Sometimes I wonder what I used to talk about with friends before I got engaged. Brexit? Kim Kardashian? The way, since turning 30, eyeliner has started getting stuck in the crevices under our eyes?
It was a simpler time. These days, every weekend brunch or post-work pint inevitably turns to wedding planning chat sooner or later.
My boyfriend of six years proposed at the end of September 2017. Since we both live in London but hail from Northern Ireland, we decided to bask in the glow of engagement joy until we went home for Christmas, when the real wedding planning would begin. Everyone gives you the same piece of advice when you get engaged: ‘Do whatever you want. It is your day.’ But you soon realise they don’t really mean that;
‘We’re thinking of having a barbeque.’ I drop casually to my Mum after dinner one night.
‘Oh darling, no, people my age really don’t like queuing for their food.’
‘We might not invite any children.’ We mentioned to some friends who have two of their own over brunch one Sunday.
They nodded and made ‘Hmm’ sounds, but offence was clear.
‘We’re considering having a Ceilidh.’
‘As well as a band?’ Mum again, this time as she’s driving us to visit some family friends.
‘No…instead of a band.’
She breaks unnecessarily hard. ‘But…what’s everyone going to dance to?’
We were getting so bogged down in what not to do, we decided to start with something no one could disagree with – we needed to book a venue.
Friends advised, ‘The venue and date are the basis of your wedding, they set the tone of the day, and then you can build up from there.’
So, in the quiet, rainy days of early January, I started looking – and after an hour or so, found myself eyeing Greta Green like a knocked-up English teenager in the 19th Century.
One venue invited me to ‘Start your happy ever after here.’
Another said they ‘truly believe in the magic of weddings.’
And yet another promised, ‘We can make your dream wedding come true.’
Now, I don’t know who they are selling to, but as a busy woman pursuing a career, hustling a few creative side-lines, juggling a boyfriend, some semblance of a social life, and trying to maintain a tiny flat in a ridiculously unaffordable part of South West London, then let me tell you – I am not your target market. I am not here for a fairy tale, I just need a place to host 180 of my/his nearest and dearest that is inexpensive and reasonably pleasant.
But, I swallowed my doubts, and started ringing round.
‘Hello, we are looking for a venue for our wedding, could we come and see yours?’
‘Yes of course, when are you thinking of getting married?’
‘We’re not sure, hopefully some time this year?’
Every time laughter, or shocked silence, or an uncomfortable mix of both meets these words, followed by, ‘Sorry, we’re booked up until 2020.’
When you talk to people about how impossible it is to find a decent, affordable, available wedding venue, they try and inspire you by telling you about other fantastic weddings they have been to. Things like, ‘Our friends Matt and Laura just got married on a beach in north west Scotland, and funny, it was 30 degrees, the hottest day they’d had there in like, 60 years, and a ukulele band happened to be touring and stopped for a picnic right at that very beach and started playing for them, and lo, DOLPHINS just appeared leaping in the bay while we danced barefoot on the sand as the sun set.’
Or, ‘ You know Nat, of Nick and Nat, yeah, they booked out a youth hostel in the New Forest for the weekend and everyone just stayed there, like a commune, and loads of people brought a dish for dinner and there were fairy lights everywhere, and it ended up feeling just like a little mini Glastonbury, you know?’
In the end, we got a venue, a converted Mill outside of Belfast. It is not perfect. Our wedding will be on a Friday (‘But people will have to take a day off work!’), and due to our guest numbers we will have to be split over two floors, (‘But who will you put upstairs?!’).
So why did we choose it? Did it finally make me believe in the magic of weddings? Could I see my ‘happy ever after’ starting there? Well… no. Apart from having an excellent space for ceilidhing, we liked it because of the Venue Manager – a smart, practical country woman who does not care for Fairy Tale Weddings, but does believe in an efficient nice day that would be fun for us and our guests. All child-free 180 of them. And that is my idea of a dream come true.