Get Me To The Church by Louise Mcivor
I’d arrived footsore and soaked to the skin. The day could only get better!
WHY didn’t you just text him?” Ellie asks me, helping herself to a chocolate digestive.
I take another sip of tea. “I think I’ll tell you the story from the beginning, Ellie, shall I?”
I was standing at the entrance to the church and realised that I was the only woman there who wasn’t wearing a hat, didn’t have a partner and was soaked to the skin.
It was the mid 1990s. I was wearing a boxy jacket with brass buttons, a skirt that was just above the knee and court shoes with a Cuban heel. I thought I was the bee’s knees.
However, I drew the line at a hat. They didn’t really have cute little fascinators back then, only those big creations covered in gauzy fabric which never suited me.
Jessica’s wedding was my third that year. I had reached that age where many of my friends were getting married. I loved the weddings, but they were taking their toll on my bank balance.
My wise mother had advised me to buy one “good suit” which I could wear to all the weddings and other functions, and I was very proud of my cornflower-blue outfit.
“Don’t stay at the hotel where the wedding is, Rosie,” my mother advised. “Book into a B&B. Buy your gift from the wedding list as soon as it appears, otherwise the only things left will be a dishwasher or a spatula. Make sure you’ve enough money for a taxi back to the guesthouse.”
Mum was right. I rang up the department store in London where Jessica had her list and bought a milk jug which still rather stretched my budget.
Jessica and I had met on a three-month journalism course we both took after graduating. We were very different.
I got full marks in shorthand but was hopeless at ringing folk for quotes to “beef out” stories.
Jessica could never read her own shorthand but had such charm that even the most curmudgeonly company director would give her a quote.
We’d always stayed in touch, although our careers had followed different paths. I worked in the publications department of our local university.
Jessica had started as a researcher in her local television news room (we lived at opposite ends of the country) and was now one of the reporters on the evening news show.
The rigmarole of travelling to a wedding and booking accommodation was tricky in those preinternet days.
Although Jessica had provided a list of guesthouses, it took an afternoon of ringing round before I found one that was reasonably priced.
I then had to figure out how early a train I would need to get, as I would have to allow time to leave my overnight case at the guest-house.
All started smoothly enough on the Saturday. I arrived at the guest-house in plenty of time. I was going to phone for a taxi to the church but the landlady pointed out of the window.
“No need. See that bus stop there? You get the 363 and ask for the Church Lane stop.”
“Thanks,” I said, pleased to have saved a few quid.
As I caught the bus I was in as sunny a mood as the clear spring day.
However, neither my mood nor the weather lasted.
I thought I’d get a friendly country bus driver, but when I asked if he’d let me know where the Church Lane stop was, he told me he was new to this route.
I spent most of the journey scanning the horizon for church spires and by the time I saw it, we were past Church Lane and the driver refused to let me off until the next stop.
I started to walk quickly along the country lane, realising that the sky had turned an ominous black and that I had no coat or umbrella, both of which I had optimistically left at the guest-house.
The heavens opened. All I could do was keep walking, as the church was in sight, but there were no helpful trees to provide shelter.
So that was why I was standing in the entrance of the pretty church, with my cornflower-blue jacket and skirt sticking to me and my carefully
What was to prevent me making myself a cup of tea?
blow-dried hair a distant memory. However, I had loads of time. It was still 45 minutes until the wedding and there were various people fussing around.
There was a woman in jeans and a T-shirt who had that mix of artistry and muscle that all florists possess.
Then there was a man in what could have been a morning suit, though it was hard to tell as he had discarded the jacket and the tie hadn’t made it as far as his neck.
Mrs Meharg, the bride’s mother, had that shellshocked look that mothers of the bride tended to have, so asking her for the loan of a towel and a large brandy seemed the wrong thing to do.
But I was darned if I was going to sit in wet clothes through a wedding ceremony in a chilly church.
I headed for the door at the back which I reckoned would either lead to a minister’s room, a kitchen or, at least, a hall.
The door took me into a narrow corridor and I found a ladies’ room where, wonder of wonders, they had a hand-dryer.
I stripped off my jacket and skirt and stood in my tights and blouse while the hand-dryer did its work.
Ten minutes later I emerged, drier and calmer. Even though my hair was now poker straight, at least I didn’t look like I’d swum to the wedding.
I peeked through the door of the church. Mrs Meharg was talking to a group who had just arrived.
There were also a few couples. I knew no-one and was still feeling shivery.
What was to stop me going into the church kitchen and making myself a cup of tea?
So that’s what I did, locating a mug, teabags and milk. If I could find someone who looked like they were on the church catering committee I would square it with them.
I was just sipping my tea when the man in half a morning suit strode in.
“Do you think I could have one, too?”
“Er, yes,” I said and made him a cup of tea.
“Are you expecting many?”
“Many what?” I replied. “Folk for tea and coffee afterwards.”
“Oh, no, I’m just a guest. I got soaked on the way here and was just trying to warm myself up.”
The man laughed. “Good idea. These old churches are always cold, whatever time of year.”
We both sipped our tea, wondering what to say next.
“I was at university with Jessica. Well, not quite university, it was a threemonth postgraduate journalism course,” I said.
“What do you do now?” the man asked.
“I work at the university. I mean, not the university here.” I named the town in the north of England where I lived.
He told me he lived near Jessica but travelled all over the country for work.
Just then, Jessica’s mother put her head around the kitchen door.
“Owen, I wonder . . . oh, hello. Rosie, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Lovely to see you, Mrs Meharg,” I said as Jessica’s mother claimed Owen for ushering duties.
I finished my tea. By that time, the church was filling up and I found myself amidst a gaggle of Jessica’s cousins who kindly offered me a lift to the hotel.
Jessica looked beautiful in a dress with a tightly boned bodice and a beaded train. Owen had found his tie and jacket and was giving out Orders of Service.
The wedding was a sea of hats, floral dresses and matching jackets, with floral buttonholes taped to good handbags.
And lots of those Cubanheeled court shoes, which was why a few of the ladies wore a look of resigned suffering.
There was much milling about afterwards as the weather had cleared again, so there was lots of photograph-taking.
Owen was swallowed up by various relatives. I took a few snaps of Jessica and her new husband myself, with my disposable camera.
I left the cousins to catch up with each other at the hotel.
Jessica’s mother introduced me to a few people, but sometimes it’s hard to break into conversations and eventually, taking my glass of sherry, I headed outside to the lovely grounds.
I walked down to sit on a bench beside a lake. In those days, I was just starting to write my poems and stories and was always looking for inspiration.
Plus, the smoky bars in hotels tended to go for my asthma, so I craved some fresh air.
Just then, I smelled cigarette smoke. I turned round to see who the culprit was.
“They’ll kill you, you know,” I said, picking up my sherry glass.
“I know,” Owen replied. “I keep meaning to give up, but, well . . .”
He stubbed out his half-finished cigarette.
“They’re doing photos,” he said.
“I know, but they’re still on family, so they’ll be ages yet. Jessica has about forty thousand cousins.”
“I didn’t know that. I’m the groom’s cousin.”
“I’ve forgotten what the groom does for a living. He wasn’t going out with Jessica at college.”
“He’s head of the advertising department in the station where Jessica works,” Owen told me.
We headed back to join the throng. As Owen was family and I wasn’t, I had to wait around for the “friends” photo and eventually found myself on a table with some of Jessica’s work colleagues and a few stray cousins who had flown in from Perth, Western Australia.
As I have an aunt there, we ended up talking about the beautiful beaches.
I managed a snatched two-minute conversation with Jessica after the speeches and before the dancing. She looked so happy.
Now came the bit I dreaded: the milling around when the tables were cleared away.
That was when I always felt a bit lonely as everyone would regather into the groups or the other halves they had come with.
My relationship history up until that point had consisted of a university romance, which had petered out after our finals, and a few dates with men I’d met through work that hadn’t gone any further.
It felt like I was in a race I was rapidly losing. Everyone else had a boyfriend or fiancé, so why didn’t I?
Two men in checked shirts strode by lugging big amplifiers.
A barn dance? In the invitation it had just said “Dancing until midnight”.
I dreaded barn dances – they always became too boisterous. And these shoes weren’t up to it.
I checked my watch. Ten p.m.; too early to get a taxi back to the guest-house.
I had a choice: sit and chat to folk in an increasingly smoky bar or be hurled around the dance floor.
The older guests were already saying their goodbyes and the staff were shoving tables against the wall and stacking up chairs as the strains of country music started up.
“Would you like to dance?”
It was Owen, both tie and long-tailed jacket having been ditched again.
Confused, I said the first thing that came into my head.
“Please don’t make me barn dance! It’s like being tortured and I always go the wrong way and get the steps mixed up
and collide with the woman who knows exactly what’s she doing, who then gives me a filthy look.
“Then some drunken man, built like a barn door, whirls me around and then loses his grip and I end up on the floor!”
I paused for breath, aware that Owen probably thought I’d had one glass of sherry too many.
“You only need to try one dance,” he coaxed. “I’m really short-sighted so if I jig about too much I usually lose a contact lens.”
So we took our places on the dance floor.
We risked one very uncoordinated dance, where he went the wrong way, not me! We then spent the rest of the evening talking in the bar.
Owen was a computer consultant. He had a similar romantic history to me: he had broken up with his girlfriend from university a few years before.
Around midnight, Owen ordered me a taxi back to my guest-house and at his request, I scribbled my phone number down on a serviette with the hotel’s logo printed on it.
“Call you on Monday?” he asked as we parted.
“Great,” I said.
Every time the phone went at work the following Monday I hoped it was Owen, only to be disappointed.
But you don’t expect someone to call immediately, and I had learned the hard way that it was never a good idea to chase them.
Back then, before mobile phones, communication was much more difficult.
I hadn’t give Owen the telephone number of the chaotic shared house where I lived, as messages were either not passed on at all, or were delivered three weeks later.
It was safer to give out your work number.
Another Monday went by, then another, with still no phone call.
I endlessly analysed with my work colleague Lucy why Owen hadn’t called. Lucy reckoned that Owen was just playing the field, and told me that computer guys had a terrible reputation.
My disappointment was all the more acute because I was old enough to recognise when there was a “spark’”, and there had definitely been one between Owen and me.
However, it was Mum who advised me in the end.
“Rosie, you can go through the reasons why he hasn’t called until you’re blue in the face. Why don’t you call him and put your mind at rest?”
“He didn’t give me his number.”
“Well, wait until Jessica sends you the thank-you card for your wedding gift. Then you’ll know she’s back from honeymoon and you can ring her and ask her for his number.”
It didn’t help that Jessica and her new husband had gone to Machu Picchu in Peru and weren’t due back for at least another week.
However, about a month later Jessica sent me the “friends” group photo from the wedding with a thank you for the milk jug.
In the picture I was standing beside Owen, who had sneaked into the shot.
I dialled the number of the television station where Jessica worked.
Before I even got the chance to ring Owen, the telephone rang at work.
It had been one of those irritating days, where I needed to get a lot done before the post was collected at 4.30 p.m.
I picked up the phone, sounding more clipped than usual.
“Publications, Rosie speaking. How may I help you?”
“Is that you, Rosie?” “Yes,” I said, somewhat uncertainly.
“It’s me. Owen.” “Owen!” I practically shouted. “I thought you’d fallen off the face of the earth!”
So much for playing it cool.
“I’m so sorry about that. I lost the serviette. In fact, I left it in the jacket of the morning suit, which I had to give back.
“Then I couldn’t remember if you worked at the uni or the old polytechnic. I got through to the switchboard but I couldn’t remember your surname! And Jessica was on honeymoon. But she rang me last night –”
I realised he was nervous and I found it touching. Usually I was the nervous one.
“It’s OK. I mean, no, you didn’t give me your number. I’m at work and can’t really talk. Do you want to meet up later?” I said.
In those days, you tended to make arrangements fast and firm, as you didn’t have the luxury of texting nearer the time.
“How about the coffee shop near the train station? Tonight?” he said.
We got married two years later. My dress was a vintage one I had discovered in a charity shop.
Owen wore a new suit as he announced he would absolutely not be wearing the hated morning suit to his own wedding.
The church we both went to was a modern one. Not half as pretty as Jessica’s, but a lot warmer.
And there was no absolutely no barn dancing afterwards.
I’m now showing the photos to my foster daughter, Ellie.
We took Ellie in over the school holidays when she was twelve, for a week.
She’s still with us, aged nineteen, though she’ll be going off to college soon.
She likes to hear about how Owen and I met, but I don’t think she quite believes that there was a world that existed before both mobile phones and the internet!
“Did you not give him your mobile number?” she asks me.
Owen comes in at this point.
“Mobile phones hadn’t been invented yet, Ellie.”
She looks at us both suspiciously, as if we are telling her a very tall tale.
“Oh, yes, I’d forgotten about the olden days,” she says finally.
Her mobile phone rings and she swipes it, then runs upstairs to her room to talk to her boyfriend. Owen winks at me. “I’m very glad I did call you, you know.”
“So am I,” I say, and he comes to join me on the sofa. n
Every time the phone rang I hoped it was Owen