Have you ever found yourself in that awkward position of being invited to a wedding, but not actually being invited to it? You know the story, you come downstairs and poking out in-between the bills on the door mat is an expensive hand-addressed envelope. You eagerly peel it open as you would a well-made bed in a posh hotel, and peek inside to see the acres of lovely cream crimped sheets within. Shiny gold italics and embossed bells come flashing out at you, mingling with the smell of unnecessarily overpriced stationary. Obviously excited, your first thoughts are, “ooh, how nice, Derrick and Donna* (whoever they are) have invited us to their wedding”, only to be dashed as you reach the glittering small print:
Evening reception only, 7pm onwards
“The Bastards! Who are they anyway?”
“You remember them? You met them at Primary School/ Lanzarote / Happy hour last Friday.”
“Well, if they’re not prepared to fork out 15 quid a head for me (including a glass of red or white and a top up) then I’m not going.”
Later however, you are convinced that you might miss out on something scandalous occurring, as almost everyone you have ever never met will be there, and Donna’s family are known to be a bit wild. You agree graciously to go, even if it is only as a +1 to an ‘Evening reception’ invitation. An RSVP is sent.
Eventually when your pre-prescribed time on the big day arrives; having got completely lost (as the directions that were sent were from the Church not from the motorway), you have to park at the arse end of a packed hotel car park in the middle of nowhere, and walk half a mile to reception. Where you find yourself standing like a stranded hitchhiker, dripping sweat onto the confetti choked coir matting unsuccessfully trying to flag down a passing waitress. Eventually managing to question an exhausted and harassed girl racing through carrying a sticky tray upon which is balanced a Grand Marnier (poured from a dusty bottle and destined for a dusty Great Aunt), whether this is the right place for the Derrick and Donna wedding. Clearly annoyed that the evening guests are arriving on time; unfortunately (as they always seem to do) the reception is running a little late, she concurs and points with a pale gravy stained elbow towards the end of a long cul-de-sac of a corridor where you can wait, out of sight, without getting in the way, or spoiling the big day for everyone.
Walking past the heavy closed doors of the grandly named Windsor Suite, you can make out the sound of the delicate clink of cutlery upon china, as hundreds of spoons make short work of the three profiteroles before them; the murmurs of polite, inane, slurred conversations between strangers and over cruets almost drown out the crying of babies as they are cooed, patted and rocked on damp shoulders.
You patiently sit in the cul-de-sac, as instructed, amongst others who you suspect may also be “Evening reception only” invitees, carefully avoiding each other’s gaze, as you try to wonder what better efforts you could have made to befriend Derrick and Donna so as to have been elevated to Windsor Suite status. This place you have been secreted in is one of those anomalies of hotels, a place of almost no-return, where old plastic palms and tattered wicker sofas are sent in their retirement, never to see the grandeur of the lounge room again. A place where drunken couples stomp into for an argument sneaking out hours later having made up spectacularly; and where evening only reception guests patiently wait to be admitted into the candlelit, air-conditioned wedding breakfast sanctuary of the Windsor Suite.
From this vantage point of no man’s land you can occasionally see a happy wedding guest staggering out of the hall of glittering delights, looking for a toilet or a cigarette, or both. Laughter and half conversations escape with them like air from a balloon, only to be silenced as the door swings shut. The muffled pavlovian sound of a dirty side knife being tapped against a cheap wine glass silences the room, signifying the start of the end and as an old man coughs in preparation for “The proudest moment of his life” two hundred eyes silently half close, as you know and they know, you are all in for a long wait. You can’t sneak in and loiter at the back to listen, that is unheard of and would ruin the whole day. It is time to hunt down the only member of staff not sat outside smoking and drinking stolen wine, and buy a warm, flat overpriced pint of Fosters, and get drunk.
Eventually the spell is broken, the doors propped open and the guests and secrets come flooding out. The speeches are over, the laughter subsided, the tears wiped and the cava consumed. The baggy eyed parents of tired red faced babies make their way to their cars in order to argue all the way home, bridesmaids scurry off for a crafty snog out the back and best men and ushers congratulate themselves for a job well done, groaning whilst removing ties, undoing buttons and releasing belts. The top table is swarmed with kisses and idolatry as cake and small children are trodden into the carpet.
Unseen by all, the second-string guests begin to appear on the side-lines, peaking through doorways at the aftermath of “a bloody good do” eager to get stuck in and show their worth. Nervous, like half time substitutes, on a muddy Sunday afternoon they stand out glaringly obvious in their smart/casual attire against the well-worn suits and dresses of a church service/wedding breakfast. This second tier, they are all fresh faced, naïve as to the mysteries that have unfolded earlier, their cheeks aren’t glowing from the bucks fizz on arrival, their stomachs not aching from the best man’s hilarious routine and they aren’t making small talk with Uncle Donald about his accident with the soup. They stand back, awkward, trying to get a foothold on the party without appearing too eager. By half past nine of course none of this matters, four-non-blondes are “HEY, Heying” all over the place, fish and chips in cute little newspaper cones are being distributed and the party is all one, all class divisions forgotten, all invitations equal.
Well it’s kind of a strange analogy, but this is the only way that I have found to describe my current circumstances. I’ve arrived at the wedding late, and was only invited, as a +1 anyway, but I had a work thing on in Africa or something during the day, and now I’m here in Asia, in Yangon, in Myanmar, for the evening do, having missed the wedding, and the wedding breakfast. And it’s that awkward stage between the day and evening events. I’ve hung around in the cul-de-sac, and listened to the noise from the outside, and then when finally I’ve made it to the inner air-conditioned, candle-lit sanctuary of the wedding I find myself ever so slightly out of touch.
I missed the wedding speakers so I don’t quite get the jokes, I haven’t sat around the carefully planned tables with strangers and I’ve not met the more obscure members of the family nor heard their amusing stories.
So I am wandering around the Windsor suite, stepping over burst balloons and dirty napkins, observing the detritus of what has gone before but I’m not yet a part of it. And I find myself sat at the back, picking away at a left over cheese board, trying to chat to passers-by whilst everyone gets themselves ready for the evening do, and I don’t really know anyone, and so I sit and listen to their in-jokes and conversations without understanding them. I am the comer in, and at the moment it’s fairly obvious, and through no fault of my own I find I am the second string, the ‘evening reception only’ invitee.
Still I know it’s only early, the waiting-on staff are still clearing the coffee cups, the DJ is still putting his lights up and the grandma’s are still a few sherries away from their beds. In a few hours we’ll all be one, the wedding guests and the comers in, eventually…
All class divisions forgotten, all invitations equal…
*(apologies to any real Derrick and Donna’s)