A White Wedding
Stan Barstow was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1928, the son of a coal-miner. After finishing grammar school he entered the drawing office of an engineering firm. Seven years later he moved to a similar position with another company, then transferred to the sales department.
A Kind, of Loving is Barstow's first published novel. It came out in 1960. Since then he has written two more novels, Ask Me Tomorrow (1962) and The Watchers on the Shore (1966).
The novel A Kind of Loving describes a young man's physical infatuation with a girl he does not love and his stj-uggle to find an honest and honourable solution. The story, is told in the vernacular of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and people and places are described with honesty and great realism.
The following extract describes the wedding of Chris, the sister of the hero of the novel, Victor Brown, and casts some light on the customs related to weddings as observed in a working class family.
In working class families weddings are generally celebrated as lavishly as possible. The life of the workers is still for the most part very drab, and it is felt that at least this one occasion should have some semblance of glamour about it. No one is left out of the celebrations: aunts and uncles, distant cousins and friends, all will be there to enjoy the wedding, and it will long be remembered by all concerned.
The wedding was about the only thing anybody had been talking about at home for the last six months - ever since Chris and David came right out into the open and bought the ring [...]. I'd never been involved in a wedding before and I have to admit it's what you might call an experience.
There's about five hundred people staying overnight before the day, to begin with. [...] I think I've never seen so many strange faces and the surprising thing is they're mostly relatives of mine. Or they're supposed to be. I wonder where on earth the Old Lady's* dug them all up from and I don't think even she knows them all for sure. [...] I've spent the night on the front-room sofa and the last four or five hours hanging about trying to get into the bathroom. [...] Being in a bit of a flap I forget to shoot the bolt behind me and it doesn't improve my temper when the door flies open and young Dorothy and Angela catch me without pants. This amuses them no end and I wonder if I can't arrange to fall downstairs and break a leg and give them a real laugh. A couple of proper horrors, Dorothy and Angela, twins, belonging to Auntie Agnes, one of my mother's sisters. I know the Old Lady can't abide them and she only had Chris ask them to be bridesmaids because she didn't want to get across Auntie Agnes who's one of them sensitive types who go through life looking for any offence left lying about for the taking. I've only had one glimpse of Chris as she nipped across the landing and from the tight little smile she gives me when I make a crack that's supposed to be cheerful I guess she won't be sorry when it's all over and she's with David on the 3.45 to the Great Metropolis. [...]**
* (Old Lady, Old Man (also, Old Feller = Old Fellow - in the same extract) - (coll.) Mother, Father.)
** (the Great Metropolis - (here) London.)
Then I hear the Old Lady shouting from the bottom of the stairs, "Victor! Are y'there, Victor? The taxi's waiting. Hurry yourself up for you'll have us all late. You know we've no time to spare."
I know we haven't because I've planned the calls. [...] I stop in front of the hallstand to run my comb through my hair. "You'll do, you'll do," the Old Lady says. "It's not you 'at's getting married."
* (catch me - (coll.) catch me doing it, i.e. I'm not so foolish as to do it.)
"One of 'em will one o' these fine days." [...]
I cock a wary eye at her. Is she after marrying me off next? The wedding bug must have bitten deeper than I thought. [...]
I pull my jacket down and straighten my tie. "Well I'm ready. Where's our Jim?"
"He's in the front room. He's been ready a good half-hour." [...]
I reach past somebody and touch his knee. "C'mon, Einstein."*
* (Einstein - Albert Einstein (1879-1955), a German-born American physicist, famous for his theory of relativity; Victor calls his brother "Einstein" because the latter takes his studies seriously and is continuously reading something.)
He gets up, thin, fifteen years old and too tall for his age, and marks the place in his book and follows me out. [...]
"Auntie Miriam first," I give the driver the address and I get into the taxi. Jim opens his book and retires again; but I can't afford to; I've got a lot to do before eleven and I hope Geoff Lister, my cousin, who's looking after the other taxi, keeps his end going as well. I check the list for the umpteenth time, wondering if we can get them all there on time. It's a tight list and I'm proud of that because I'm saving David's money by having one less car than they thought. But it makes no allowance for lost time, so I'm hoping everybody's ready and waiting.
Anyway, we make the first call and pick up Auntie Miriam and Uncle Horace, who aren't very important and won't have to mind being first and having to hang about at the church half the morning. I drop Jim off with them and give him his orders.
"Now get your nose out of that book and watch what you're doing. You show the bride's guests to the left and the groom's to the right. Okay?"
"It's all so complicated," Jim says. "You should have put somebody more intelligent on the job."
"You're all we could spare, so watch what you're doing or it's a clip on the ear."
"Bribery will get you nowhere," Jim says, and I have to laugh because he's a real wag at times.
At a quarter to eleven prompt, like I planned, we leave the church for the last trip - home for Chris and the Old Man. All without a hitch, I'm thinking pleased with myself. [...]
And just after this it happens. We swing round a corner and there's this dirty great piece of broken milk bottle lying jagged edge up in the road. There's a crack like a gun going off and bumping as the front offside tyre goes flat. The taxi swerves off the road across the pavement and stops with its front end up the bank. The driver lets it roll back on to the road and then we both get out and look at the damage. He pushes his cap back, bending down with his hands on his knees, and whistles.
"Now what?" I say. And everything's rushing into my mind at once: Chris and the Old Man waiting at home, the church full and no bride, and the Old Lady getting more ratty every second that goes by.
"It's bad," the driver says.
"I've noticed that," I tell him. "It's ten to eleven, what do we do?"
"Change t'wheel," he says. "There's nowt else for it." [...] It's just after eleven when we get the car moving again, and nearly ten past by the time we pull up at our gates.
The Old Man's on the front step with his hand over his eyes like a sailor up in a crow's nest looking for land. "Where the hammer have you been?"* he says with panic in his voice. "We're late."
* ("Where the hammer have you been?" - (coll), where the devil/the hell..., where on earth...)
I'm tempted for a second to give him a cheeky answer, like we've called for a drink or something, but I see he's worried out of his wits so I just show him my dirty hands and tell him we've had a puncture. Chris comes out meantime and though she's got a coat on over her frock it doesn't hide that she looks a real picture, just like somebody in one of them glossy women's mags.
"You'll knock 'em sideways," I tell her, "You'll knock 'em for six."*
* ("You'll knock 'em for six." - (si.) (the expression is from cricket) you'll be a great success, they'll be overwhelmed by your beauty.)
Well, once they begin it doesn't seem to matter that Chris was late. After all it'll give her and David something to laugh about later on. I slip her coat off for her and stay at the back where I can get out first when it's all over. The organ switches from this soft background music it's been playing and starts on the wedding march, booming out and filling the church. There's a shuffle as all the guests stand up and Chris and the Old Man, with Dotty and Mangy behind, start down the aisle to where the vicar and David and his best man are waiting for them. A real picture Chris looks, all in white, and her hair shining under this little cap of net and flowers. Chris's hair is a sort of reddy brown like the Old Lady's was when she was young, but Jim and I are both dark like the Old Man. There's a bit of a lopsided look about the congregation because our family's out in force and David has no family, just the few friends he's made since he came to Cressley.
The organ stops and there's dead quiet for a minute. Then the vicar chimes up. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony..."
I'm real happy for them; I really am; because David's a good bloke and he's getting a real gem in Chris.
Outside the church, when it's over, the photographers get busy, both the amateur and the bod* paid for the job. We get them to make it snappy because it's too cold to hang about. Then I slip the coat round Chris's shoulders and let my cousin Geoff take her and David to the reception and 1 follow on behind with the Old Lady and the Old Feller. We drive away leaving confetti in the snow and the deep puddles in the gutters.
* (bod - (si.) a man, a chap.)
The Old Man seems restless in the back seat, as though be's lost something, and the Old Lady says to him, "What you seekin'?"
"I'm lookin' for me speech," the Old Feller says, rummaging through his pockets, "I had it when I -"
"Your speech?" the Old Lady says, and this is the first I've heard of it as well.
"Aye. I've jotted a few points down on a bit o' paper but 1 can t find it ... Ho'd on, here it is."
"I hope you're not goin' to show us all up," the Old Lady says. "All you need do is tell them we're pleased to see 'em and thank 'em for cornin'. That's all. No need to get on ramblin' all round the houses."
"It wa' your idea to have t' reception in t'best hotel in Cressley," the Old Man says, "so we'll have to come up to scratch. Who ever heard of a posh weddin' wi'out speeches? If you'd had t'bandroom like I wanted you to I might not ha' got on me feet at all."
"T'bandroom," the Old Lady snorts. "Alius on t'cheap. D'you mean to tell me you begrudge your own daughter - your only daughter - a decent send-off to her married life?" "There's a difference between a decent send-off an' a Society do," the Old Feller says. "I'm nobbut a collier, y'know, not a mill-owner."
"An' you don't let anybody forget it ... Anyway, we've had all this out before," I think the Old Lady's just cottoned on that the glass partition's open and the driver's taking all in and having a quiet smile about it.
"Aye, we have," the Old Man says.
"An'we decided that the Craven Arms was the best place." "Aye, we did," the Old Man says.
I know the driver's not the only one laughing but the Old Lady can't see this, not being one of the quickest to see a joke.
"An' if it bothers you just remember 'at you've no more daughters an' t'next wedding in the family somebody else'll pay for."
"Ah!" the Old Man says.
When Chris and David go off to catch their train a lot of the guests go home, because the wedding's officially over like. But some of them, the closest family and friends, come back to our house. [...] There's a lot of these people come back with us and we have to borrow some chairs from the neighbours for them to sit on; but this doesn't help much because then out of common politeness we have to invite the neighbours in as well, them that haven't already been to the wedding that is. The Old Lady says she's never seen the house as full since her father's funeral. But this is no funeral. They haven't had a get-together like this in years and they're out to make the best of it and bury all the family differences.
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