There is Nothing like a Dame
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2017 & 2018 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl' and 'All the World's a Stage'
Chapter 32 'Accept this ring...'
Like many people, I have attended a number of weddings, but the one that stands out in my memory wasn't officially a wedding at all, although it really was one in all but name. Frank and Dale's commitment to each other was just as binding in their eyes as a marriage, but I'm glad they did not delay having their ceremony as it would be another ten years before the British government, lagging behind public opinion as happened in many other countries, finally made same-sex marriage legal. In the main, this was due to the ultra-conservatives in both politics and churches who predicted dire consequences if the law was ever passed.
It comes as no surprise to learn that their predictions were totally false. One of these, absurd though it so obviously was, predicted that people who supply services to a wedding, such as caterers, dress-makers, photographers etc would be sued if they declined to accept a booking for a same-sex wedding because they were morally opposed to it. Why on earth would anyone organising a wedding try to force someone to supply a service against their will, when there were so many others only too happy to step in? There is enough stress in organising a wedding without deliberately adding to it unnecessarily.
As mentioned previously, Dale and Frank's ceremony would be attended by only about thirty guests. I am totally n favour of this since it means that everyone can meet everyone else, something which is impossible when the guest list numbers a hundred or more. Reggie was invited to be a 'groomsman/usher' which meant that he could sit at the top table with me in my rôle as 'Best Woman'. I would be performing the same duties as the 'Best Man' in a traditional wedding with the exception of taking the grooms out on a boozy 'bachelor party', also known as a 'stag night', which in any case Dale and Frank had decided against in favour of the four of us going out to dinner a few nights before the ceremony. I fully approved of this decision. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but the idea of getting a groom or grooms drunk and placed in compromising situations is not one of which I approve.
Dale's parents were going to be present at the ceremony, having reconciled themselves to his choice of a life partner, but sadly Frank's parents were unable to accept his decision and had refused the invitation. However, his sister Catherine and her husband Jack were going to attend, so Catherine was asked to be Matron of Honour and Jack a groomsman/usher. I could tell that Frank was bitterly disappointed by his parents' decision. Effectively they had made an ultimatum – chose between us or Dale. Of course, there was no contest, how could there be?
The day of the ceremony finally arrived. We had already discussed the logistics of the four of us getting ready in a flat with only one bathroom, and Dale and Frank had solved this by booking a room at a hotel where they could arrive about ten in the morning and also stay overnight before heading off on their trip. This meant that Reggie and I could have the flat to ourselves and there was no problem about me wandering around in my undies. Reggie had the first shower because he was obviously going to take much less time than me to get ready, and I wouldn't be rushing around with one eye on the clock.
In fact I was ready in a little over two hours and Reggie's reaction was most satisfying. Naturally, I complimented him too as he looked incredibly handsome in his dinner suit. It's sad in a way that men don't have a choice when it comes to formal wear – white shirt, black suit, bow tie and shoes, well that's what I thought anyway.
We took a taxi to the reception centre, arriving at six o'clock. It was beautifully set up with an area best described as a small 'bower' with an arch covered in flowers and large vases filled with flowering plants. This I presumed was where the ceremony would take place. Next to it was a small table with a multi-tier cake with two male figures on the top. Some of the guests had already arrived, and I introduced Reggie to Dale's parents.
Drinks and canapés were being served and a man in a tuxedo approached us, saying he was Robert, the Master of Ceremonies and asked if I was Miss Stow. Reggie and I were then shown into a small room where we found Dale and Frank. My ideas about what they would wear went out of the window. While they still wore white shirts, black trousers and shoes, Dale wore a burgundy velvet jacket and Frank a similar one in electric blue!
“Wow! You two look amazing!” I exclaimed.
“I' glad you like them,” said Dale. “This was Frank's idea and I thought it was a great one. We'll certainly stand out from the other men at the reception!”
“And so you should,” said Reggie.
A waitress came in with canapés and drinks for us. I could tell that Dale and Frank were very nervous, so we all made small-talk trying to keep them relaxed. Finally, the Master of Ceremonies came in to say that everyone had arrived.
Dale looked at Frank and grasping his hand said: “Here we go!”
First Catherine and Jack, then Reggie and I made our entrance to the strains of Jeremiah Clarke's 'Trumpet Voluntary' and applause, which increased in volume as Dale and Frank made their appearance and stood under the arch facing each other waiting for the celebrant to appear. They turned to the guests and it was then that I noticed that Frank had turned white and swayed slightly. Dale grasped his hands, spoke quietly and steadied him. I followed Frank's gaze and was suddenly realised that I was looking at two people that I recognised from a framed photo in Dale and Frank's room. I was looking at Frank's parents – they had come after all! I was so pleased for him but couldn't help thinking that they could have warned him – having one of the grooms faint before the ceremony would not have been a good look.
The celebrant, a charming woman who looked very like Dawn French walked in from the side and introduced herself as Helen. She was wearing a quasi-religious robe and made a joke about not being the Vicar of Dibley which got a laugh and helped relax things. She told us that we were gathered to celebrate Dale and Frank's love and commitment to each other to the exclusion of all others and with the firm intention that it would last for life. In that, it was very similar to a wedding ceremony.
Then came the vows which Frank and Dale had written themselves. Each, in turn, were separately asked if they would take each other as a life partner to love, cherish and support through good times and bad for the rest of their lives.
This was the point at which I as 'Best Woman' was asked for the rings and handed them to the celebrant who passed them to Dale and Frank separately so they could put them on each other's 'ring finger', saying: “Accept this ring as a symbol of my undying love for you. Please take it and wear it as a symbol of all that we share today and always.”
The ceremony continued with a quote from the bible which probably surprised some people but both Dale and Frank felt that fact that it wasn't a religious ceremony didn't mean that one of the greatest descriptions of love could not be included. It was from 1 Corinthians 13, verses 1-8 which most people know whether they are religious or not as it is quoted in many wedding ceremonies.
It starts: "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” and concludes with ”Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
I glanced at Dale's and Frank's mothers and saw that they were dabbing at their eyes, and it suddenly occurred to me that it was Frank's mother who had insisted, probably at the last minute, that they come.
To conclude the ceremony, Helen announced that by their vows and the giving and receiving of rings, Dale and Frank had committed themselves to each other and she was proud to announce that they were now partners for life. At this point Dale and Frank exchanged a brief and chaste kiss on the lips, and everyone started to applaud. They were led to a little table where a Certificate of Commitment had been prepared for them to sign, and the final part of the ceremony was where it was presented to them. Both sets of parents stepped forward to congratulate them with hugs and kisses and I was so pleased for them, especially Frank that it took all my self-control not to shed a tear too.
The whole ceremony had been recorded on video with some pictures taken of the highlights. Now we were led onto the balcony for photographs of every combination of family and friends before going inside and taking our seats for the reception. With the last minute arrival of Frank's parents, some rearranging of the top table had been achieved. Both sets of parents were seated on either side of their sons, with Catherine and Jack next to Frank's parents and Reggie and me next to Dale's parents. Thank goodness the M.C. who was also the owner of the reception centre had managed to be so flexible.
Everyone took their seats and the M.C. announced that dinner would be served. Following the entrée and main course came the speeches, much as they do in a wedding reception. There were some changes; Dale's father spoke and proposed a toast to the two grooms, then Dale spoke on behalf of himself and Frank, starting with the traditional 'On behalf of my partner and myself...' which always gets a laugh and a cheer. He proposed a toast to the 'Best Woman', the 'Matron of Honour' and the two groomsmen/ushers.
Then it was my turn. I spoke about how I had met Dale when he gave me driving lessons and then helped me buy a car and had ever since made sure that 'Bluebird' was in top running order.
“I hope I can still count on him to continue doing that,” I said to laughter. Then I spoke about meeting Frank for the first time and how I was sure even then that he and Dale would end up being partners. “Call it women's intuition if you like but it rarely fails me. Some of you may know that I am currently Dale and Frank's landlady, a situation which I selfishly hope will continue for some time to come. There's a reason for this of course, they are a lot tidier than I am.”
When the laughter died down, I said: “Some of you know that I earn my living by standing on a stage and talking, but have no fear, I don't intend this speech to be a three-act play in length. To conclude, I looked for a piece of poetry which would aptly describe what we see before us with Frank and Dale today and could find nothing better than one written by our local playwright William Shakespeare in one of his sonnets and this is what it says:
'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 prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.'
With that, I sat down to applause. I know what you are thinking 'The woman just can't help herself.' However, in my defence, both Frank and Dale later told me it was one of the best wedding speeches they had ever heard.
It was now time for the cutting of the cake and after that, a trio of musicians started to play and there was dancing and much conversation and laughter. Dale and Frank asked Catherine and I to dance and halfway through the first bracket of tunes we swapped partners, while first, the parents and then other guests joined in. While dancing with Dale I took the opportunity to ask him about the unexpected arrival of Franks parents.
“We genuinely didn't know they were coming. You saw Frank's reaction; I really thought he was going to faint, thank goodness he didn't. Catherine had been trying to persuade her parents to come for weeks and it seems his mother finally put an ultimatum to his father saying that she'd never speak to him again if he wouldn't attend his only son's wedding. That was yesterday so it was quite a rush for them to get ready. Frank's Mum only bought her new outfit this morning in Stratford. Fortunately, his father already had a dinner suit, and they picked it up from the dry cleaners only an hour before they got ready at the hotel.”
“Well, I'm so glad they came. I know it means the world to Frank, in fact to both of you. I hope this is the start of a new chapter in Franks relationship with his parents.”
The dessert was served and later there was more dancing before Frank and Dale finally left the reception, after going around all the guests grouped in a circle and giving each a hug and a kiss or handshake. It was a very pleasant evening and both Reggie and I enjoyed it very much. I must admit that when we arrived back at the flat, I was happy to kick off my heels and relax my feet in slippers.
'And so to bed' as Samuel Pepys wrote.
On Sunday we enjoyed a quiet time, going out to lunch and generally relaxing until Reggie had to drive back to York. Before he left he asked me if I was alright about sleeping in the flat on my own while the boys were away.
“Don't be silly, I'm a big girl now,” I replied.
However, Reggie was right; it was a little strange being in the flat on my own at night. Dale and Frank were due back the following Sunday, and Reggie had promised to drive down from York on Friday evening but I still had six nights on my own. Normally I am a good sleeper, but I was finding it harder to rest and lay awake for an hour or more before finally falling into a troubled sleep.
Each evening I rang Reggie, and I was disappointed when on Thursday he told me that a well-known and very reputable economist was visiting York and it had been arranged that he would give a lecture at the university on Friday evening. Senior staff had strongly suggested that all the economics students attend, so Reggie was asking if I minded if he attended too and drove down to Stratford early Saturday morning. Of course I was disappointed but didn't want to disappoint him, so I tried to sound cheerful when I said that would be alright.
It was now a little over a week before the season of 'Romeo and Juliet' started, so the pressure was intensifying. I decided to go to bed early Friday evening, so I would be up by the time Reggie arrived. Surprisingly I fell asleep quite quickly, but some time later I was suddenly wide awake. I lay there in the darkness, straining my ears and wondering what had woken me, and then I heard it. One of the floorboards in the corridor outside my bedroom squeaked when trodden on. I had been thinking of getting it fixed, but Dale and Frank said it didn't bother them, so there was really no need.
I heard the squeak again - someone was in the flat! . It couldn't be Dale, Frank or Reggie, so it must be a burglar. I quietly slipped out of bed and reached underneath it for the baseball bat that Reggie had insisted on placing there in case of an emergency just like this one. With my heart pounding I tiptoed over to stand behind the door. I prayed whoever it was would take whatever he wanted from other rooms in the flat and then leave, but my hopes were in vain. As I stood there, the baseball bat gripped in both hands and raised just as I had seen baseball players do, the door silently swung open. The room was pitch black but I could just make out a figure standing there so I swung the bat down with all my might, and the shock of it striking bone travelled up my arm. The intruder groaned and fell to the floor with a crash.
To be continued.
Many thanks once again to Louise Ann and Julia Phillips for spotting my 'typos', thus allowing me to correct them before publishing.
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