I already knew which shots I was interested in, but sitting with a cold beer and studying the contact prints was a ritual that I went through after every wedding. It helped to bring the day back and, believe me, there are always some memorable scenes even on the happiest occasions. This hadn’t been that for most of the guests, but I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.
The first photo I’d taken was of the bride’s mother – she’d engaged me – tripping over her own feet as she climbed out of the Mondeo. It was then that I realised that she and her party were already half-pissed. I’d thought that her voice sounded a bit slurred when I got the call earlier that day telling me not to bother going to the church, but to be at Fairfield Hall at 2.30.
Who dreams up these names? If there ever was a fair field in Stanton, it was a bloody long time ago. How they must have been giggling into their afternoon tea when they christened the road I live in ‘Mount Pleasant’. Which was funnier, the choosing of the name itself or the ‘UN’ that some wit had painted in not long after the signs went up?
It had been a strange request and I was already counting on being asked for a reduction in my fee. Thank God I’d recently included that cancellation clause in my contract. I didn’t ask any questions. If they didn’t want me at the church that was up to them. I idled away the morning taking a few urban landscapes – piles of rubbish, burnt-out cars, that sort of thing – and arrived at the hall in good time to catch the guests arriving. Everyone milled around for a while after getting out of the cars, looking as though they had just landed on another planet, and there was a lot of nervous laughter and a few raised voices.
Eventually the bride approached the door on the arm of the man who I assumed to be her father. A group of kids either side of the doorway threw confetti in her face and I got some shots of her smiling bravely and one of her sticking her tongue out at me. The old man was scowling and cuffed one of the boys on the ear. The boy stuck two fingers up at his back as he entered the hall. I snapped off a load more as the other guests followed but couldn’t work out which of the suited-up blokes was the groom. The bride’s mother squeezed my arm and gave me a crooked smile that I wish I’d been able to capture. It wasn’t a very happy one and looked like it had been both helped and disfigured by gin or sherry. She thanked me for coming.
Once inside, the guests all sat in their ordained places and the father of the bride made the shortest and most memorable wedding reception speech that I’ve ever heard.
“Right,” he said, standing behind his chair with his fists balled on the tablecloth. “We’re here now, thanks to Audrey.” He glared at his wife. “So let’s just get on with it. And you…” He pointed a shaking finger in my direction. “You just fuck off out of it and leave us alone!”
I walked out through the swing doors and decided to go over to the pub opposite, and there was Audrey pulling at my sleeve. I turned to look at her and saw the desperation and forlorn hope in her pleading eyes. It wasn’t going to be Audrey’s day no matter how hard she tried. She almost begged me to come back for the cutting of the cake and I told her that I’d be over in The Squirrel and gave her a card with my mobile number.
I stood at the bar counter trying to digest what was happening over the road. One of the suited lads from the reception came in and ordered a pint. Our eyes met and we nodded at each other first before he came over and started talking at me. He was desperate to get it out and I’m a good listener. It turned out that he was the younger brother of the groom and wouldn’t have even turned up “to watch those scumbag Lewises stuff their ugly faces while Pete’s laid up unable to move” if his brother hadn’t persuaded him to show up to report back on events. The reason for my non-appearance at the church became clear. There had been no wedding service. During the previous night the groom, with his best man riding pillion on the Harley, had been struck by a car, and they were both right now at the QA Hospital nursing broken bones. The hall and food – and me – had been booked so the family of the bride had decided to go ahead with the reception “which I can understand I suppose, but they’re even going to cut the fucking cake. That slag Denise hasn’t even been to see him. Can you believe that? Her prospective fucking husband?”
I felt a bit sorry for the boy who was gulping his pint without really enjoying it, whereas mine was becoming ever sweeter-tasting as the possibilities of this assignment started to make interesting wheels turn inside my head. It might not turn out to be the dead duck that the younger brother was sympathising with me for. He was right that there wouldn’t be anybody ordering multiple prints, which was normally the icing on the cake for me, but I could see further than that.
The mobile rang and I sank the rest of my pint as Audrey slurred that the ceremony of the cutting of the cake was imminent. I ran across the road and dived into the building. I was in time to take dozens of shots of the bride and another young man who had been drafted in as a replacement for the stricken groom. My favourite showed Denise happily laughing with a shank of hair that had fallen out of place plastered across her neck as she looked up into the eyes of the man who should have been her husband.
“I’m not going to cut the fucking cake on my own, am I?” she had said.
I got some great photos of the next bit but I don’t know if I’ll ever use them apart from for my own entertainment. The groom’s younger brother wasn’t the quietly disgusted young man with whom I had just shared a pint when he crashed through the doors scattering everybody as he laid into the cake with a samurai sword and his boots, until there was nothing left but a mush on the floor. That’s when I decided that I had enough footage of the reception. There was only one thing left to do.
I bought a bunch of flowers at a petrol station on the way to the QA and it wasn’t hard to get on to the right ward, whip out my camera, and get a few shots of the groom in traction.
I made up some slides from the negatives and put them into the viewer. The one of the cake-cutting was a classic, and alongside the photograph of the groom in hospital, was going to make me a good deal more than a few extra print orders would have done. This wasn’t just local. This story was going national, and I was the one who was going to sell it, and the accompanying photos. I’d hit the big time.
What a bunch of low-lifes I thought at first, and so did everybody else. The story was snapped up and my pictures were in all the papers and on the television news. It was only a while later, as I cracked open a bottle of Mumm’s with Sophie who, it just so happens, was one of the bridesmaids that day, that I wondered whether, sometime back in the distant past, when a prospective groom in the small village of Fairfield had been trampled by a herd of oxen perhaps, on the morning of his wedding day, the villagers would have doused the fires beneath the roasting hogs and just gone home.
The bones of this story- bridegroom misses wedding after motorbike accident, but reception goes ahead as planned – which I gather appeared in the British press,were given to me by tuliptree
I have made a few alterations to some of the timing, and not left the bride to cut the cake on her own, which was the true version, in order to make the story more gruesome than it actually was.
I hope that I have fleshed it out successfully.