Miracle of the wedding wine


I HAVE already described here the simple ceremony which marked my marriage to Margaret 32 years ago. My first wedding was a more lavish affair.

Although she had been brought up in the Salvation Army, my young bride had set her heart on a church ceremony which was why, on a freezing January morning in 1982, I found myself with best man and ushers shivering outside St Wilfrid’s in Standish as we awaited her arrival. All I remember about the service is that, having fortified myself in the pub across the road, I was dying for a pee throughout.

A reception for 60 guests was held at a nearby hotel. My new father-in-law Bernard, a teetotal former Sally Army officer, informed me that he had ordered nine bottles of champagne and nine of white wine to go with the meal – ‘that should be plenty, I think’.

Bearing in mind the endless thirst of my own family and friends, I buttonholed the hotel manager and told him to keep the wine flowing – I would pay the difference. At the end of the meal he discreetly presented me with the bill for an additional 40 bottles.

Later Bernard remarked to me: ‘I thought the wine lasted out very well.’

The omens for the marriage were not propitious. We had planned a three-week honeymoon in Barbados flying with Freddie Laker’s budget airline. A few weeks before the wedding, Laker Airways went bust.

Desperate to find some winter sun at short notice, I booked a holiday in Sierra Leone, West Africa, with the travel firm Kuoni and duly applied for visas. With seven days to go to the ceremony, these had still not arrived. I contacted Kuoni and their representative asked me what profession I had stated on my application form. When I said ‘journalist’ he replied: ‘Ah, that’s why.’ He explained that there were elections coming up in Sierra Leone and there would probably be a fair number of political killings, so the last thing the government would want was some nosy hack from England hanging around asking awkward questions. ‘We’d better give you your money back.’

With the wedding drawing ever closer, and still honeymoonless, I visited a travel agent in Manchester before my last day at work as a single man. The hopeless bird behind the counter could offer me only two options, the first of which was in Mallorca, which she pronounced as Mah-lorca. ‘Don’t you mean Majorca?’ I asked. ‘No, this is a different place,’ she insisted.

The alternative was two weeks in Albufeira, which I booked in desperation on the promise that the weather would be ‘beautiful’ on the Algarve in January.

For my stag night, I arranged a visit to the Strawbury Duck in Entwistle, a country boozer which had a wide selection of real ales promising the equivalent of a pub crawl without leaving the building. My party arrived by minibus to be told that the access road had only just been reopened after two weeks snowed in and there had been no beer deliveries in that time. Every pint we tried was sour and undrinkable. A miserable time was had by all.

Come the honeymoon, bride and groom arrived to find bitter Atlantic winds blowing sleet across the Portuguese coast. These persisted for almost the entire fortnight. The hotel placed us at a table with a Dutch family who were hostile, rude and had unspeakable manners. The food was poor and most of the town’s restaurants were closed for the winter. Joy unconfined.

I don’t know what Albufeira is like now because I’ve never been back, but 41 years ago there was dog dirt everywhere with no suggestion of owners picking up after their pets. This was to provide the highlight of the trip.

On the only sunny afternoon of our stay, we were sitting on our balcony when we spotted the Dutch party on the promenade below. They had a toddler with them in a party dress who had obviously just learned to walk and was very proud of herself. Her grandfather stood about ten yards away and held out his arms beckoning her to join him. As she tottered in his direction he suddenly realised there was an enormous turd in the way and cried out for her to stop. It was too late. She landed smack dab in the middle of it, crap spraying her legs and clothes. The old geezer tried to pick up the bemerded tot and promptly vomited all over her. Tee hee! What’s Dutch for schadenfreude?

That incident almost made the honeymoon worthwhile. Almost, but not quite.

Cheese at fourpence

More than a year ago I wrote here about some of my late mother’s favourite sayings. Since then a couple more have occurred to me. The first is ‘standing around like cheese at fourpence’, meaning waiting idly while someone else wastes your precious time. This made several appearances on Coronation Street  in my youth and for all I know still does, not having watched it for 30 years or more.

The phrase originated in the mill towns of Lancashire, when cheese would be on display in the windows of corner shops. The normal price would be threepence a pound (we are talking a long time ago) but premium-quality cheese would be labelled fourpence. Nobody deemed it worth the extra money so it languished in its place until it went blue around the edges and had to be thrown away. I shall extol the virtues of Lancashire cheese in all its varieties in a future column.

Another Patricia Ashworthism would be levelled at someone who was blocking her view of a film screen or sporting event. ‘Hoy!’ she’d say. ‘You’d make a better door than a window.’

Old jokes’ home

A white horse walks into a pub and orders a pint of bitter. The landlord says: ‘That’s funny, I’ve got bottles of whisky named after you.’ ‘What?’ replies the horse. ‘Eric?’

A PS from PG

‘Work, the what’s-its-name of the thingummy and the thing-um-a-bob of the what d’you-call-it.’

PG Wodehouse: Psmith, Journalist

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