I was on the brink of a nervous break-down, what with last minute swotting and trying to arrange a ‘shot gun wedding’ when William phoned with the news that he was to be allowed to purchase his discharge. That meant he didn’t have to go to Korea and we could go back to having the wedding in July instead of immediately. The figure £11 sticks in my mind. Was that the cost of his discharge or the cost of the material for my wedding dress or the amount of my inheritance from Uncle Bill? Or was it all three?
At least now I had time to plan everything. The bridesmaids were still not singing from the same hymn sheet so I put them on hold. Dad had his ‘boiled ham suit’ – black jacket and striped trousers - so it made sense for the men to hire the same and then I’d be sure William would be look respectable. (Toppers and tails, I felt, would be inappropriate.) And he did. Except on the day he opted for thick; navy blue woollen socks. I had the wonderful Mrs D to make my dress and her daughter, who was studying fashion, did six designs for me to choose from. She wasn’t thrilled when I chose the top of one and the bottom of another but, sweetly, gave way. I had to try to keep the expense down for Mum and Dad’s sake. It was the custom for the bride’s parents to pay for everything except the flowers and taxis. Maddie had held her reception in a hotel in Waterfoot but I longed to have ours in the countryside and we chose ‘The Black Bull’ at Rimmington.
William and I rode out there on the motor bike to book it and it was charming – not chi chi at all.
‘Would you like champagne for the toast?’ they asked.
‘Oh yes please.’
Then they told me how much it would be for sixty people so we settled for sherry. None of your bits on sticks! This was the north and they were getting a three course sit-down meal.
Everything seemed to be falling into place and then in May, William’s father died. Although we knew he was quite ill it was a great shock. William rushed home for the funeral. It was particularly moving as his father had been a Master at Lord Nelson’s old school for years, and many of the boys attended. William told me that he and his brother found themselves grinning with nerves, but then when the choir sang ‘Abide with me,’ he was finished and couldn’t hold back the tears.
I suggested we postponed the wedding but William said his father would have wished us to carry on with our plans.
When William’s older brother had married, the parents had given him a sum of money and Dodie, (William’s mother) consulted an old family friend to see if, now she was widowed, she should do the same for William. Apparently this friend said she must treat both boys equally. William decided we should have a decent honeymoon and go to the Vorarlberg in Austria. He knew how I felt about mountains and didn’t confess his own passion for sailing until much later. He said he was afraid it would put me off. In fact, eventually our happiest times were our sailing days. Dodie was not so thrilled as she was convinced William would fall off the first mountain he climbed.
At last Finals were over; I felt I had done as well as I could and was free to leave. We arranged that Matron would cable the results to our hotel in Brand – a mountain village which William chose in preference to one called Lech. I had three whole weeks before the wedding so William asked me if I would spend it with his mother in Norfolk. He also gave me a book about sex by Van de Velde so that I should be prepared for married life.
Norfolk was another world. The village was feudal and Dodie pre-war. There was tennis with home made lemonade, croquet on the lawn (Dodie was a demon with a mallet) lunch parties and always afternoon tea with the water boiled in a silver kettle on a spirit lamp. To this day it sits on my Welsh dresser – regularly cleaned but no longer used. The house was sprawling, shabby but charming with bowls of roses from the garden on the old polished tables.
William had asked his boyhood friend – Gerry Brown, who lived next door, to keep an eye on me. He was gentle, jolly, with glasses and sprutty black hair and was going to be our best man. He had never met a girl from the north before so did some goggling. Some years later he himself, although apparently a typical bachelor, met his own girl from the north, had four children and never looked back.
Dodie and friends took me to see the sights and the lovely beaches and gradually I met most of the family friends. We went to Norwich one day and Dodie bought me a beautiful leather hand-bag in the exact shade of my going away suit. By the end of three weeks I felt thoroughly rested and ready for anything. Just as well as Mum greeted me with the news that Vanessa and Abe had called. Vanessa had also left to take up a post in London and found she was unable to be bridesmaid. They gave us a pressure cooker as a present – which was my oven for years.
Even this didn’t dampen my spirits. It meant Annie could have her crushed raspberry dress instead of the dreaded stripes. Next stop the altar!