Susie Rushton: The tyranny of wedding magazines


She'll have been briefed on Royal protocol and forced to hand out non-disclosure agreements to her guests, not to mention turn a polite ear to God-knows-what marital advice from Camilla, but Kate Middleton will have managed to swerve one irritant for many a bride-to-be: the wedding magazines. Advice and "inspiration" from the likes of Cosmo Bride, Brides, Wedding, You & Your Wedding and Cliché & Cashburning (I may have dreamt that last one) is of little use to her.

Consider a few, entirely typical, cover lines from the current crop of wedmags. "Real Brides' Savvy Money-Saving Tips," "Dream Dresses From £185!," "794 Ways To Personalise Your Day". I think it's safe to guess that, in Kate Middleton's case, saving money by hand-writing the invites herself, buying a nice cheap frock or – despite a well-placed rumour she has designed her dress herself – making her wedding "personal" haven't been an option. ("How To Cope With A Jealous Bridesmaid" is one wedmag feature that might have caught her eye, though.)

I've had cause to buy a stack of them myself lately, and as I'm sure anybody who has consulted these self-appointed bibles of nuptial style will agree, they are a festival of utter absurdity, overpriced goods, eye-wateringly twee aesthetics and misguided "etiquette".

And yet it is impossible to finish reading one of these publications without concluding, like the marketing-suckled consumer I am, that I absolutely must order six-dozen bags of monogrammed M&M sweets packaged in dinky little bags, as "favours", or risk sending home our guests seriously insulted at the lack of "thoughtful touches" on a day they naturally assumed would be themed with all the flair of a West End impresario ("Fifties Patriotic Tea Party" is a current favourite in the wedmags) and yet, also, movingly "personal".

In fact, if there is a trend that currently obsesses all of the wedmags, that interests them even more than the big white dresses, it is "personalisation". You might reasonably ask how a wedding can be anything other than personal: it involves two people doing something really quite personal in front of their family and friends.

But in the big-bucks wedding industry, "personal" means something else. It denotes a very specific, ultra-girlie visual style – think Cath Kidston, plus hydrangeas and slutty shoes – which has more to do with interior decoration than a major emotional rite-of-passage.

"Personal" means having to buy lots and lots of little expensive gewgaws decorated with lovebirds or Union Jacks or terriers, whatever is appropriate to your "theme". None of the guests will care about or even notice any of it, and you will begin wedded life with a bloated overdraft and a very strange set of wedding photographs. God knows, the photos of her big day will also be deeply bizarre, but on the wedmags front, I think Kate's had it easy.

It's hard to beat a garden centre over Easter ...

On Saturday, in deepest Kent, I followed the crowds to one of Britain's favourite Easter weekend destinations: the garden centre.

The sun beat down. The nurserymen watered their seedlings as if fighting fires at a chemical plant. We carefully swivelled our trolley up and down aisles that brimmed over with verbenas and lavenders and rambling roses. We ate ice cream and admired a giant cactus the size of a beach ball. Without a car to carry any purchases home to London, I couldn't buy more than a packet of seeds, although my co-shoppers loaded up the trolley with plants. The scenario was blissful.

On the way out, I noticed a sign that announced the centre was due to operate on Easter Sunday. Was it, like some other nursery chains across the country, planning to flout trading laws? Stores larger than 280sq m are banned from opening on what would be a bumper day of the year; to circumvent these regulations, some garden centres this Sunday planned to allow visitors not to buy, but only to look.

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is protesting the trading law that stops them cashing in on a day when many gardeners would stock up. In the meantime, horticulturalists desperate to indulge on Easter Sunday will just have to window-shop. This will be small consolation to the HTA, but I say that it is one of the few consumer experiences where browsing is just as good as buying.

... except maybe with tea at Hampton Court

Another Bank Holiday highlight for me was the tea room at Hampton Court. The average British gastropub's frites might still be a bit on the chunky side, and our wine is experimental at best, but the country's tourist-attraction tearooms can't be bettered.

Despite an influx of fretful families at exactly 4 o'clock, we found Hampton Court's main cafe spotless, well-organised and stocked with delicious cakes, lemonade and cream teas. At the equivalent attraction in France – one of the country's many chateaux, for instance – the paying visitor is very unlikely to find an in-house place to feed and water.

I recall one lunchtime last year at the Abbaye de Fontenay in Burgundy, a historic attraction given top billing in the Michelin guide to a French gastronomic heartland. Famished, we followed a cup-and-saucer symbol on a signpost outside the Abbaye, only to find ourselves in a dingy room next to the lavs containing two vending machines, one selling cans of Coke, the other cigarettes. The French tourism industry is missing a highly profitable trick.