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A so-called feminist wedding

Is this radical? I thought it was par for the course.

I read this article about a so-called feminist wedding the other day in the Guardian and frankly found it a bit depressing that the author feels she's being cutting edge.

Have we really achieved so little in the past 20 or 30 years that this is considered feminist? Shock horror, the dress isn't white and they're going to hyphenate their surnames.I thought this was just normal nowadays.

The DH and I have been married for a while now - I can never remember how long, but there was this big ark, with animals going in two by two...

Here are some of thing we didn't have:

* a 'proposal' (Steve just asked me if I'd marry him on the way back from an antique fair because he knew I'd be in a good mood - going down on one knee was kind of out of the question, given that he was driving at the time)

* an engagement (we'd been living together for years, so that would've been a bit daft)

* a ring (six month's salary for a fucking rock? You've got to be joking. Anyway, I have a history of losing jewellery and I have never once seen an engagement ring I like. It took me years to get used to wearing even a wedding ring)

* a church (we're atheists)

* a cake (there were only four of us, so who would eat it?)

* family (seen the Royal Tennenbaums?)

* some to 'give me away' (my dad had been dead a long time, and anyway, he wouldn't have been invited)

* 'obey' (pass the sickbag)

* a 'ceremony' (for our non-existent audience) 

* wedding vows (the self-written kind give me the absolute willies) 

* speeches (to whom?)

* bridesmaids (a friend acted as witness)

* flower girls (pass more sickbags)

* pageboys (...and yet more...)

* a best man (Doug did our photos while acting as witness)

* wedding favours

* a reception (for whom?)  

* a honeymoon (couldn't afford it).

We got hitched in a registry office, had a great meal at a great restaurant, crashed out at the hotel and then went out for the evening. We took the next day off and then went back to work. Selah.

After marriage we hyphenated our names, mostly because I wasn't sure if I'd remember that Mansfield meant me, not because I had any great attachment to my family name. The Devines are mostly a waste of space from way back. We chose Mansfield-Devine because Devine-Mansfield sounded a bit weird. Most of our friends did something similar as a mark of their new, conjoined status.

I still have trouble remembering my wedding anniversary, not being the romantic sort, and also have trouble remembering the DH's birthday. Nevertheless we haven't killed each other yet...

But the thing is, we didn't think our wedding was in any way radical. Most of our friends didn't have 'traditional' weddings - they married in recessions, with only parents present and then maybe a walk on the beach afterwards: the full-monty white dress, white cake affair was out of the question for most of us in the late 80s. One couple (married 18 years? 20 years?) just went to the pub with their mates. One couple married only for tax reasons, after 17 happy years living together - she still doesn't like to admit to being a wife. Most of us girls chose a pretty dress that we could wear for evening - something that was a tradition for centuries before the advent of the 'wedding dress'.

It is very depressing if a whole new generation of women feels they're being radical just for not having matching napkins, or the wrong kind of flowers - God help us. It must be the rampant consumerism of the past decade with its collagen-plumped lips and fake breasts that makes women feel they're making some sort of statement just by not wearing white. Do we not have more important things to think about? Equal pay, for instance?

I have nothing against marriage - as Erica Jong said, it's good to have a friend in a cruel world - but in this day and age, it's not a goal for a girl to ASPIRE to, surely? Why make such a fuss about it?


The big white wedding con

The last thing on earth I ever wanted was a big wedding - what on earth is the appeal?

Formal weddingI was astonished the other day reading an article in the Guardian about the cost of weddings.

It wasn't the costs as such - £20,000 has been the average cost of a wedding for nearly a decade, but I'm gobsmacked at the fripperies people will willingly spend money on rather than - for instance - saving for a mortgage deposit. 

"Do people really need sugared almonds, I wonder?" an old friend once asked me by email, about to marry her partner of 16 years, who was also the father of her two children. Well, er, no, is the answer. They don't need hand-made invitations either, nor a live band in a marquee on a lawn surrounded by flowers specially planted out of season for the event (I kid you not - a workmate of mine did this, using spring flowers in September - cost, £5,000).

I suppose I am hopelessly unromantic about weddings because my father always made it clear that he had no intention of ever paying for mine. He didn't think getting married was something to celebrate. Staying married, yes. Getting married, no. Of course, he couldn't stand my mother, which may have had something to do with his jaundiced attitude.

However, I am also pretty snarky about the obvious fact that the modern wedding 'event' is all about making money: money for the caterers, money for the florists, money for the dressmaker, money for the honeymoon resort. What a load of cobblers. For confirmation of the extent to which some women can be gulled, check out Disney's hard-sell wedding offerings complete with fairy-tale coach, kitschy bridge and pavilion and God knows what else 'you owe it to yourself' trappings. A work colleague of mine went for one of these packages, so let's hope her violent thug of a fiance didn't give her a black eye to match on the day. Far better to have a quiet ceremony and a reception at home, with only the people of your choosing.

When you're paying for your own wedding, though, and it's your own cash you're chucking away, it really concentrates the mind wonderfully. Do you really want to sit down to a three-course silver service lunch with 200 people you're only inviting because they're rellies? Mmn. Most of my friends married in recessions and had only their parents and siblings at the wedding. When it came to my turn, the choice was for friends.

The truth is, for me, rellies are not a big part of my life. After I left home at 18 I rarely saw any of them again.

I am also a private person, though you might not guess it from this blog, and if I could have gotten married by going into a room alone with the DH, signing the register and leaving again, that would have been just fine by me. I didn't like having witnesses AT ALL, and the idea of sharing such an intensely private moment with a group of people leaves me absolutely horror-stricken. It would be like walking naked down Oxford Street.

Other women, I think, are more clearly performers. Their wedding is their BIG DAY, when they get to play princess, and they relish it - for me, that seems like a nightmare (I didn't go to my graduation ceremony either - just picked up the certificate from the Dean's office). Perhaps it is because it's the only time most women ever get to commission an item of clothing, too - but then if you saved money on the wedding, you could have your clothes made for you for years to come...

When we came to get married, the DH and I decided what we'd like to do on the day, and since we had to have witnesses, chose to share the day with two mates. He was the DH's oldest friend, and she was his partner. He did the pictures, and she made the rings. There were no other guests - and in particular no family. 

I'd originally decided not to let my family know I was getting married at all until after the event, and in retrospect I wish I had. When you tell people you're getting married, they want a slice of the action, and feel insulted if they're not invited, whereas if you leave it till afterwards, it's a fait accompli. But both of our fathers were dead and our remaining families were full of warring factions, with my sister and I not speaking to my mother, the DH's brother not speaking to THEIR mother and the odd prodigal brother here and there on both sides whom nobody had seen for 20 years. We decided to do without the lot of them.

Wedding dayInstead, we lavished our cash on just the four of us: vintage Rolls-Royce (with champagne), lunch at Le Gavroche (best food I've ever eaten), a box at Covent Garden to see La Traviata (more champagne), and a suite at Claridges (more champagne, and they were classy enough to upgrade us from a double room when they found out it was our wedding night). We didn't have the time or money for a honeymoon and went back to work two days later.

We offended a lot of people by the way we got married, and frankly I don't care. Our marriage is our business, not anyone else's and I still remember our wedding day as about the most fun I ever had. It was great - the food, the company, the clothes, the not having to pose for pictures. (I gave in in the end, and posed for six - one of which you can see here - but the remainder are documentary shots, shot by Doug on the hoof.)

In the end, we got exactly the wedding we wanted and it was a totally relaxed day with no worries of any kind. I wish the same could be said for other brides. Ursula (of the spring flowers in September) and her new husband were STILL arguing about the bill a year later, and also about how her mother had cut him out of the equation as if he was an irrelevance. Their wedding, to tell the truth, affected the happiness of their new marriage. Is that a good idea, I ask you?




Religious weddings on the wane

More and more people in Scotland are marrying in civil ceremonies

Fewer than half of Scottish weddings last year had a religious ceremony, according to figures from the Registrar General.

It shouldn't be a surprise, really. I suppose those results are beginning to reflect the (ir)religious makeup of Great Britain in general.

The truth is, Britain is a very secular society and has been for a long time - far more secular than a country like the United States. Fewer than 2 per cent of the population go to church, for all that it is nominally a Christian country and that the Queen is the head of the Church of England.

Most Brits who don't profess another faith such as Islam or Sikism or Hinduism would, when questioned, vaguely admit to believing in 'something' greater than themselves, but it remains vague and nebulous. More of a 'wouldn't it be nice to see granny again?' than a concrete concept. 

The DH and I had a register office ceremony when we married, and I found out then that church ceremonies were pretty meaningless to most of the people I knew. When people asked me why I wasn't getting married in church, I would say: "Because I'm an atheist," and nearly 100 per cent of the time, the reply was: "What's that got to do with it?" They found my 'principles' on this issue a bit amusing.

After all, British churches are picturesque places, often ancient and suffused with history, and they do make a good backdrop for a nice white dress and lots of flowers. I honestly think that most brides think of them as simply a setting for a big event. It can come as a shock then if you get one of those interfering vicars who actually expects you to take your vows before God seriously. I know more than a few people who've complained at having to learn about 'all that religious stuff', given that they fully intend to forget it five minutes after the ceremony. For most Brits, church is a place they only attend for weddings and funerals, and sometimes not even then, given that most people in the UK get cremated, not buried.

When the DH and I married, people had only just been given permission to marry outside their borough, which meant that a swathe of picturesque properties such as stately homes had applied for licences to conduct weddings. Again this may come as a surprise to American readers, where weddings can even take place in people's private homes but this isn't permitted in the UK: weddings must be held 'in a public place' and it must be a permanent structure with a proper roof - no tents or hot-air balloons etc, and the scene in Friends where Ross doesn't marry Emily could never take place in real life.

However, no licence had yet been granted, the reason being that the agencies granting the licences were the local authorities running the registry offices. Understandably, they were reluctant to grant licences to de facto rivals.

Given my druthers, I really wanted to marry at Blicking Hall in Norfolk, which had sentimental associations for me, but Blickling hadn't yet got its licence. Nor, really, was it interested in a party of four - just ourselves and our witnesses - but was rather gearing itself up for big society do's with hundreds of posh women in hats.

Nevertheless we were lucky - I happened upon Westminster Registry Office with its oak panelling and velvet seats, and it also had flowers everywhere and mirrors and pretty fireplaces. So in the end I got my nice backdrop for the photographs without having to profess before a god I didn't believe in.

It seems strange that that we have been together the best part of 20 years, because I never thought, in all honesty, that I would ever get married at all, so to find myself happily hitched is rather a shocker. My father would have been terribly disappointed, as he thought of marriage as a trap and had planned for me to be the first female Labour Prime Minister (and leading playwright and barrister too). Oh well, Daddy would just have had to lump it, wouldn't he?


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