SECOND THOUGHTS
Suddenly, everyone's getting married. Well, OK, not everyone, but on Saturday, we get two wedding invitations in the same post.

"Christ, what's this?" My partner recoils dramatically as something pastel flutters from one of them

"It's only confetti, for God's sake."

"Christ, Christ." He thrashes his legs affectedly. "It's all over the bed."

His sudden distaste for itsy petals of coloured paper is a bit rich, given the duvet's already covered in newspapers, cat hairs, Honey Nut Loops and something still unidentified and faintly nasty which may have come either from a cat or a child.

Anyway, the confetti invitation is from my sister and we'd been expecting that one - a wedding planned over the course of a year while she converted to Judaism.

The other's from unmarried friends from way back, whom we thought were like us (happily unmarried, but bound by a clutch of deliberate offspring), but who have suddenly decided it's time to regularise things. Or ritualise them.

It's taken me a while, but I've come to understand the importance of ritual. When our kids were born, they had (by mutual agreement) my partner's surname, but I found myself hankering for unity - craving a name in common with the rest of the family.

So when my father died without speaking to me for the previous 12 years, it seemed a perfect opportunity to change my name. It was the simplest thing, by deed poll, and we celebrated with a small dinner for our closest friends.

I was surprised and faintly embarrassed when they brought presents - big, important, homey ones like dishes and candlesticks.

"You mustn't deprive us of the opportunity to celebrate," said Kim (who had married in white under a red Virginia Creeper and hung on to her maiden name) when I protested - and I realised then that for some of our friends this party was in lieu of a

wedding.

I am the only unmarried person I know who shares her partner's surname. Even most of my married friends have kept their maiden names. There's something perversely old-fashioned about what I've done, something Mr and Mrs, something regular. And, yes, we are constantly having to explain it, but there are worse things in life - and it still feels right.

So we place our wedding invitations side by side on the mantelpiece. "You're going to be a bridesmaid, aren't you?" I remind four-year-old Chloe, "at Aunty Mandy's wedding."

She scowls. "No, I'm not."

"You are. You'll have a lovely dress."

"I'm a Cool-boy," she says, "I have a penis. Cool-boys don't wear dresses."

"Don't push it," her father says to me. "There's plenty of time to the wedding."

An hour later, I - not normally prone to rashes - am covered with peculiar red angry bumps like jellyfish stings all over my leg, arms and stomach. "Maybe you're allergic to confetti," my partner suggests.

"Confetti?"

"Or weddings. Or maybe you're turning into a boy."

When I was 14, I was a bridesmaid at my uncle's wedding. It was in Birmingham and pretty low-key. I was disappointed that the bride just knelt on the bed and put her make-up on in three minutes using a broken mirror propped on the window-sill. We ate toast and marmite in the kitchen in our long, yellow-and-green dresses, while the bride's mother Scuff-Koted her shoes.

A women with pins in her mouth fixed my hair into a ballet dancer's bun. I looked 35. She hair-sprayed the wisps so they sort of petrified.

"A wig, she's wearing a wig," my sisters hissed jealously as I passed them in church.

I got a rash all over my chest and a PVC Womble as a present. The marriage ended a few years later.

On Saturday afternoon, my mother and sister bring Chloe's dress round to check the size. Chloe's outside on the see-saw shouting "Morphin time!" We all agree that we can tell just by looking at it that it will fit.

"Look!" My mother lovingly pulls a rag-doll in identical pale clothes from a rustling carrier bag. "For her to carry in her little hand."

When they've gone, Chloe head-butts me and tugs at my jumper with sandpit fingers. "Can I wear my Cool-boy cap at the wedding - tell me now: yes or no?"

"We'll see."

Later I lie on the sofa daubed in calamine and tell my partner what sort of dress I have in mind for the big day - kind of Jackie 0, like the ones in this month's Vogue, a big hat, bare legs maybe. Or sheer tights.

"Listen to you," he says. "All this mental energy going into what your legs will look like."

I go to Sainsbury's with Raphael, who insists on wearing his Batman suit even though it's covered in lunch. As we trundle through the sliding doors, life-size cut-outs of Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell grin inanely at us. I jump. Raph waves at them.

As we finish our shopping, I notice that my rash is miraculously subsiding and meanwhile Raphael has gone to sleep in the trolley with his head on my wrist, sucking half my cuff along with his thumb, and I still have to queue and pay. I take a pack of night-time sanitary towels - cushioned for extra absorbency - and wedge them under his head.

People laugh generously as they pass us. Maybe I should get a penis. Then I could go to the wedding as Batman.

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