When the Dearly Beloved are gathered, I eventually get the nod and play in the bride & groom with an instrumental version of Here Comes The Sun. No one is giving anyone away here, Mr & Mrs M walk down the aisle together. This is, it’s fair to say, mostly a non-traditional wedding. The couple have kept the traditions they like, and discarded those they don’t.
The weather is perfect: the sun is out, and it’s warm, but there’s just a little cloud cover giving some respite, so it’s not crazy hot. As the Official Wedding Guitarist, I’ve been set up at the top of a sloping lawn, at the bottom of which the ceremony will take place. The Wedding DJ has set me up with a mic and amp and given me a quick sound check. The family have decorated the venue, and it’s all looking lush.
I make it round the intro, a verse and a chorus, before getting the “shut it” nod from the Wedding Planner (if that is her real name). The celebrant gives the legal definition of marriage under Australian law (“between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others”) – followed by a declaration that the couple believe in marriage equality.
They’ve written their own vows, and these are delivered together, like MCs doing a back-and-forth thing. Like Beastie Boys, or one of them lot. I can’t see their faces, and it is a bit weird to be perched on a hill overlooking the whole thing. I sing First Day Of My Life as the register is signed, and I’m pretty pleased with it. At the end, Mr & Mrs M (now officially) leave the ceremony to my instrumental version of Rebel, Rebel.
That’s my work done, so I relax and meet the family and friends, drink fizzy alcohol and enjoy the sunshine. And start the long process of eating my own bodyweight in cheese and deli meats. There’s games on the lawn and food on the patio. This whole thing is great, we should do this every day. Inside, the speeches are on – again, generally following a traditional set-up, but without all the patriarchal stuff. So the father of the groom starts then introduces the mother of the bride, who apologises for her English (which is very good) – and then gives a heart-warming speech which gets a big cheer – and makes everyone laugh. In her second language. She actually punches the air at the end. Mrs M’s mum is a wee bit crazy and very likeable, like most people’s Mums.
(“Live your dreams – like me and Rudy!”)
After dinner, the last speech: Mr & Mrs M – again, together. They tell the story of how they met and got together, and it’s funny and quite beautiful. Long story short: she thought he was gay. Hilarity ensued…and then the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud grounded all flights in the northern hemisphere, significantly extending her stay in London. And here we are in Australia.
At our table, I discuss (my limited knowledge of) the Glencoe massacre with St from NZ, because he has Scottish roots – specifically, from the Campbell clan. He is dimly aware of some kind of ancestral shame, possibly collaboration with the English. I quickly upgrade that to Massacre Of Fellow Highlanders, thanks to my education on the subject, which comes entirely from a song my parents used to sing about it. Folk education, yo.
I know, I’m great at a party.
After dinner, it’s dancing, of course. The couple cut the cake (a huge, delicious, multi-tiered affair, made by the groom’s brother) and then their first dance is The Time Is Now by Moloko. Either they’ve danced to this a lot before, or they’ve worked out a kind of routine. Nah, it’s both too cool and not cool enough to be a fully planned thing. I think. Either way, it’s all good fun. And then everyone’s getting up as aunties and uncles drag tables out of the way and it’s ON: party time. E-girl and I dance a couple of jives and get a few Whoops from the crowd, who are too polite to notice/care that I only know the one move.
Mr M is from a big family, so there are dozens of cousins on the dance floor. It gets pretty racy at times, and we’re not sure who is related and who is not. There are some top moves going down though. We’ve changed out of our smart gear for this portion of the evening: the superslimfit shirt I’d been in would’ve ended up like David Banner’s shirt, but without all the muscles underneath it, just a beer gut full of pizza and buffet food forcing its way through. (We’ve been on holiday for a week already, eating for Great Britain (and doing it proud) and drinking our way round Sydney.
I have a good chat with Mr M’s brother M (let’s call him Double M). And then I get cornered by a couple of cousins who are, it’s fair to say, LOUD. One is a football fan, and feigns hatred toward me when he hears I’m from Bristol. Because he supports Chelsea (!) and thinks that Bristol is in West London (!) and that therefore whichever team I support must be a rival. He compounds this ignorance (in trying to correct himself) with the even more offensive assumption that I support Bristol City. Which is obviously unforfuckinggiveable.
I’ll call him John, because I think that’s his name. (It’s not, I will discover in time. I also learn later, from Double M, that “John” is a professional footballer, as are other family members, as was Mr M – but that in Australia, it’s not that big a deal, because most people don’t care about football and the standard is low. Still, I was impressed. At first.) He is from the Maltese side of Mr M’s large, half-Italian, half-Maltese/Australian family, who are, if not larger than life, probably about the same size – and great fun at a party – as you might expect, you racist.
“John” initiates our conversation by hilariously pretending to steal my beer, which I hold onto as he turns back to me, smiling widely. Yes, I’ve met this type before. Well, we all have, haven’t we – if we ever went to school, or a pub.
Anyway, ignorance of UK geography/football aside, the cousins are nice enough, and we all have a laugh. If you can’t have a laugh, where are you? (West London? Yeah. Take THAT, Chelsea.)
Everyone asks what we/I think of Australia, and I tell them it’s great so far, and what a beautiful place this is. “John” asks what I think of Australians, and tells me: “we’re wankers – people from Sydney are wankers!”
I smile what I imagine is a polite smile, because I don’t know how else to respond. “John” will later repeat this claim to Double M:“John” Australians are wankers!
Double M No, we’re not.
“John” I am!
Double M Yeah, but you’re Maltese.
Then Mr & Mrs get a special present from E-girl, and look shocked and delighted to see themselves immortalised in cloth…
And then, later, after more dancing and merriment, the perfect wedding gets better.
Someone asks if we’ve seen the night sky, and suggests we should check it out. So we go outside.
There is light pollution in every city, of course. And there are differences in what can be seen in the northern and southern hemispheres, in terms of what’s there and how much of it you can see and what way up it is.
But I was not prepared for a view this spectacular.
STARE AT THE FAINTEST STAR, EARTHLING, AND IMAGINE HOW TINY YOU ARE.
The longer one looks at a sky like this, the more one can see. We look long enough to get neck cramps from holding our heads back. Starry, Starry Night…
There are way more stars than I’ve ever seen in one go; the hall behind us where all the partying has been is the only electric light for miles around. The lawn opens up and there is a panorama to see. The stars aren’t really twinkly, they have a different kind of ineffable shine quality to them. The whole scene is absolutely stunning and we just look at it for ages and ages and make the most of it. I think I see a shooting star, but I’m not sure because I don’t think I’ve seen one before. I feel small, but connected to the stars, the atmosphere, the people with me.
I don’t usually like to be distracted by trying to take pictures of a scene like this, usually preferring just to experience it in the atmosphere without trying to capture something of it to take it away, out of its moment…..but I will probably never see it again. So I think it’s worth a try, and the results really capture the magnificence of the scene:
It’s been magical.
Thanks, Mr & Mrs M. And everyone else.
Tomorrow we will be chilling/arsing about on a massive, deserted, pristine beach and getting dumped on our arses by huge waves, having a right good laugh. Now, hearing cicadas in the area, looking at the Southern Cross, I feel a long way from home. Because I am. When we get back to our own cottage, I step out onto the porch for one last look.
We are the last of the Wedding Party to go to bed.
Aaaaannndd…..another hangover. It’s the good kind, mind; the kind where you’ve had a once-in-a-lifetime experience which has involved – but not revolved around – plenty of alcohol and a late night.
We need to check out by 11 for the Wedding Brunch, which isn’t too hard for me, at least. E-girl struggles a wee bit but we make it to brunch and find everyone already there.
“John” says a polite and friendly Goodbye after we eat a mountain of leftover cheese, meat and cake, and he is nice when sober. I say we will tell everyone in England that Aussies are nice and friendly.
“Yeah”, he replies, “lie!"
There’s loads of stuff to move out (they’ve done all the decorations and flowers themselves, so I do what I always do in these situations: stand around like a spare prick, occasionally offering help, which is mostly politely declined. There’s plenty of family around to help, and when I try to join in, I mostly have to ask everyone what to do with the pile of stuff I’ve picked up.
Eventually, we’re ready to go – Double M takes me and E-girl, and us and a couple of other cars full head to the beach nearby. Which is great, because it’s scorching hot in the midday sun. This might be our only chance to go to a non-city beach, and these are the proper Aussie beaches: deserted, expansive, beautiful, and with massive waves. We are still near Bawley Point, and we have chosen well; this is glorious. I’m not much of a beach fan, but when it’s like this I’ll happily while away an afternoon. It’s fun once in a while.
We check out the rock pools, where the water is warm and there are loads of small crabs. The ocean is cool, but not cold, and the current is strong. So I follow the lead of the locals – I’ve been warned not to go too far out, as it’s easy to get carried away (story of my life…).
The waves do throw me about a bit, sometimes taking me by surprise, the cheeky bastards. I haven’t done this for years, and probably never with waves this big or strong. I try to go with the flow, you know the way people do, swimming away from the wave to catch it and get carried – but get unceremoniously dumped on my arse a couple of times. I haven’t done this for years, and don’t really have the knack – and these are not the waves I’ve been used to in Devon or Cornwall. It’s a good laugh, but I admit defeat as a last wave sucks me in and burps me out, chucking me violently under and down, with my eyes full of salt water. OK, Australia, you’ve won this round...
Back on the beach, it’s chilltime with Mr & Mrs M, and the others. It’s more like heattime though; we’re out in the direct sunlight for a while, and it is full on. The breeze makes it a bit more comfortable, and is the main reason I don’t notice how badly burned I’m getting in patches.
There’s an inlet at the top of the slope of the beach, and the water looks the colour of copper. Or raw sewage. It’s very dark blue in other places. We’re told it’s the iron oxide that gives this water – and most of the land of Oz – its red hue.
Apparently, this is an outlet that may run into the sea when the tide comes up to cover the slope we’re sat on. Mr M recalls a time when locals in Sydney dug a channel for such an outlet to drain the wetland. Then he steps back and observes his Machiavellian plan as it’s put into action by others.
Before long, a couple of guys are digging such a channel with their hands, while other dudes stand around it, discussing the best way to construct this thing, critiquing the efforts of those on their hands and knees pushing sand around. (Men! What are they liiiiiiiiiike?!)
Eventually, someone thinks to ask: “Why are we doing this?”
Mr M replies that, basically, it would just drain the wetlands and ruin the ecosystem. Someone counters that this happens naturally anyway, when the tide comes in. And the debate continues.
Mark The ancient Egyptians worked out that a slope needs to be 33° for water to flow down…
Adrian Shut up, Mark.
Eventually, sense prevails and the Ditch of Destruction is itself destroyed, before its awesome power can be unleashed on an innocent and unsuspecting ecosystem. On the way back to the car, I watch a couple of horses frolicking in the orange/dark blue iron oxide/indigo water, and rolling in the sand. Horses are the same in Australia as they are in Britain.
We say our Goodbyes and head back to Sydney with Double M.
Mark I’ll go through the mountains, they haven’t seen them.
Adrian Mark, they’re from the UK, they’ve seen fuckin mountains. Take the coastal route.
Families are weird and wonderful things. Even here in the Land Of Oz.
They’re just like us out here, you know…