Sue Arnold: What's wrong with the idea of a simple wedding?

My friend has to buy nine outfits for one wedding that is taking place over the course of two weekends
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The Independent Online

A friend from that part of rural Austria where, if the wind's blowing in the right direction, you can hear the ghostly voices of the Van Trapp family wafting across the Mondsee, has just spent a few days in London with me specifically to buy nine wedding outfits. She isn't going to nine weddings; if she were, one outfit would do the lot. They are all to be worn at one wedding, her goddaughter's, which is taking place over two consecutive weekends in June, the favourite month for those old-fashioned types who still believe in marriage to get hitched.

A friend from that part of rural Austria where, if the wind's blowing in the right direction, you can hear the ghostly voices of the Van Trapp family wafting across the Mondsee, has just spent a few days in London with me specifically to buy nine wedding outfits. She isn't going to nine weddings; if she were, one outfit would do the lot. They are all to be worn at one wedding, her goddaughter's, which is taking place over two consecutive weekends in June, the favourite month for those old-fashioned types who still believe in marriage to get hitched.

Weekend one is to be a relatively low-key affair. It will include the civil ceremony to which only 100 or so close family and friends will be invited and, at appointed times over the three-day endurance course, get to know each other better drinking, dancing, going on boating expeditions and having picnics. Now there's the first hurdle. Why is it necessary for people who will probably never run into each other again to know each other better? Personally I find 20 minutes talking to someone's uncle from Milton Keynes quite long enough.

The highlight of my friend's goddaughter's second wedding weekend will, of course, be when the happy couple plight their troth in church, an enormous church to accommodate a far wider circle of their friends who will have danced till dawn at a pre-nuptial thrash the previous evening and, if they can bear it, will repeat the performance at a grand post-nuptial ball with fireworks. On the Sunday morning there will be a positively final farewell barbecue after which I should imagine the bride's mother will top herself. I certainly should.

You can see the need for so many costume changes. You can also see the need for diplomacy. My Austrian friend tells me that with so many different variations, Goddaughter has had to group her guests into A, B and C lists according to how many each venue can seat. This has caused some serious family rifts. Aunts who have discovered that they have been invited only to the barn dance and not the ball have binned all their other invitations and vowed they will never speak to the bride again. In the top 10 list of most stressful activities weddings come in at number six. The way things are going they're soon going to be number one.

By modern standards both of my weddings were modest affairs. The first in the village church was followed by a stand-up drinks party at home with vol-au-vents, most of which were snaffled by the choirboys. It was all over by 5pm, after which my new husband and I drove off in a hatchback to the airport and a package honeymoon in Tunisia. My second wedding was in a register office with maybe 35 guests joining us for lunch in a tiny Iranian restaurant in Kensington.

The music (we didn't have music at my first wedding) was provided by a busker called Dave I had heard playing in South Kensington tube station the day before. He had been playing "Mack the Knife" on an alto sax and walking along the subway from the Science Museum. It sounded terrific, which is why I hired him on the spot.

Unfortunately "Mack the Knife" turned out to be the only tune in his repertoire. "Can't you play anything else?" one of the guests asked him eventually. No, said Dave. He wasn't really a musician; he was more into writing his own protest songs. OK, we said, and he launched into a medley of Bob Dylan style dirges about kids from broken homes being bullied in school playgrounds and having their dinner money stolen.

I have nothing against the current trend for a late-afternoon wedding followed by a dance, just as long as the taxi you have booked to take you back home or to your hotel shows up. And I suppose if you are staying in a hotel you might as well join the others for brunch the following day before you head off. But on the whole, weddings are getting more protracted, more elaborate and, quite frankly, from a guest's point of view, more trouble than they are worth.

Maybe the headmistress of my eldest daughter's new school had the right attitude to matrimony. Second time round I got married on a Monday and my daughter nervously took the day off without advance warning. On Tuesday the headmistress called her over after assembly and demanded why she had not been at school the previous day. "I had to go to a wedding," mumbled Chloe. A wedding is no reason for missing a day's schooling. Whose wedding was it anyway? "My mother's," said Chloe. That's no excuse, said Mrs Briggstock.

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