Sunday, April 04, 2004

Saturday April 3 2004 – Sophia’s wedding day

The day when my youngest sister became the first of four siblings to tie the knot arrived with a morning of implausible perfection. Friday was a warm 27 degrees with a gusty nor’wester which died towards evening and shifted off that quarter. By Saturday morning it was cooler but clear, steel blue with only the gentlest of zephyrs. The wedding ceremony was to be at my uncle Tom’s place at Robinson’s Bay, on the road to Akaroa. Tom and his wife Rosemary have a wooden cottage there with a sloping front lawn, framed by young ngaio trees, which looks south-west over the Onawe peninsula and Akaroa harbour.

Mum, Sophia and the bridesmaids had stayed the night at a motel in Akaroa. Dad and Cecilia headed over there at 10 am so Cecilia could do Sophia’s makeup. I decided to take myself over to Robinson’s Bay in my own time. I was dead keen to stay out of the way of the mounting, ill-directed stress emanating from both my parents. This tends to take different forms: Mum works herself into a self-perpetuating flap of obscure worries and unfocused nervousness; Dad makes an explicit effort to seem calm and controlled, but nevertheless suffers from occasional attacks of anxious authoritarianism. I was a little worried that Dad might have a problem with me going over by myself – “Why? There’s plenty of room to come with me”; “No, we’re doing this as a family”; etc. – but to my relief he was fine with it, and I was happy to be able to take my time getting ready.

The drive out there was spectacular in the intense sunlight, winding around the rocky bluffs where the peninsula hills meet the plains, then climbing up the steep valley above Little River. I had to grit my teeth at being stuck two vehicles behind a dangerously timid driver who practically ground to a halt on some of the tighter bends, but eventually we hit the hilltop and a breathtaking view of Akaroa harbour, opaque turqouise in the dead calm.

At Tom’s place Dad was marshalling cars into parking spots. He issued instructions like a nervous military commander: Rebecca’s boyfriend Tim would continue directing cars; Cecilia would hand out the programmes; I would pour out and serve drinks to arriving guests. But of course we weren’t to feel constrained to remain in these exact roles; we could interchange them as we saw fit, as long as there was always someone at each post…Then Dad had to rush off to Akaroa to pick up Sophia and the bridesmaids. Meanwhile Mum was working herself into paroxsyms of nervous worry – it was one o’ clock, and where was Jeremy! He was needed to set up the sound system. And I definitely shouldn’t put the champagne flutes on a tray – she couldn’t possibly carry them; she’d drop them and break them (this despite the fact that * I * was supposed to be serving the drinks).

People started arriving: Sophia’s friends and work colleagues, musicians from the Folk Club, aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of our family. Cecilia had worked her way through four glasses of champagne and was greeting everyone effusively. To Gran’s friend Pam, a rural district nurse from Waverley: “Pam, you look * great * in pink! Pink is, like, totally your colour”

We decided that Tim should call Rebecca and tell them to hold off coming for another fifteen minutes. Not all the guests had arrived, and we were a little worried that Dad might interpret the concept of the bride arriving fashionably and suspensefully late as meaning an entrance at 2:03 sharp.

I was starting to feel a little nervous myself – I was to read out a sonnet by Shakespeare, his 16th (or 116th?), as practically the first act of the ceremony – so I had a glass of champagne, then another. Tim, Cecilia and I stood out on the road and had a cigarette.

The mixture of people put me in a slightly surreal position. Now, I’m not necessarily that au fait with my extended family, but Gran was asking me to point out the aunts, uncles and cousins from Mum’s side, while both Tom and Mary asked me sotto voce who the various members of Dad’s family were. Meghan came by with her friend, chuckling “So, I guess you’re going to be my step-uncle now” Despite being about the least “family-oriented” person I know, all this seemd oddly nice.

Everyone drifted from the brick courtyard by the front door down to the lawn. I was still organising my grip on my camera, champagne flute and the weathered little book of poetry I was to read from, when the proverbial hush descended and Dad appeared, leading Sophia, Rebecca, Moata and Sonja down the slope to join Jeremy and his entourage under the trees at the bottom of the lawn. Girls, the bride was wearing a simple cream dress with a green sash – the effect was ‘mediaeval Irish princess’. The bridesmaids wore dresses of a, uh, soft creamy mint green (??), which matched Sophia’s sash.

The marriage celebrant was a smiley middle-aged woman with short hair. She gave a brief, ecumenically Christian introduction (I found myself thinking “ah, a progressive Anglican”), then I had to read the Shakespeare poem, which I did with solemnity.

The rest of the ceremony I and the approximately twelve other self-appointed photographers shuffled about, trying desperately to capture all the important moments against the stunning backdrop of blue harbour, vivid sky and contoured hills. Despite my distraction, the nervousness and sincerity of both Sophia and Jeremy were palpable. Their vows were lumpen-throated and barely audible against the punctuating whirr of automatically rolling film and the whisper of the breeze.
“Do you take Sophia to be your wife…” said the marriage celebrant.
“Yes” said Jeremy.
“I haven’t finished yet” laughed the celebrant.
I almost think I had to take more photos to hide the fact that I was quite moved by it all.

Jeremy’s brother Simon made a speech incorporating a compendium of quotes, also from Shakespeare, on the theme of marriage. Sophia and Jeremy went into the house to sign the register, came out again, then everyone went inside to attack the finger food and drink more champagne. After a while Mum, in imitation of her late father, decided it was time for everybody to go and shooed them off, while Tom and Rosemary stood grinning by their piano.

After we all had a weary cigarette on the balcony, I took Cecilia, Moata and Sonja back to Akaroa to get their things from the motel, then, in the sinking afternoon sun, we started on the long and winding road back to Christchurch.

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