Country Matters: And the groom wore a pork-pie hat

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The Independent Online
THE GROOM was outside the churchyard gate when we arrived. I was glad to see he was in his invariable best dress of navy pork-pie hat, navy double-breasted blazer and knee-high, laced brown boots. The only item I had never seen before was the yellow moleskin breeches, tucked into the tops of the boots. As with everything about him, Jonathan knows what suits him and doesn't give a damn if it doesn't suit you. He may be less than half my age, but he has at least twice the personal certainty and moral conviction.

Passing through the churchyard, I was momentarily discomposed to realise that I had known, quite well, every one of the people who have been buried there for the best part of 20 years. A sure indication that you must be getting on is to attend the weddings of your friend's children. Another is the realisation that the graveyard is filling up with their parents and that it won't be long before surviving members of the present congregation are gathered again for a ceremony in which you yourself have a central role, but no lines.

We were ushered into a box pew on the bride's side. Many heads on Jonathan's side were fixed straight ahead, composed in that purse-lipped, suspicious, agricultural sullenness that probably dates from when there was more smuggling on the Suffolk coastline than anywhere else in England and if you spoke out of turn you might get your crops burnt or your horses scared away.

Claire's side was gaudy, loud and kissy. Rubicund Cornish faces, members of her parents' families up for the weekend, mixed with the equally glowing faces of former customers of the pub where Claire's parents, Graham and Jayne, had been the best landlords we ever had. Above and around them hovered that erotic ionosphere of scent and alcohol which hints that a few people might have had a quick one (or each other) before they left home.

While everybody got into place, the organist played tunes such as Bridge Over Troubled Water, keeping a fine tempo and adding some intriguing curlicues. If that sounds like a touch of The Big Chill, the next bit was more like a scene out of Crabbe or Goldsmith. As Claire came in on her father's arm, the organist hit up the first chords of the Cornish song 'Camborne Hill' and the bride and her father roared up the aisle, singing their lungs out on 'Going up Camborne Hill, coming down etc'.

She was wearing a floral headband, a veil and a dress of the most traditional silks. The old man, my good old friend from many a night too long at the bar, was dressed in a fawn jacket over a dark green shirt with a yellow bow tie. In earlier ages, it might have been a white sports coat and a pink carnation.

You will be getting the picture by now: this was a traditional country wedding in which the participants had chosen for themselves every detail they wanted, keeping nothing for the sake of form but observing the rituals precisely where they expressed true feelings and desires. This was the solemnisation of matrimony as an act of dramatic imagination.

The vicar was right in tune with the proceedings. He heartily rang out the admonitions from the Book of Common Prayer about the 'honourable estate . . . not by any to be enterprised nor taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly'; but he left out the awkward part about marriage being ordained 'to avoid fornication, that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry . . .'. Instead, he let them have 'God is love; and those who live in love live in God', which made the adulterers among us feel easier. Then he stepped back and recited, eyes closed, from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran: 'You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days, even in the silent memory of God.'

In his introduction, the vicar had said that many people like the idea of getting married in the Norman church of All Saints in the riverside parish of R because it is so pretty that it has come to figure, increasingly, in period television productions. Few applicants for the privilege, he said, had qualifications to match Claire's, whose parents had kept the only pub for three miles, or Jonathan's, whose family had been farming the surrounding land for three generations.

Jonathan, he said, had only spent 22 days of his life outside the parish, but I think he must have meant 23 weeks because I'm sure the boy went to college, however briefly, in Cirencester. In any case, the Rev was certainly correct in saying that, if these two didn't have the right to plight their troth in All Saints', nobody did; and, emboldened by this declaration of rights, we bellowed out 'Jerusalem' and 'We plough the fields and scatter' like billy-oh. As she was coming down the aisle on her husband's arm, Claire's side started singing 'Little eyes I love you' and Jonathan's lot on the other side chimed in, with a few smiles cracking the alabaster here and there.

Graham being now in the business of erecting marquees, he had provided for his daughter a gigantic erection, rising on the lawns of Jonathan's family farmhouse, in which to conduct the rest of the day. There was a little hitch in the kitchens with the cooking of the new potatoes, so we all had two or three more glasses of wine than we might otherwise have done which allowed some raucous interruptions to be made in the speeches; but Graham was not to be prevented from telling his story about his friend at a wedding, drunkenly trying to get a dance with a ravishing woman in a red dress who turned out to be the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Jonathan told how he met Claire on the school bus when she was 12 and he was 14; and how he kept 'milling around the marshes' where she kept her pony in the hope of seeing her, even going so far as to get and set some rabbit snares there to give him some excuse to get in her way. 'My God,' I thought, 'I've known her longer than he has; and he's known her half his life.'

In the evening, a blues band composed of old hearties of Graham's played Clapton numbers; and I was offered the drums to 'have a blow' on 'Further On Up The Road' and 'Cocaine', but I hadn't had that much to drink. It was all over by 11.30 and we were out in the farmyard, trying to find our cars through the night and a 3in carpet of slimy mud. It was only then that we properly noticed that it had been raining all day. When a wedding goes right, as this one had, it can lift you right out of the drizzle and the mire. All it takes is confidence, taste and a sense of belonging.

Duff Hart-Davis is away.

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