Jessie, our first-born daughter, and Jurrat, our first son-in-law, made their memorable vows to each other in an unforgettable wedding celebration under a blue cedar tree in the garden of Broad Oaks, following their civil marriage in Brighton last month.
Jessie and Jurrat (J2) had between them arranged almost everything about the wedding celebration. A first-time father of the bride (FoB), I was fortunate to have had relatively few duties save those of wearing the right clothes, reliable chauffeuring, and making a FoB speech while sober. Alli and I also helped with preparations when asked and could facilitate certain smaller issues and hitches, but we had almost nothing to do with the overall direction or management of the event, the full panoply of which, when unfolded, was incredible – a project management triumph. It involved, for example, colour-coded spread-sheets, user guides, the co-ordination of many local suppliers, hand-made place settings, notices, menus, welcome get-to-know-other-guests ‘bingo’ sheets, an adults’ play area with home-made garden games, multiple supermarket and online shop deliveries of drinks and other supplies, and the erection of a huge three-tiered tepee tent and twelve “glamping” tents in the garden of Broad Oaks over three days. All this and more were planned with a precise attention to detail that showed a unique level of empathetic calculation and insight. A leisurely pre-wedding welcome evening took place at the Ditchling vineyard of Artelium, where, on a sun-drenched Friday evening with the majestic Sussex Downs as a backdrop, guests enjoyed Maldon oysters, traditional fish and chips, and fine Sussex wines.
The wedding weekend was a hybrid of Bangladeshi, American, and English culture, with very few of the traditional forms of the conventional marriage ceremony. Many moments in the day will be long remembered: the vows were at once solemn, profound, light, and humorous; the Best Man speech, by Jurrat’s childhood friend Chris, was a comedic masterpiece which had everyone in stitches. The speeches of bride and groom caused happy and emotional tears of laughter around the tent. The twelve bridesmaids (accurately renamed ‘bridesmates’) were hugely supportive, hard-working, and effortlessly elegant; most were Jessie’s friends from the International School of Basel, from where they graduated in 2009. Three of them read an amazing speech on behalf of them all (a team effort, with contributions from all twelve). In Gwen’s section, she accurately noted that it was a fair reflection of the strength of Jessie’s many close friendships that even her own sisters barely managed to make the bridesmates’ cut.
J2’s dog Jaxon had a major influence on the day, and our elderly canine couple, Bonnie and Max, padded carefully around the garden and lay under the tables with apparent and unusual contentment. Jaxon stole the show for the couple’s first dance together by happily trotting around them as they danced, and jumping up to take each of their hands to the background of applause from guests; old lady Bonnie unsteadily followed the bridal party up the rustic aisle to the blue cedar to much amusement. A superb three-course Bangladeshi meal was laid on, featuring fuchka (pani puri), biryani/murag pulao, and raita, and a selection of six different and fabulous wedding cakes made by Gwen. A late-night silent disco turned out to be hilarious and noisy, as everyone sang along (including Alli and I, and mostly out of tune). Multiple dad-dancing was in plain view. The rain, much feared in anticipation, respectfully fell in brief and wispy periods but only when everyone was safe and sound underneath the tinkling tent.
The wedding also featured folk singers during the drinks reception, garden games throughout, self-service local beer taps, a post-dinner cocktail bar of amaretto sours (Jurrat’s choice) and gin-and-tonics (Jessie’s choice), a surprise brass band who got the dancing under way, and a late-night taco truck, bracketed with surprise spicy margaritas made and distributed by Gwen and other bridesmates with increasing enthusiasm. The party lasted well into the warm folds of the night and even unto the first shafts of dawn.
The generous multiple-choice Sunday brunch the next day turned into a Sunday Brunner with tea and coffee (both iced and hot) bloody marys, bubbly, wine and beer on tap, Sussex cheeses, meats and pastries delivered that morning, a DIY bacon-and-egg roll griddle, and aptly selected custard and bourbon crème biscuits, ending hours later in the consumption of leftover biryani and raita around an evening fire bowl for the hardened core survivors, most of whom were billeted in the smaller tents in the garden behind the tepee. For three nights in a row, Alli and I fell asleep to the comforting sounds of humans partying with genuine pleasure, gay abandon, and intelligent discourse (although I haven’t yet played back the tapes I hid in the garden).
The big clear-up was made easier by many willing hands, and J2 left for a three day ‘minimoon’ at a clifftop spa hotel in wet Cornwall, content, I am sure, about having staged by far the best party of their lives. So far. The whole weekend, redolent of friendship, love and loyalty, will be a most treasured memory for them and for us. Much food and drink was left over (we are doing our best).
Ella and Sam flew to Spain for a few days with friends to celebrate their contiguous 30th birthdays, returning in time for a celebratory barbecue in the garden, and for which Sam burnished his reputation as an expert BBQ-man. Their marriage will take place next summer, and Ella is already set fair on the search for a wedding dress.
We spent a couple of very enjoyable days with our friends the Barneses of Arkansas shortly after the wedding, first at a local art exhibition; then exploring nearby sites Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon; and wandering along Brighton’s beach after visiting Jurrat’s mother Yasmin, who was flat-sitting at J2’s residence, before eating an excellent dinner at Brighton’s Indian Summer. I also caught up with friend Melanie, house-sitting in Old Shoreham after attending the Refugee Tales hike from Crawley to Worthing. We went for a buffeted walk on Ferry Street and a delicious ‘shared plates’ dinner at the excellent Into the Blue.
I drove up to Yorkshire via St Albans, where I met my cousin Kate and her partner Tom for an fascinating and informative day touring the cathedral and walking around the eponymous school. The first-ever English Christian martyr was Alban, who gained his Christian faith and then martyrdom in very short order after swapping clothes with his Christian converter, a Roman soldier called Amphibalus, who escaped the anti-Christian persecution, but left Alban to be beheaded by the mob in fourth-century Britain. In Yorkshire I stayed with friends Debbie and Fi, with whom I had a splendid dinner at Harrogate’s The Ivy. Fi came with me to see family genealogist Denis for a brief summary of the state of play in his family research and other interests.
I was very sad to hear of my cousin Anne’s death just as I had been planning to see her in Ripon. She inspired me greatly towards loving the natural world when I was an shy, greasy-haired, suburban teenager, and I shall remember her quiet and calm character, which always reminded me of my mother.
Gwen leaves for south-east Asia next month, and we had a great farewell dinner together at the Hope and Ruin in Brighton, as I shall not now be seeing her for many weeks. We both had a surf-and-turf with beef slices, chips, prawns, salad, horseradish sauce, and fish nuggets. It was sensational… and plant-based.
On the advice of the NHS travel nurse, I spent the month taking a course of vaccinations in cholera, hepatitis, diphtheria, and rabies before my imminent visit with sister-in-law Julia for most of August to the family farm in Malawi, via a suitcase-gathering trip to Belgium. I took out travel insurance, including, for the first time, a repatriation option, thus taking pains to take a walk on the safe side.
Do-dodoo-dodoo doo-dodo-do-dodoo-dodoo do-do dodoo,