 300 for dinner! – so the decision would be between the Old Library and Assembly Room.

Old Library

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And then the Town Hall gave us some good news: the Old Library and Assembly Room are connected, the Old Library being accessed via the Assembly Room, so they would not book separate events in both of the rooms. We could put a deposit on one room, and changed our mind later.

We booked.

Initially this was just for the ceremony, but we toyed with the idea of hiring both rooms and having the ceremony in the Old Library (which, with South and West facing windows has more natural light in the morning) and reception in the Assembly Room (with big West facing windows for lots of light in the afternoon – I have heard too many horror stories about wedding photography in the dark!). But there was one major drawback. There was no outside area, no grass or garden for taking pictures in: and I did want our formal pictures outside!

So we started looking at village halls – low hire rates, and a space we could make our own and have external caterers in. After a lot of searching we found two possible venues: South Oxford Community Centre, which backed onto a beautiful park and was just down the road from the Town Hall, or Summertown Church Hall – a prettier building, but substantially further away and with a restricted outdoor space.

South Oxford Community Centre

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Summertown Church Hall

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At this juncture in the narrative, my mum threw a massive wobbly. She felt the Community Centre, our first choice, looked like a Victorian Workhouse and insisted we book the whole wedding at the Town Hall: she and my grandparents would be contributing. This caused a lot of stress between my mum and me for a while, and was especially hard because she has always valued outdoor spaces and is very fond of her garden.

It seemed for a while that we were at a stalemate – then we had another idea.

We went back to Somerville.

Yes, we had given up the idea of having our wedding reception there (August only), or ceremony (3pm only), but now we had a new plan, and this time we were able to carry it through… We asked if Somerville could host a drinks reception between the ceremony and dinner reception, allowing us time to take photos and enjoy the outdoors, before going back to the hotel. The booking fee was reasonable, and we bagged the Margaret Thatcher Conference Centre as our indoor space, and selected Cava, Buck’s Fizz, orange juice, Pimms and white and rose wine to offer. We would have our wedding in Somerville afterall!

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All that was to be done now was return to return to the Town Hall and extend our booking to the wedding reception. Our wedding would be happening on the 19th May 2012, and we finally booked our venue for the event on the 19th May 2011 – exactly a year to the day. To celebrate, we bought a bottle of wine and headed out for a meal at a sleazy Italian BYO – it was a fantastic feeling.


A Turn in Events

My friendship with Guy grew, but was always a bit out of the blue. He would turn up at my room at random, sweep in, and wander round the room chatting to me, picking things up to look at and putting them back down again. He would occasionally throw something at me unexpectedly – drinks with friends the other side of Oxford, a surprise visit to Oxford in the vac, a spare ticket to his OTC May Ball…

OTC May Ball

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We had a mutual interest in books, yet were both scientists (me a chemist, him an engineer), but our political views differed widely: he objected strongly to the principles of vegetarianism, and me to army and war ethics. So we continued to be friends, but never considered each other romantically.

…For two and a half years.

Here is us at an “anything but clothes” bop.

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At the end of my first year I had somehow scraped a distintion, and this fuelled me to work even harder throughout my second year and the start of my third. I took up climbing twice a week, volunteered for several projects, co-founded a Vegetarian Society and took on committee positions for 4 societies I frequented.

And then, at Christmas in my third year, I burnt out.

Oxford lost it’s charm. I still wanted to work hard and take part in things, but not so hard and not so many things. I was sick of exams, revisions, meetings… I decided that I wanted to enjoy the rest of my degree.

Just like in first year, the Oxford term was too short for me, and I stayed on over Easter. But I found that not many people were around Oxford that Easter – or not many who wanted to do anything but bury their head in a book and stress about finals. And so I found myself spending a lot of time around one person who usually put his social life before his work commitments – Guy Fletcher-Wood.

And then one night, over I went with a box of red wine, somehow under the impression that it was only about two and a half bottles. And so perhaps then it was no surprise that, several hours and the whole box later, he kissed me…

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But what I didn’t know was that, when he did, my whole world would turn upside down.


A Love Story – The Scene is Set

This is the story of a whirlwind romance. Not a very feminine romance perhaps (I never did understand why love was personified as a woman!), but something strong, sudden, and lasting, we hope, forever.

I was nineteen years old when I went up to Oxford. I felt – what did I feel? – honoured to have been accepted there. I knew I was bright enough, but no more so than so many other candidates, many of whom had not made it. And because of this, I felt duty bound to the institution to live up to their expectations of me, to do them proud, to earn the distinction I had been granted.

I was also lucky enough to get a beautiful room overlooking the small front quad. It was quieter there, and I had the luxury of being able to watch everyone come and go through the main gates whilst I was working.

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I was very happy. I worked very hard and threw myself into activities. I played floorball, attended Science Society talks, went to the debates and joined the Inklings writing group. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with Oxford. It offered me an abundance of opportunity and challenged me on a daily basis. The city was beautiful, and I was independent for the first time. When the first term ended I was eager to stay on and, remembering my own experiences, I readily volunteered to help run the next batch of interviews.

A list of names and numbers of the helpers was circulated in advance of the interviews. I looked down the list and remember seeing the name “Guy Fletcher-Wood”. Posh boy, I thought, and “Guy” must get confusing too.

I met him a week or so later.

I was on duty, and he wasn’t, but part of the way through the day he strolled confidently in, put his arms around Karina, our leader, and called her “wifey”. A quick inspection of my sheet, and the sound of his voice and smartness of his dress made me decide that this was Guy. I was a bit confused about the wifey business though, as I had already ascertained that Karina had a boyfriend – but I let that go.

(Later I was to learn that she was his college wife: second year students pair up to ‘parent’ freshers in their subject. My college father failed his prelims and didn’t make it to the second year, and the only time my college mother helped me was when I tried to pass a JCR motion for Meat Free Mondays (the vote drew; they didn’t pass it))

This is Guy on University Challenge.

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Guy’s perspective: What I didn’t realise was that my vast number of commitments and obsessive working regime, as well as my quieter residence, had left me a bit isolated. I had friends, but only a few in my college, Somerville. I had met few students from the years above my own. Guy prided himself on knowing everybody in adjacent years at Somerville, and when he got the helpers list, looked down it and saw my name he was confused. He didn’t know me.

So he asked someone in the first year who I was, and received the memorable reply,

“Rowena… she’s odd.”

And thus he decided to befriend me.

He went about this in the most unconventional way, one day during interviews, when we were waiting at the station to hand out maps to candidates on arrival. I still remember vividly winding myself round a lamp post, as this gregarious, confident boy with a very posh accent, told me the story of “Somerville of the Dead” – a narrative constructed between him and a crazy Greek, concerning a cast of friends I didn’t know and described with video-game-like visuals.

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I wasn’t phased, and so he concluded that the befriending had been a success.

And a few days later, passing him on the stairs with our respective interview candidates, he swept me off my feet – literally.