This (wed­ded)

Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Alec Camp­bell

THIS morn­ing there was a piece on the ra­dio about the cost of wed­dings, ap­par­ently in the or­der of $30,000 these days. My mind went back to my wed­ding day in post-world War II aus­ter­ity. There wasn’t much money and less to spend it on. I bought Mary an en­gage­ment ring from a lit­tle an­tique stall in Le­ices­ter mar­ket. A smoky topaz in a sil­ver set­ting, it was cheap be­cause one of the facets was chipped. No wed­ding dress; we wore our best clothes down to the Reg­istry Of­fice.

We weren’t go­ing to bother with a pho­tog­ra­pher but a friend pro­duced a box cam­era say­ing there should be at least one pho­to­graph to record the oc­ca­sion.

I still have it. Light got into the cam­era and it’s par­tially fogged.

I was mar­ried from Horse­fair St public toi­let. Mary had moved into our bed­sit ahead of the wed­ding, while I stayed with my friend John. The night be­fore, when we took Mary home slightly tipsy, I for­got to pick up my clean shirt. Mary rushed it down to our favourite cof­fee shop and left it with the staff, know­ing I would think to pick it up there. At 10.30am I rushed into Bruc­ciani’s to have my clean shirt thrust across the counter. Then it was off to the public toi­let to change for the 11am cer­e­mony. The last words spo­ken to me as a sin­gle man came from my soon-to-be fa­ther-in-law, who whis­pered as the regis­trar be­gan, ‘‘There’s still time to run, lad.’’

As man and wife we stepped on to a cold, wet street sur­rounded by our friends. Then it was off to find the bus to Mary’s par­ents’ house. The re­cep­tion wasn’t lav­ish. There was still ra­tioning, though the war had been over for seven years. We had corned beef sand­wiches (the meat pro­vided, out­side the ra­tion, by the fam­ily butcher), Span­ish wine (im­ported in bar­rels, bring your own con­tainer) and tea and cof­fee. My mother baked a wed­ding cake and had it iced and dec­o­rated.

It was Grand Na­tional day, the last of the win­ter sea­son hur­dle races. We de­cided to slip away as soon as we de­cently could so it would be over be­fore the race, but it was not to be. We cleared off all right but ev­ery­one else stayed and when the race started they gath­ered round the ra­dio to lis­ten.

Then Mary’s mother got out her beloved chip pan. It was near nine o’clock when the last guest de­parted.

We spent our af­ter­noon and evening in the Cap­i­tal Tea Club and made a new ac­quain­tance, one who would be a friend for many years. He was mor­ti­fied when we told him at 11.30pm it was our wed­ding night.

The cost of our wed­ding came from cash on hand as we had no sav­ings. Our worldly goods con­sisted of a pile of books, a cof­fee pot and a gui­tar that nei­ther of us could play. The mar­riage lasted for 43 years un­til Mary died. Six­teen years later I am still mourn­ing its loss.

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