Planning an English country wedding | Part 5: The spinster and the scruff

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).

Nobody told me what a bore being engaged could be. Not the getting married part, but the planning. Elopement is a serious option. But we have dismissed it on the grounds that it would be such a talking point afterwards, it could end up worse than an actual wedding. When a certain elder brother hosted Christmas this year and suggested a wedding conversation ban, I was the happiest bride in the world.

Sadly, the boycott is over and we have faced the New Year with a number of urgent tasks. Photographers, Champagne, vintage cars, page-boys’ outfits, floral dog collars, pineapples… Don’t you know the wedding is now only four months away? Blast.

To prove I’m not a serial bigamist (think of the jewellery!), I have to provide something called a ‘letter of freedom’. By way of returning from the Christmas boycott with a vengeance, my father penned the following: ‘I confirm that my daughter, Annunciata Walton, DOB etc etc, is a spinster and is free to marry.’

A spinster? Thanks, pa.

Comic postcard of spinster reading recruiting poster - Planning an English country wedding

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In other moans, the groom has, so far, showed no signs of purchasing a new morning suit, waistcoat, shoes… whatever men wear to their weddings. I could go on for hours about unavailable bands and unreasonable caterers, but this sartorial negligence is most disturbing.

His current morning suit belonged to his grandfather. It is black, woollen and moth-eaten to bits. He has stubbornly worn it to multiple weddings these past few years, at which he uncannily resembles an eco shopping bag. Sometimes I look at him in church and double take, mistaking him for the ghost of an undertaker or an ancient bell ringer.

There has been only one occasion at which my outfit was worse — the wedding on an autumn day in Suffolk for which I unearthed my grandmother’s cream fur coat. As shafts of sunlight pierced the tiny country church, I wondered why so much fluff was floating about. I turned to look at my betrothed and his entire arm was coated with the stuff, purely from sharing my hymn sheet. He looked like a sheep. Outside, after the ceremony, I had my own confetti. People had to fight through a cloud of fluff to say hello and, refusing to remove the coat (it was cold), my beloved forced me to ride in the boot to the wedding breakfast.

Back to the future husband. His sartorial inclinations are a constant worry. Recently, while packing for a stay at Skibo Castle, he dug out a navy velvet smoking jacket saying ‘I haven’t had the chance to wear this for years’. Upon dressing for dinner at the exclusive Highland retreat, he donned said velvet jacket and looked very smart indeed. That is until he put his hand into a pocket and pulled out an ancient, rock-hard pork pie and a pair of lime green socks. Holding the vintage foodstuff and grubby hosiery aloft, he looked at me with bewilderment, as if to say ‘why is there a pork pie and a pair of socks in my pocket?’.

I fear that the married life ahead of me will be full of conundrums such as this one.

I can only hope not to find further picnic fodder in the wardrobe and wonder how (and if at all) he can be house-trained. For the task I have ahead of me, four months is not nearly long enough.

Fiona Osbaldstone/Country Life Picture LibraryOn the subject of wedding attire, a top-secret word on The Dress. I have debated how much to reveal, but I will say this. In the autumn, having failed to feign an interest in wedding magazines like a good bride, I was dragged to a boutique by my sister-in-law Iona; my niece Matilda was an excellent clothing consultant. I ended up visiting three other designers (and paying to do so! Warning to brides) before I found The Dress.

Actually, I found two. Struggling with the decision and wanting the groom’s opinion, I stealthily pounced one morning as he stumbled into the kitchen half asleep and looking for coffee.

‘Don’t think about it, just tell me. Off the top of your head, what do you prefer — bohemian or regal?’

There was a long pause as Jamie scattered coffee grounds over the kitchen surfaces and rummaged for his usual mug (thin bone china in the morning, Emma Bridgewater thickness in the afternoon — it is because I thoughtfully remember these details that I deserve help with the wedding-dress decision).

Eventually, after an age, Prince Charming turned to me and said: ‘Bugger off, Annie. I’m not helping you choose a wedding dress.’

That’s all I’m saying about that for now.

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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.