Get Me To The Church by Louise Mcivor

I’d ar­rived foot­sore and soaked to the skin. The day could only get bet­ter!

The People's Friend - - Contents -

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

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