Join Country Life’s Annunciata Walton from engagement through to ‘I do’, as she tracks the highs and lows of planning a rural wedding up north (from London).
It may seem odd that we have been in a relationship for five years plus and yet our parents remain strangers. We like it that way. This lack of getting-to-know-you keeps them from ringing each other up and gossiping. No doubt they would spend their time discussing our failings. Or worse, making plans.
‘I think it’s time we met Jamie’s mother,’ said my father… two years ago. It never happened. Jamie’s father, the wonderfully kind and handsome Martin, died in 2014. He rang up our house once, flirted with my mother and arranged to meet with my father in London ‘on business’. He made a brilliant impression, but I’ll always be sad that these two encounters will be their only memory of him.
I try to discuss where the meeting of clan heads should take place.
‘What?’ My father is distracted. He’s just come to the kitchen telephone from placating the new gardener.
‘The man’s spooked,’ my mother pipes up from the handset in her bedroom (they’ve taken to eavesdropping on each other’s conversations). ‘He thought the dog’s grave in the orchard was actually the grave of a Polish worker.’ Adding proudly, ‘I calmed him down.’
Quite why he assumed we had a Polish man 6ft under the apple trees is beyond our collective comprehension. I doubt there are many Poles with Swahili names—Rifiki Misuri, which is inscribed on the miniature gravestone, means ‘my very good friend’—and if there is one, I hope he bears little resemblance to an aggressive Pekingese with a penchant for biting window cleaners. When they screamed, my mother’s catchphrase was: ‘Don’t worry, he doesn’t have any teeth. But he’ll give you a nasty suck!’
Our dear departed Fiki being a much more interesting topic than my engagement, we discuss him at some length, while the new gardener presumably creeps about outside making the sign of the cross in between wheelbarrow trips. But back to wedding matters.
We decide on neutral ground—London. The RAC club is my parents’ home from home, where the cocktails are heady, the Turkish baths littered with steam-sodden newspapers and the shops a few finely shod footsteps away.
It starts well. Jamie remembers to wear a tie and his young and pretty mother, Sarah, waltzes into the RAC bar bearing presents for us all. We both have cricketers in the family—this is discussed. We all like cocktails very much—this is discussed. The snacks are excellent—these are devoured. Soon, talk moves on to the North and all is even more well.
Later on: ‘It was in this very dining room that the Cambridge Four plotted over lunch,’ says my father, wafting a magnanimous paw around the painted walls of the Great Gallery.
‘Jamie, aren’t you related to Anthony Blunt?’ I scoff.
Such treachery causes a hush and the conversation is paternalistically ushered to a less Soviet topic. Wine probably, and the possibility of more of it. My mother fixes her large, inquisitorial eyes on her future son-in-law, scanning his face for Bolshevist tendencies. Forks are clutched as the atmosphere cools, at least until the pudding arrives.
We end the evening with a group hug on Pall Mall, outside the RAC’s revolving doors. This is uncharacteristic of us all (and it sort of happened by accident), but we have enjoyed a seven-course Sicilian meal with paired wines so everything is really very hunky dory and not at all Communist. The non-Waltons and I pile into a taxi and are waved off by my charming parents, or so they seem tonight.
As parent meetings go, it was good. Everybody turned up as the best possible version of themselves. It can only go downhill from here.
Next is Jamie’s birthday lunch, at which his civilised brother and sister meet my uncivilised brothers, their too-good-for-them wives and my six noisy nieces and nephews, including the latest addition, ‘Eric the Unexpected’.
The volume on this occasion hits a higher decibel than that permitted at the RAC. We clear the restaurant. But at least the smaller Waltons have the decency to leave ‘Granny Sarah’ alone when it comes to dropping ice cubes down people’s necks. The Elweses trudge home, bedraggled and exhausted. It can only go downhill from here.
To be continued…
Look out for the next instalment as Annie plans her English country wedding, delving into a world of dress-shopping, venues, flowers, bridesmaids, intensive decision-making, cake-eating, wine-tasting and much, much more.