Sunday, April 26, 2015

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The thing is, you might have already decided to spend the rest of your life with the object of your desire and if you have, good luck. Far be it from me to throw the bucket of discontent all over your nice, crisp, shiny new dream. The reality is, it can all go horribly and relentlessly wrong; the Plans, the Big Day, and sometimes the Marriage itself.

I myself have made multiple trips down the aisle, before eventually learning the obvious lesson, which is that I am not cut out for long term devotion and neither were any of my chosen suitors. Yup, all my frogs turned out to be super-frogs and the only prince I ever came across is smart enough to wish to remain single.

Wedding No 1, The Meringue Feast (as it is now affectionately referred to within the family) was held in the 1970s in, of all places, Indonesia. The daughter of one of the most prominent Ex-patriate executives in the history of the local Oil Company cannot be launched into Marital Bliss without the blessings of the community and several dozen crates of Moet.

Jakarta in the late 70s was a hotbed of Expatriate ennui. There was little on offer in the way of entertainment. There was the Raj, our Indian Restaurant, managed by our friend Sid who was working to support his family in Bombay. And the Chinese Restaurant, which we avoided due to its unfortunate reputation for poisoning the clientèle.

That, as they say, was it. No cinemas, at least none which showed English movies, no shops to speak of apart from the occasional boutique selling imported American fashions to American executives, with super-inflated price tags, and no modern day amenities such as supermarkets, car wash facilities, dry cleaners, electrical stores. Heartbreaking.

The one thing Jakarta had going for it, in abundance and ever increasing variety, was domestic help. There were armies of them, wonderful brown faces, which lit up with toothpaste-perfect smiles of welcome even if they saw you a hundred times a day. The problem was, most of them were not trained to use modern gadgetry, such as vacuum cleaners, pressure hose pipes, lawn mowers, electric can-openers, to name a few.

The result was mayhem. Our car never fully recovered from being hosed down inside and out after my father issued careful washing instructions to the driver in his less than perfect Indonesian. The dashboard, including the stereo panel, was hose-drenched with soapy water and then buffed to a satisfying shine with Turtle Wax. The stink of damp leather permeated every family outing for weeks and every time the car went over one of the multitude of potholes which featured the roads around Jakarta in those days, the seats farted.

So we thought, ‘I know, let’s arrange a formal, traditional British wedding, complete with canapés and flowers and wedding cake.’ Aaaaahhhh…..I bet you are saying, how sweet.. ‘After all, we thought, how difficult could it be ……’

That was it, right there. That was the moment, the second, the point at which the psychiatrist should have been offering us account facilities.

The first point to note in a Moslem country undergoing a period of religious unrest, I always think, is whether it is advisable to make a flamboyant gesture of Christianity. My parents must have asked themselves the question and for some reason forgot to wait for an answer, otherwise things might have turned out very differently.

The first step is to find a Minister of the Cloth. The beautiful Church of All Saints in Jakarta was the obvious venue for a small but elite cross section of the Expatriate social community and enquiries were made with the result that an appointment was made with the Reverend Brown (names changed to respect privacy and confidentiality of those involved, especially my ex husband whom we suspect is living with a cross dresser in Anaheim, California.)

We turned up at the Church, Mother and I, to keep our appointment with the Vicar, at the exact appointed time of 12.30 Thursday. Strangely enough, the Church seemed deserted, the only sound was made by the old man sweeping leaves from the porch, shuffling to and fro and tutting when the breeze disturbed his handiwork. By 12.55 we were beginning to become impatient and so asked the old man where the Vicar was.

‘He gone away,’ was the only response. ‘He gone, I busy-busy.’ (or words to that effect in pidgin Indo/English).

In fact he would not be coming back, the old man was right about that anyway, we learned he had been stabbed and killed only the day before.

The community buzzed with the tragedy, and then mourned, the eulogies were read, his family were sent home, and we all selfishly settled down again to organize the Wedding That Should Never Have Taken Place In A Million Years.

Now I know what you are thinking. SOMEONE IS TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING. Right? Of course right, but who thinks about that when a Meringue Feast is on the agenda, just about every relative you ever had right back to Sir Frances Bloody Drake is looking forward to a paid long haul flight, a free holiday in the sun and a piss up at the Petroleum Club to rival Saturday night at Caesars Palace.

Number one priority, find a replacement venue for the ceremony. The Church of England were keeping an understandably low profile and were slightly unreceptive when enquiries went forward as to whom the new incumbent might be and when he would arrive. (We wondered if anyone was going to tell him what had happened to his predecessor, after all it is not very jolly to get killed in pursuit of grace and spiritual enlightenment.)

Prospective brides are supposed to be traditionally blushing and demure. Don’t you believe it, with the prospect of having to entertain upward of a thousand guests for several hours in a third world country, any woman is going to turn vicious, ruthlessly calculating and become a first class pain in the You Know Where for the duration. During the next few weeks we all lived on a knife-edge while venues were suggested and then rejected.

Then someone said why ‘don’t you ask Father Ryan?’

Father Ryan was a bit of a hoot and everybody always invited him to liven up a party. I never got to see him quite sober and arrived at the conclusion that this was because he never was. American, from the Southern States, passionate about the priesthood, completely irreverent on the subject of Church protocol and usually clad in jaunty tartan trousers, Ryan was every confused bride’s dream come true ‘Hell of course I’ll marry you Honey! Let’s do it in the Cathedral!!’ He yelled, and I knew everything was going to be just great.

‘Um, Ryan – ‘I began, unsure how to broach the subject of the Order of Service. ‘Won’t this cause a bit of a problem, I mean we are not Catholic so we cannot used the Catholic Service, and surely you cannot use the Protestant Order of Service?’
‘Well now honey, you jes’ let me be the one to worry ’bout all that’ he drawled, making himself comfortable with about his sixth glass of my father’s best single malt.

So we got married. In the Catholic Cathedral. By a Catholic Priest. With a Catholic Order of Service, translated from Indonesian to English. It was a shame that every single reference to the Catholic version of the Marriage Service was lost in the translation but Father Ryan said it couldn’t be helped.

We enlisted Mustah, our Houseboy, to help with the practical arrangements for transport, flowers, parking attendants, etc. The title Houseboy was a bit of a misnomer, as Mustah was a first class butler, trained by Embassy staff when Jakarta was in the hands of Dutch colonials. He ran our house with his small army of helpers from dawn till dusk with quiet efficiency. Meals appeared, laundry somehow found its way back into wardrobes in a state of crisp wearability, within hours of being slung into a heap on the floor, lawns got mowed, and cocktails got mixed. It was all absolutely splendid.

I would like to say that it all went without a hitch.

The bridal gown was purchased during a hasty trip to the States. After trudging the streets of New York for a full three days, an explosion of lace and seed pearls was purchased, complete with hooped petticoats and matching veil and the whole ensemble was entrusted to Garuda Airlines, arriving in Jakarta somewhat wrinkled but otherwise undamaged.

A battalion of dressmakers made five beautiful shepherdess bridesmaids dresses in varying shades of pastel colours and we trawled late-night markets for weeks to find the exact shades of lace to match tulle and silk swatches. Six black Mercedes were ordered for the bridal party, and the drivers had instructions to decorate them with precious snips of white Scottish heather , specially smuggled in by one of the guests, and luxury 5 inch wide, white satin ribbon.

The Petroleum Club was placed on standby for the arrival of the first guests for an evening buffet and dancing which was to continue until dawn, breakfast to be served to all those determined to celebrate into the following day. Our pet Naval Commander assured us he would be ready for the cake cutting with his sword, and that he would hand it to the Bride at the strategic moment in true Naval tradition. The Raj had produced the most magnificent Oriental buffet and just about every crystal goblet and silver utensil in the city had been rounded up, inventoried and pressed into service for the evening.

The bouquets of pink and white roses were ordered, the invitations had all been answered and the cake had been put in the hands of the finest Swiss Chef that money could bribe. The entire 5th floor of the Indonesia Hotel was booked for friends and relatives. Many had flown in from UK, some from USA and some from Australia.

The day dawned. It was to be an evening affair, the plan being that the photographs would be exceptionally beautiful with all the guests in evening dress, National dress and dinner jackets, cocktails on the lawn etc. Hmmm, good plan.

All the flowers were dead. Only 3, not 6, Mercedes showed up an hour late in a variety of colours, white, blue and cream with patches of rust. The rust was not seen, however, because the drivers had covered (and I mean covered) them with balloons, stick-on rosettes which you usually buy to stick on Christmas presents and, God help us all, some paper chains which none of us had seen since we were children. Bright red satin cushions had been stuffed across the parcel shelves of each car, and banks of plastic flowers, faded from the sun, had been piled onto the bonnets and around the wing mirrors.

The smallest bridesmaid had contracted the flu and was unable to come. So a little American girl was volunteered by her mother. The dress fitted but the tulle was itchy, so this dear little girl walked up the aisle scratching her bottom, which she had first exposed to make scratching easier and more enjoyable!

The cake was transported from the kitchen of its creator intact, instead of in tiers, the result being that it was damaged in transit and was now crooked, leaning to one side rather like the Tower of Pisa. The flowers which should have been in the silver vase at the top were dead (see previous paragraph) so new ones had to be found.

Our Pet Commander was pissed and so forgot to put on his uniform. He did remember his sword but he was so drunk he managed to spear his Chinese girlfriend with it instead of handing it safely to the bride, and the poor girl ended up having a tetanus injection in A & E.

Rain is not the word for what came out of the sky that evening. It was a thing made of steel, and went straight through the flimsy Chinese paper umbrellas brought out for the emergency. The guests sat in damp misery in a church made chilly by the rain and waited. And waited….and waited…while the three psychotic Mercedes drivers relayed the bridal party from the Hotel to the Church.

So…The bouquet was contrived from some orchids, hastily purchased in bulk by the father of the bride, under strict orders not to come back from the Market without a collection of flowers. The rain eventually stopped, the priest did in the end manage to find a safety pin to hold his cassock together and the Indonesian groomsmen were finally persuaded to stop telling guests to ‘park their arses’ (on the instruction of Usher brother of the bride, who thought it was a huge joke).

The organist played the bridal fanfare at treble time, so the bridal party raced up the aisle looking as if they were running for a bus, except when they got to the transept, where the font had neglected to be removed and the bride in her crinoline confection was pulled around it like a airbag caught around a steering wheel. The Wedding March at the end of the Service was played at less than half tempo like a funeral dirge.

Outside the Cathedral, the rain had at last dried up and the steps were brightly populated with the wedding guests, hundreds of happy faces dressed in their best, oil-rich Americans in white tuxedos, graceful Indonesian ladies in tightly wrapped sarong kabayas, their heads tilted with the weight of pure gold hair pins and combs, stately grandmothers sporting heavily embroidered shawls in spite of the heat. Local dignitaries posed for photographs with the bridal party before retiring to the Petroleum Club reception.

Sid had partaken of a copious amount of moonshine in the back parking lot with the Mercedes drivers and appeared in the dining room with his toupee on backwards and falling over one eye. He had fallen asleep with his head in one of the casseroles of Chicken Madras.

The music for the dancing had not shown up, so the resourceful Petroleum Club Manager had imported an amateur organist to play Wartime Favourites You Know and Love, to the delight of everyone over 80 and especially the Scottish groomsman who was drunk as a lord and had removed his kilt (yes, removed his kilt…) to enable him to dance with greater freedom and fervour.

The groomsmen and the Best Man had promised us that there was no hiding place, that we would be found wherever we had booked to stay the night, they had posses out everywhere….So the groom decided to fool them all and book himself and his new bride into the VERY LAST PLACE anyone would look; a brothel on the other side of the city.

Embarrassment is a word bandied about by people who have never experienced the real thing. It is the way you feel when you have arrived at a brothel in a wedding gown and gazed into the glass eyes of the stuffed tiger in the lobby and wished to swap places with him. We honeymooned in Bali.

I got sunstroke.

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