I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

Oh Happy Day!

We’re going to need a bigger aisle…

I am still in a state of utter elation after my sister’s amazing wedding last weekend.  Not just because it was fairytale wonderful, but also due to the fact that the kids managed to go a whole day without a major meltdown or a minor injury.

It was always going to be an epic affair – the gorgeous couple took a while to find each other so have both accumulated many friends and a good few more relations over the years. I did think Aunty Mary slightly exaggerated when she shrieked, “it’s bigger than Ben Hur!!”, on the morning before, though. (There were no chariots for one thing). 

The enormity of the occasion really struck me at the rehearsal when I walked into the church and nearly burst into tears. It looked amazing, bedecked with stunning floral pedestals, all carefully selected by the groom  as my lovely sister doesn’t know her daffs from her dahlias.

Rev. Vanessa took charge

We were all handed a hefty pamphlet by the grumpy head usher (my husband) which turned out to be the Order of Service and the next two hours were spent in a shambolic muddle as we practised walking down the aisle (six times), the vows (it got VERY emotional) and where we should all be standing and when (it was like herding cats). It was all too much for my eldest who refused to come out of her pew, emphatically stating that she no longer wanted to be a flower girl.  There was also a heart-stopping moment when my two year old niece decided to explore the pulpit and ended up teetering on the edge of a high drop, with nothing to break her fall but some lethal looking candelabra. Luckily we were in the right place for divine intervention and she tottered down, unharmed, allowing us to continue with the pantomime, I mean wedding rehearsal.

The rehearsal did not go well

Hiding my concern from the worried bride, I reassured her that it would all come together on the day, everyone would miraculously know what to do and when and there would be no near-misses with toddlers and altar candles.  I almost managed to convince myself.

As is ALWAYS the case, my technique of fearing the worst (which I learned from my dad) resulted in a perfect day from beginning to end which we are all still smiling about. Amazingly, all four flower girls sat through the hour and a half long service without so much as a whimper. All the thanks go to the groom’s lovely sister in the pew behind, who plucked a never-ending supply of distractions from her magical handbag, including several Sylvannian Families, sticker books and some finger puppets. My own contribution was a klip-it tub of M&Ms, which in hindsight was a huge mistake. Not only did they rattle loudly as my youngest tried to prise them from my grip during a lengthy prayer, but then the lid sprang off, scattering the brightly coloured candy all over the tiles, just before communion. Luckily Father Jock politely ignored the discordant sound of crunching underfoot as the congregation made their way up for the holy sacrament. The girls were intrigued by this ritual and demanded to be given the ‘sweeties’ as well. I tried to explain that it was actually the body of Christ but was met with a rather incredulous shriek of, “WHY ARE THEY EATING JESUS????”.

It was very nearly perfect

It’s hard to choose a favourite moment of the day as it really was all so fabulous. My gorgeous sister looked amazing in her stunning dress and shone the whole day.  My dad looked so proud as he walked her down the aisle in his morning suit. More often sporting high-vis gear or a boiler suit, he very nearly upstaged the bride.  My mum eschewed mother-of-the-bride pastels and turned heads in stunning black and cerise. She looked amazing as always, but no occasion is so glamorous that my mum won’t get down on her hands and knees and clean the heels of ladies shoes after they’d been standing on the grass. I lost count of how many times I heard the words, “ I love your mum and dad!”, during the day. They are totally amazing and I will never moan about excess baggage or pineapples again.

Maids of Dishonour

My younger sister and I tried our very best but were too pre-occupied with little ones to be any real use as chief bridesmaids. That mantel was happily passed to the groom’s sister who, as previously stated, saved the day again and again. She very nearly missed her brother’s vows as she gallantly changed my niece’s nappy after she’d made her own special offering behind the pulpit.  We redeemed ourselves slightly during the band break when we delivered our heart-felt speech to our beloved big sister. It was a miracle we pulled that off due to transatlantic distance and zero rehearsal time but we got plenty of laughs and I celebrated with glass after glass after bottomless glass of Prossecco.

It was fairly devastating to say goodbye to everyone the following day (having successfully masked a monster hangover) and it hasn’t really sunk in that my sister is moving cities when she returns from her lengthy honeymoon (FOUR WEEKS!!), but the memories of the wedding will see me through any come-down blues and it’s impossible not to be over the moon that these two fabulous people have found each other.  There is also much to look forward to at home and we are well into my favourite season of the year. Not long until Halloween, the bonfire night pyre is well under construction and I’ve even started my Christmas shopping. Happy, happy days.

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Retail Therapy*

*Therapy was required afterwards, just to clarify.

With just under three months to go until my sister’s wedding, the bride and I decided it was time to face the inevitable and take the kids to Edinburgh for a day of dress shopping. They are two of four flower girls, forming part of the eight-person entourage which will accompany my sister down the aisle. This merry tribe spans four decades and also comprises myself, my younger sister, her eldest (who, at two, is the youngest), my cousin’s fifteen year old daughter and the groom’s two nieces (six and sixteen).  I’m so impressed that my low-key, down-to-earth, doesn’t-like-a-fuss sister is having more bridesmaids than Lady Di and K-Middy (a meagre five each).

Loads of Bridesmaids

Artist’s impression

We naively thought that kitting out the wee ones would easy-peasy but this proved not to be the case as we emerged from the seventh shop empty handed, emotionally battered and covered in chocolate (the kids – I tried to placate them with penguin biscuits). There was simply sod-all the way of choice – they only tried on two dresses, neither of which were quite right.  An assistant in one shop helpfully explained that all their wedding stock was located in their Glasgow store. I resisted the urge to seize her by the lapels and scream, “for the love of God, WHY?????”, and gave her a withering look instead, as we shuffled round the revolving door to face the next disappointment.

The novelty of being in a city quickly wore off for my feral waifs so we decided to quit while we were way behind and handed them over to our cousin for the afternoon. We had a much more gruelling challenge ahead – underwear shopping with our mum.

Construction workers

Work commences on my new bra

As both of our dresses are strapless (although I may wimp out and add some), we require a significant framework of support underneath to shore-up our not-insignificant assets. Whilst my well-endowed but amazingly pert big sister could probably still pass the pencil test and get away with something subtle and stick-on, I can hold the TV remote control, a pepper grinder and the Sunday supplement under my saggy fun-bags (although not all at the same time) so require something slightly more solid. With mum standing by with a helpful running commentary, (“I can’t stand naked brides!”, “Should you be strapless at your age???”, “Have you ever used an avocado hugger??”**), we were mauled and groped by the lovely Jeanette in House of Fraser, Princes St (I’ve had less intrusive smear tests…) until three items of concrete underwear were successfully purchased. (Mum took pity on the pathetic, greying, threadbare bra I had arrived in and bought me a new one, which accidentally cost almost as much as my sister’s wedding dress. She’s still talking about it.)

In numb shock from the humiliation, my big sis and I made our way to the ground floor to wait for mum whilst she negotiated the first of many loo stops. We started to get worried twenty minutes later when, having completed three laps of the perfume counters, she still hadn’t reappeared. Mum at large in a department store is a dangerous thing – it’s not been unheard of for her to pop in for a pair of tights and emerge with a food processor, (“it was very reasonable”).  Sure enough, she eventually appeared at the top of the escalator clutching a heavy package which turned out to be 2 sets of luxury 500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.  “They were a BARGAIN” she shrilled, whilst subtly hinting that her arms were about to drop off from carrying them down from the top floor.

Taking it in turns to lug the world’s heaviest bed linen across town, we headed to Jenners, that ancient bastion of Princes St which we hoped would be filled with gorgeous flower girl dresses that didn’t cost a million pounds. Entering through a secret back door which only my mother seemed to know about, we quickly found ourselves utterly lost in Menswear, en route to our first, critical port of call – the loos. A sign beside a lift informed us that the toilets were located on the 4th floor but said lift inexplicably only travelled to the 2nd floor and spat us out nowhere near the correct staircase that led our destination. After roaming despondently through Formal Ladieswear, stopping briefly to try on ill-fitting garments, we chanced upon another lift which a cheerful assistant informed us would have taken us to the 4th floor had it not been out-of-order. The loo situation becoming desperate, we dragged our tired and aching bodies (AND mum’s sodding sheets) up the final four flights of stairs, praying that mum’s demands for a defibrillator were merely for effect.

Kathy Bates, Misery

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘THE LIFT IS BROKEN???'”

Suitably relieved (in the nick of time), we continued our journey to Children’s Wear. This involved several more fruitless lift journeys and at one point we found ourselves in a creepy basement which seemed to echo with the despondent wails of previous lost shoppers. That turned out to be my sister who was slowly losing the will to live and was coming close to calling off the wedding and eloping.  Needless to say, when we eventually found the kids department there was bugger all choice and even that had a price tag of over £200.  We consoled ourselves over piss-weak, lukewarm tea and a dry scone in Jenners cafe (naturally located on the fucking 5th floor) and bonded over our nightmarish experience, vowing to never cross that shop’s threshold again.

I’ve never been so relieved to return to our retail-void in the arse-end of nowhere where frankly, if the Factory Shop doesn’t stock it, you probably don’t need it.

**Don’t even ask

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Nemesis

We are branching out into weddings this year which is a Very Exciting Development for us. The old place lends itself perfectly to small, intimate ceremonies and it’s amazing how good it looks once a few truck loads of toys have been cleared away.

Practically minimalist. By Channel 4's standards.

Practically minimalist. By Channel 4’s standards.

This venture has also forced us to clear out the dreaded Billiard Room which has been used for decades as a dumping ground store room for things-that-no-longer-serve-a-purpose-but-you-just-never-know-so-best-keep-it-just-in-case. We got excited a few months back when Channel Four got in touch regarding a documentary they were planning to about helping poor unfortunate castle-dwelling folk de-clutter their vast spaces. It was all looking very promising but sadly we were ultimately rejected as the room was bizarrely deemed to be not enough of a shit-hole for them.

Empty Room

It’s just screaming, ‘roller-rink’ at me.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, that room is now completely empty thanks to a sterling effort from my husband and father-in-law. I am particularly proud of the latter who after much gentle persuasion, managed to throw out a mountain of 40yr old paperwork, 3 boxes of video tapes (the kids were all like, WTF are THOSE??) and several redundant vacuum cleaner parts . The rest of the crap has been rammed into two upstairs rooms to be dealt with later, ideally by another documentary team. (Come ON Channel 4 – we’d make great telly).

I got a bit above myself at a meeting with the chef (who incidentally is also the nurse, the school bus driver, a mother of four and a farmers wife, which is a career in itself. She makes Miss Rabbit from Peppa Pig* look like Waynetta Slob.), and found myself volunteering to make a dessert for the wedding feast. I chose a Chocolate Nemesis which I vaguely recall making years ago in a previous incarnation as a cafe worker in Edinburgh.

chocolate nemesis slice

Picture stolen from internet but mine wasn’t far off this tbh.

Luckily I had the foresight to do a practice version as the helpful world wide web informed me that it, “famously never works” and was the “the ruin of a million mid-Nineties dinner parties”.

There are only 4 ingredients but you need a bloody truckload of each:

  • 675g dark chocolate
  • 10 eggs
  • 425g sugar
  • 675g butter

My practice version involved a mercy-dash to a neighbour for eggs and chucking in a bit of cheapo cooking chocolate as I’d underestimated the dark chocolate situation.

It’s pretty easy:

  • Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water
  • Beat eggs and sugar in a 40yr old Kenwood blender, keeping an eye on 3yr old child who has a tendency to add random items to the bowl**
  • Slowly fold the chocolate mixture into the eggs mixture and pour into a lined 27″ spring form cake tin. This sits in a Bain Marie of water.
  • Panic when you realise the top of the Aga is too hot and the bottom oven is too cool.
  • Have a “fuck it” moment and leave the bastard thing in the bottom oven all night
  • Retrieve it in the morning and, as you remove from the tin, marvel at how clever you are to produce such an amazing looking  ‘notoriously difficult’ dessert.
  • Two hours later, curse yourself for not putting the twatting thing in the fridge as it collapses in a gooey heap on the plate, and your kitchen begins to resemble that scene in Trainspotting when Spud tries to conceal a nasty accident***
  • Hurriedly scoop it into ramekins then belatedly leave in fridge to set before distributing to in-laws and neighbours
  • Collapse into sugar/cocoa coma as you realise you’ve ‘accidentally’ ingested at least half of it.

Simples. It was all alright on the night, luckily, as I remembered to do the fridge thing and plates came back satisfyingly empty.

UPDATE: Have literally just this minute retrieved another one from the Aga for today’s wedding and it’s all looking good. I think this could really become a thing. Nevermind the documentaries (that aren’t happening), get me my own cookery show.

 

 

 

 

*if you are hitherto blissfully unaware of the heinous Peppa Pig franchise, you are a lucky, lucky bastard.

**I was making a pavlova and turned my back for 30 seconds. The Kenwood started emitting a hideous clunking sound and the 3yr old was looking a tad sheepish. I retrieved a 3″ screw from my fluffy mixture.

***Don’t google it.

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