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.