Saturday, 22 September 2007

A wedding. And relatives. And photos. And cake.

The wedding

The wedding was lovely. The church was beautiful, the weather was lovely and warm, the bride was gorgeous (a maternal and paternal first cousin), the groom was embroidered and the service let down by a sudden loss of power to the microphones.

Stuck towards the back of the church, there was no way of hearing what was being said over the din of screeching children.

The were dozens of babies and toddlers who just didn't want to sit or stay still in the summery heat and who protested loudly when told to sit or stay still.

As well as Cute Nephew and Cute Niece, there were all the little second cousins and the children of more distant relatives and friends of the bride and groom.

One cousin of mine is a full-time working mother with five (count them, FIVE) children, all of whom are under ten. Their tempraments couldn't be more different. She was happy to see them all together for the first time in a few weeks, as their house is undergoing major building work and she has had to farm them out to other relatives while the work is going on.

As well as a small 'babe in arms', there are four toddlers with one of the smallest also being the boldest. A total contrast to his brothers (yep, five boys) he wandered up and down the main aisle with a cheeky grin on his face. His mother's frantic stage whispers went apparently unheeded as he took great delight winding her up like a clock.

The church was by the riverside and the lychgate led directly to the river side path. The path was no more than five feet across before there was a sudden drop into the water. Every available adult was on "kiddie alert", herding small children away from the gate regardless of whether they were known to each other or not.

The were no gates by the side of the church which was on a busy main road. That had its moments.

There was once a time when I was quite the David Bailey. One Christmas, in a rash moment I spent £200 on a Canon camera. Not an SLR model, but it had a zoom lens, macro mode, frame retention for trick 'picture over picture' shots, a variable flash and a nice little gimmick where the camera can read the type of film, so that the user doesn't have to remember to set the camera to suit the film. I wouldn't lose all my photos if I had overexposed say, a 400 film with a 100 setting, for example.

It was top of the domestic range and relatively state of the art for its time. It took (takes) very nice photos. However, that was what, the late eighties? It is the size of a breeze block compared to the miniature digital cameras that are out there. And what, a maximum of 36 pictures before I change the film? And what's going on with the battery - it's so big and bizarrely shaped that it could pass for a small novelty camera? And the noise of it. The wheezing noise it makes as the lens zooms in and out, the motor winding on the film after the shutter clicks and the noise of the flash charging up before it goes off. Jesus. It was embarrassing.

I got a number of people telling me to allow to get stolen. The robber could easily mistake it for a video camera. I could claim on the insurance then.

The Reception

The reception was at a local riverside hotel with a fusion restaurant which served up Chinese, Thai and English cuisine. Usually that's not a good move with nothing being done well, but the staff knew what they were doing and the buffet was really good. Relatively well labelled, although someone let a prawn fall into the peanut satay and I went round with a hot red rash across my face for the rest of the evening.

Here's a tip...

Never let the kids play hide and seek without a grown up involved

The Bold Little Man decided to hide really, really well.

He walked into the service corridor that was being used by the waiting staff between the kitchen and the main room, found a room closed for refurbishment, found a flight of stairs up and hid behind a fire extinguisher at the top of the stairs.

He couldn't be found and the other children started to ask around for him. His mother went mental.

She went round the room, then went out the back door out to the car park, followed the path round to the busy main road to the bridge and ran up to the bridge. The bridge had a balustrade arrangement which the Bold Little Man could have fitted through. There was a long drop down into the River Thames. There were also paths which led down to both sides of the river. Then she went hysterical.

MwK meanwhile, knowing how little boys think, stayed inside the hotel to look for the BLM. After all, the children were given strict orders by all the parents and relatives not to go beyond the car park. And, thanks to the smoking ban there was always at least two people outside on the verandah effectively keeping guard. And the children had been very good up until then.

MwK went down the service corridor, found the room closed for refurbishment and the stair case and saw a little lemon yellow head peeping out from behind the fire extinguisher.

He brought the Bold Little Man into the main room just as the DJ started to announce the very serious news that a small child had gone missing.

After Supermum and the BLM were reunited, the rest of the evening was punctuated with piercing, whistling shrieks from the BLM protesting as his Mum kept a white knuckle grip on his baby reins which she just happened to have with her.

The speeches were restrained and there were the obligatory embarassing stories and photographs. Back in the eighties, the groom (now totally bald) had hair and a dodgy perm. The Best Man borrowed a school photo and had it enlarged so that everybody could see.

The first dance was "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King which everyone thought was cute. The dancing was fun. A lot of mothers and children were dancing to Dancing Queen by Abba and someone threw a handbag into the middle of the dancefloor so that we could dance around it. In an ironic, post-modern sort of way. Of course.

I went off to find the amazing disappearing cousin with the photographs. Not outside, not in the main room, not in the toilets. In the bar.

Of course.

She was sitting with a collection of other cousins including a stunning blonde in a strapless blue, lacy, fifties style prom dress. She was thirteen. And that was her Confirmation dress. She didn't look thirteen.

Photos, photos, everywhere.......

We all sat round a table and saw the photos.

Old black and white ones from the forties, fifties and sixties, colour ones from the early sixties when a cousin came back from America to see the family "back home" and someone brought out a prized camera to record the event, old sepia tinted photos from "Frank W Clark of Ilford and Forest Gate Electric and Daylight Studios" from the very early days of studio photography and the ones she took at the funeral of Pathetic Aunt.

She let me keep the one she took of me at the funeral. Thank God. It'll never see the light of day again. I really don't have a jawline at all. My chin disappears into a kind of big neck.

The posed studio portraits were English. Photographer Cousin had found English links to a Prescott family who had a bit of money back in the 1800s.

Cousin with the camera is the Genealogy Nut of the family. She is trying to trace the family tree. It's a tough task. The Easter Uprising of 1916 meant a lot of records held in the national archive at the GPO building were lost in the fighting.

So if you're Irish, you've got to do it "old school". Asking the remaining relatives and looking at the local registers works only to a point. After that, you've got to trail the island looking for the birthplace of this dead relative or the headstone of that dead relative.

Her goal is to have a family tree with a little picture of everyone. That's tough going when you come from a poor family and cameras were only for "special". She was also faced with the unenviable task of looking through cupboards, drawers, boxes, packets and envelopes for photographs and identifying who was in them.

These are a few quick reminders for all the photographers out there.


If you're showing family photos to someone who isn't family, then the conversation becomes one long "Oh, that's my cousin, she's the mother of David, you know, he's the one you saw diving with sharks in South Africa, no not him, that's the other David - he's the one diving with sharks in Australia his mother isn't a cousin, she's an aunt that David is a cousin..........".

It doesn't matter who they are of, or how extraordinary they are or how phenomenal their achievements are - after a while they become a long blur of shiny, out of focus people in various poses in out of date clothes.

The labels on the few that that she brought with her made no sense. "The three of us after the fair out past Dunholme Farm" makes little sense to us now. Even less when you look at the photograph to see four teenagers from the 1950s sitting on a dry stone wall. Even less when you realise number five must have been taking the picture.

2. Digital or Film. Get at least one hard copy and keep the negatives or memory cards separate from the photos.

This should be fairly self explanatory, but a lot of people don't get it.

Without hard copies, if the negatives or memory cards are lost or destroyed, then you've got nothing at all. At least with (labelled) photographs you got something left. You can even get more copies from the photo you've got.

Keep them separate so that if something bad does happen to one of them then you've got the other.

There were a lot of photos of headstones. A lot. Including the one she fell over as a child and nearly died of fright when she saw her name on the stone. Button Ginger. Died 1959. I had to agree with her. It's disconcerting finding out there was someone with the same name as you but you'll never meet them.

I told them of the time I got a letter printed in the Birmingham Evening Mail. It was a letter about the Big E and whether the readership was aware of the Government plans to privatise it. I was thrilled that I'd managed to get something of national importance into a local paper. Then I looked in the obituaries pages. There she was - Mrs Button Ginger died 89 years old. Pure coincidence but unnerving.

The headstone was cut from an unusual red granite. We worked out from the family tree what kind of relative she was to us and someone pointed out my red hair. "You can see the family resemblance!"

It was so late in the evening and some were so drunk, that that crack was actually laughed at.

.......and lots of cake to eat!

The cake was lovely.

There was a lot of cake. The groom explained that he and his fiancee went to see a specialist cake baker who plied them with sample cakes. There was cheesecake (lemon, lime, toffee and chocolate) which left the groom dribbling on the table and there were samples for the wedding cake itself.

As they both had different preferences and they knew a large number of us had different likes, dislikes and allergies (nuts, alcohol etc), they had different cakes made for the three different tiers.

An old fashioned, rich (but alcohol and marzipan free) fruit layer, a chocolate and buttercream layer and a jam sponge layer. All covered in white royal icing with silver decorations.

And there was cheesecake. Toffee as well as lime. We all had little tastes of each others' cakes. I had toffee, but the lime was beautiful. The chocolate and buttercream was fabby but so was the sponge layer. As there was little by way of alcohol keeping the fruit layer together, people ended up scooping up little lumps of it from a big pile of crumbs. It completely disintegrated when the bride and groom tried to cut it.

And this being a predominantly Irish gathering, there was booze. The pre paid bar was free for most of the evening, although a lot of people were driving and a few couldn't drink for health reasons.

Kid Brother, his wife, Cute Niece and her mother and I went home in the KB's car. We had a long wait ensuring everyone had said goodbye to everyone and had gone to the toilet and had a last cigarette before wrestling the child seat out of MwK's car and into the back of KB's car.

As we tried to join the M25, we were stumped to see workmen carefully laying out the cones on the slip road joining the motorway. We had to go the very long and unfamiliar way round to get home.

Cute Niece had to have her head supported as she nodded off and slumped forwards. Now that's a little girl after my own heart. Her mum couldn't believe the difference between the journey out and the journey back. The two Cuties keep squirrelling at each other and picking fights. The journey home was nearly silent.

Al in all, it had been a nice day.

It was only when I was heaving my bulk out of the back of the car and I glimpsed my souvenir from the day in my open handbag that the question formed.

Who the fuck brings two cameras to a funeral?