Issy and me had been ushered from the wedding steps to the registrar’s table, and were blurting out scripted lines of commitment. Our mothers, witnesses, hovered behind us, as Cake (aka “Martyn”) floated into the frame, and handed us two fizzing Proseccos.
The first clink of glasses, not much past 4pm, heralded in the beginning of the next Act.
With Issy still clutching the yellow and white bouquet, organized by her sister Joey, a parade of baked guests streamed past, snapping pictures and pausing momentarily for a congratulatory gesture.
Through the dreamy colonial living room in front of them, a table full of drinks was poised in the courtyard, waiting to be claimed by an increasingly parched cohort of friends and family.
Chloe. Angela and Joey
Jack, Alberto, Tom and Greg
onto drinks in the Sun House courtyard
Sam and Derek
For the next two hours my task was to mingle, be present for the staged photographing of our esteemed group (whilst outfits were still “on point”), cut the 4.5 kilos of wedding cake that Mum had made, flown over from the UK, and iced that morning, as well as – crucially – ensure I didn’t re-hydrate too much from the selection of alcoholic drinks that were now being circulated by the exemplary staff of The Sun House.
Wedding cake all the way from the New Forest!
Issy takes charge
Butler and Dad
Lois, Ella, Mark, Quimby and Andrew
I began venturing through the crowd and ran straight into Butler, who was dancing on the raised corridor which ran around the outside reception. He was as happy as a sand-boy, although very much dancing on his own.
Richie, mercifully, was suddenly by my side, as he’d been “keeping watch” on the man in question – a more lovable pair of rogues you’ll be hard pressed to meet (and hard pushed to out-drink) however today was not going to last much longer for Butler, in spite of his declarations that he was “the best goddamn dancer in Sri Lanka”.
I can’t recall the exchange which then took place between the three of us, other than, mid protestation at me and Richie pointing out to him that he was “maybe peaking a tad early” (even by his standards) Butler excepted – ‘seriously’ – and fairly instantly that he “needed to get home, boys”. To which Richie, not missing a beat, replied “that can be arranged.”
Butler had flown in from Sydney for the occasion, managed an hour (a “solid” one, by all accounts) before being deposited in a tuk by Richie. It transpired, later, that he’d managed to take the wrong mobile phone with him, which set in train some secondary damage control, under-taken by Rich, who duly went off to swap the phones.
The Nichols clan and Francesca
Joey ready for a drink!
Phoebe the fabulous celebrant
Meanwhile, group hydration was well underway, and our second mini ceremony – a Sri Lankan tradition whereby the bride and groom’s little fingers are tied with string, and water poured over them – went off without a hitch.
Traditional Sri Lankan string ceremony
Cake presided over this, supported ably by Flo and Martha (who respectively tied and watered our little fingers) and a legion of young bridesmaids and helpers, fixing white cotton bracelets on all our guests’ wrists (at last count, my father and brother, and Saigon buddies, Lars and Pat, are still wearing theirs, albeit the threads are a shade darker in colour now.)
Sunny and Lulu on string tying duty
Jenson hanging with the Bridesmaids
Rupert and Teegs colour blocking
Irene and Kate
Sue and Rupert
Dad and Gino
Our commitment to carry over one hundred Vietnamese fans from Saigon paid dividends, but soon the sun’s heat started to dip, and the melting shades and light of early dusk hinted to all that our next scene change was drawing closer.
However, a further advantage of this choice was not to have to go overboard on expensive decorations and razzle-dazzle. We liked the whole setting as it was.
From a list of additional wedding day accoutrements, we’d shunned the $600 presence of a live elephant and, instead, gone with tree-lights and the hiring of five local drummers.
As with much of our entire trip to Sri Lanka, there was a cosy vagueness to how the drummers fitted into place on the day. As is typical, however, with the way that much unfolds in Sri Lanka, in the moment itself they ensured a charming and memorable execution of said plan, and exceeded all our expectations.
It was approaching 6pm, the drummers had finished adjusting their costumes, and were limbering up by the front gate.
Issy and me held back, as our entourage snaked behind this affable latest addition to our revelry, and we were “drummed” over to the adjoining House.
Drums, dancing and tuktuks
On the move
This had given Issy time to slip out of her designer dress from Milan, and into an online purchased (never tried on until that week) shimmering gold number, that was about to enjoy its first outing.
We held hands for only the second time of the day and headed after the group, halting en route for a brief episode with a handful of tuk drivers, smoking fragrant cigarettes, as the ocean waves reflected back the crimson setting sun in the distance.
Excitement levels further intensified as we entered the garden of The Dutch House and were introduced formerly to our wedding posse.
The drummers were now in dance formation and lighting large fire batons that they were to then fling around, and inside, their persons.
Donning engorged Sri Lankan masks, they then carried out a sequence of energetic foot stomping and jumping.
Alberto, our Italian brother-in-law, couldn’t contain his urge to join them, and was up on his feet giving his all, dressed to impress as if auditioning for the next James Bond movie.
The drum dance continues
with Alberto adding some Italian moves
As the beats sped up, the first few light touches of rain sprinkled our tables, and some guests took cover under the arches of the House.
A nerve-wracking ten minutes elapsed as I contemplated the scenario of a full downpour, rendering these jovial scenes a total wash-out.
A few drops of rain
Rukman and his men
Makeshift umbrellas were fashioned out of fans and serviettes, but the gods were smiling down on us. As the drummers finished their set, the rain passed, and half our guests then made a bee-line for the dance-floor to enjoy the local DJs’ (“The Lunatics”) opening selection of tunes.
Not long after this we had to formerly announce that the food was being served to the tables, and shepherd guests back to their seats, so dinner could begin.
I hardly ate, having sampled the dishes with Issy back in September when we visited, and experiencing, first-hand, the perils of eating too much Sri Lankan curry!
We knew the food tonight could potentially be some of the best curry available, and we were not let down. Sensational cashew, beetroot, egg-plant and fish curries, and more besides, were complimented with such delights as coconut sambol and paratha breads.
I did a short lap of the tables, to find everyone deep in consultation with their food, along with a few suspect smoke rings blowing off one of the ‘Saigon’ tables (word had got round about the exotic smokes the tuk guys were enjoying.)
The odd phone torch was assisting those on some of the outer (badly lit) tables, as people riffled through the assortment of spices and textures in front of them.
Speeches soon came around, and Mark and Bish delivered eloquent, entertaining and touching tributes, “working the room” considerably well, given the room in question was a wide open outside space, and we weren’t using mics.
Issy and me took turns cantering through a long list of people to thank. Included in which, notably, were “Don Gino” our eldest guest, 80 years old, from Santa Cristina, Italy, who was halfway through his first trip to Asia (and whose sartorial elegance was no match for any of us) and nephew Tom, who was talk of the town, given he’d signed a contract that week to play in goal for AC Milan’s Under 17’s team.
I was hurtling through my final messages and votes of gratitude – in particular, to both our sets of parents, and all those who had done so much to bring this special day to the rising climax which it felt then we were fast approaching – as well as failing miserably on my hydration strategy. It’s hard to recall exactly the words I used, but I enjoyed every second of trying to express myself.
And then, as Cake closed us out with a rendition of John Donne’s The Good-Morrow, The Lunatics flipped on the first dance (“Need You Tonight” by INXS) and Issy and me were running to the dance-floor.
As climaxes go, this one sustained well into the early hours of Friday night.
Any reservations I’d had the previous day, about the health and safety of people tripping on the make-shift dance-floor, were forgotten in the melee. Besides, Rukman and his team had done this before, and tactical mopping was in place whenever things looked too slippery!
I put it to you, on record, that everyone made the most of the opportunity to shed some curry calories. We all danced a lot.
Noteworthy, for posterity, and in no particular order of gay abandon, was:
Anna, tearing her calf muscle after fifteen minutes of what, I can only imagine, was a strong commitment to the dance floor;
Derek laying down characteristic Travolta moves for two solid hours (causing those who’d not had the pleasure of witnessing his unique form before, asking me later in the evening “was that man OK?”) then joining forces with Pat “The Crater” Cartier, whose garish orange trousers appear in almost half of the photographs taken that night, complete with sweaty knees;
and Pat carving up the dance floor
And then Joey’s rhythmic moves being curtailed later on, after being stung on the foot by a “scorpion” (which we concluded, over many gin ‘n’ tonic sessions during the days after, down in Mirissa, might have instead have been a centipede) before having her injury administered to by a member of staff and the simple cleansing powers of a raw onion.
Truth be told, there wasn’t anyone, child, adult – or, indeed, octogenarian – holding back.
Everyone had brought bottles of spirits for nightcaps, but plenty remained unopened.
The Moore clan
Jack and Tom
Ange, Pat, Sadie and me
Difficult to re-create the full happenings in words, however Ejaz’s set sequence below gives you a glimpse of the level of class we collectively executed on the night.
Time plays havoc with one’s sense of reality. As does a healthy mixing of different potent drinks. Later on, I’d lost track of who had left, whether the kids were still swimming or back on the dance-floor or, indeed, fast asleep.
The faithful Rukman was always on hand to smile away any flashes of worry I might have had at that stage. As was the House’s owner, Geoffrey Dobbs, who shared a few wines with us and, I think, enjoyed watching so many people from around the world put so much energy into letting their hair down in his normally tranquil garden.
At around 1:30am the local police arrived to officially close down our party, after a complaint about the noise from a neighbouring hotel owner.
This inspired a ‘last-call’ race to the pool and me, flanked by my two loyal Best Men, attempting to fireman’s lift by brother-in-law, Sam, down the hazardous steps.
We had reached the night’s end, and a more fulsome compliment of indulgence, laughter and love would be hard to conjure up.
As John Donne’s crystallizing prose aptly foretold earlier in the evening:
For love all love of other sights controls, And makes one little room an everywhere
I can’t ever remember being happier, than during the magical hours of that whole day – Issy and me will be forever grateful to everyone who made it so.
Five years ago today I turned forty years old and Issy, the girls, Mum, Dad and me were in Galle, Sri Lanka celebrating. That same morning, Issy had set in motion a series of internet clicks which were to become life defining.
She was searching for a lunch spot, and had found a cheeky little house perched up from Galle Fort, called The Sun House, which had piqued her aesthetically inspired antennae.
One email later, and their management had confirmed that, unfortunately, they were closed for the season but that, actually, they would be happy to open up the House for us, and would lay on a Sri Lankan birthday feast.
Although Martha, nearly four years old at the time, managed to pull off a three hour nap throughout our entire and inaugural experience of The Sun House – awaking long after our fantastic meal had ended – the resulting day-trip was to inspire our wedding ceremony, back in January of this year, at exactly the spot at which we enjoyed the first samplings of their unique fish curry…
Winding back to our wedding day story, it was 3pm, on the first Friday in January of this year, and a steady stream of guests were arriving.
All the mental rehearsing, of the moments about to unfold, were lost in a burst bubble of time. As people spilled into the House, in place of conversation I’d settled, instead, on simply making lots of eye contact, smiling, and offering suitably complimentary noises about the dress, the shirt or the new haircut which was, at that moment, bobbing in front of me in a delicious blur.
Everyone seemed very happy. It felt bit like a scene from a play, although I knew that no one was acting. The gathering of these warm bodies milling about, the hearty chorus of special reunions and overdue embraces, all at this pre-arranged time and date, everyone dressed “fabulously” (as instructed on their invitations) and exuding a collective sigh of contentment, was all scripted, and yet appeared to be happening spontaneously.
We’d already one additional guest, forgetfully left off our table plan, but I was none the wiser, as this preliminary clerical mishap was palmed off to Cake, one of the two Best Men, and on Master-of-Ceremony duties, who added it to his “to-do” list.
I was left to drink in deep the kaleidoscope of colourful fabrics and Vietnamese fans buzzing around me. It was hot, but our guests seemed unperturbed. We were all sweating. All in this together!
As numbers steadily grew, I took a few seconds to freeze-frame the various new groups of soon-to-be-inebriated-on-the-dancefloor friends and family, melding in these early moments of the event. For now, and before the free-flow bar was open, you could still make out the starched creases on some men’s shirts, where an iron had recently passed, appreciate the coiffured hairdos, and the children dressed in thoughtful garb.
Over the preceding six months, the time spent in clothes stores – from Melbourne to Milan to Salisbury – ensuring Flo and Martha’s outfits complimented those of their new Australian nieces (with the eldest, Ella, re-modelling the dress Issy herself had worn at Max and Quimby’s wedding 16 years ago) flashed across my mind’s periphery.
I extended my hand for the latest familiar face bustling into view: it was school buddy Paul (“Butler”) who grabbed and shook it, with a wry look in his face. I knew, from living with this incorrigible Irishman in Battersea, London, for the final two years of the ‘90s, that this meant only one thing: Butler had started on wines early. By early, of course, I mean, Wednesday.
Before I’d had the time to fully consider the magnitude of an already fully-charged Butler, Richie (let’s call him our super-hero protagonist for the next hour) came hurtling across and, as a loyal linebacker blocking his quarter-back, proceeded to escort him somewhere else.
Never a dull moment, I thought to myself, and pressed on to find Chloe who, unbeknownst to her, was about to join Richie on the super-hero docket.
By now, we were missing only a handful of guests, and were minutes away from lift-off. Outside in the garden the seats were almost full, guests were firmly practicing their fan techniques, and a certain friend from Portsea was beginning to regret his choice of absorbent linen shirt.
Not far from here, up a winding flight of stairs, and inside the Cinnamon Suite, Issy was all but ready – with merely the minor detail of her dress being re-stitched by mother-of-the-bride, Pobby.
Below them, Chloe and I met by the Sri Lankan registrar’s table, all of us exchanging grins and fittingly positive sounds, by way of a form of greeting. “We need the bride’s passport, please?” came the request. “OK, yep, I’ll get it,” said Chloe, on auto-pilot, “I’m just sorting out the entrance music,” she flashed back a steely glance of the eyes, and smiled harder than probably necessary.
“Great, thanks, Chloe,” I chipped in, “What did Issy settle on for music?” I asked, rather stupidly, “I’m not 100% sure,” Chloe replied, and turned 180 degrees on her heels and headed back up to find the bride.
I slowly back-tracked from the registrar and out towards the steps, overlooking the garden. Our guests were dotted among the frangipani trees and, beyond them, a multitude of dark green fronds framed the view out to the ocean.
My brother was by my side, having completed another Best Man duty, walking Pobby to her seat. He looked cool, calm and collected, save for the sweat pouring through the back of his jacket.
There was a reassuring twinkle in his eye. We were only waiting for Ange and Greg, and then we’d be at full quota, he reported. And, then, tantalizingly, he smirked “have you seen Paul Butler yet?” I couldn’t but chuckle, before looking away for a distraction. The bridesmaids and Flo, our ring-bearer, were congregating nearby.
Chloe came back into focus behind them. She had Issy’s passport in hand, and an iPhone at the ready. She was tampering with the speaker as I walked back, for a final time, to the courtyard. One last lungful of sticky air, and an appreciation of what was about to unfold.
A screech of tyres echoed through the open front gate, and I saw Ange’s cheerful face emerge – they had scraped in before the game’s opening whistle. Slightly delirious (their tuk had accidentally driven them a good ten miles in the wrong direction) but quick to adapt to the discreet moment of the story-line into which they’d been fortunate enough to stumble, Ange and Greg high-tailed it to the garden.
I followed them in, and was taking my position, as rehearsed with the family the evening before, next to the bridesmaids and our celebrant, Phoebe.
Recently qualified as a celebrant, Phoebe was about to oversee her fourth wedding ceremony. Issy and me couldn’t have been more proud and excited at the prospect.
As an extremely dapper Mark, and his beautiful youngest daughter, with meticulous timing, stepped out – in the wake of Martha and Hazel, who were carefully and proudly dropping handfuls of pink ginger petals on the floor – I looked across at Phoebe and, for the first time that day, felt at ease.
The opening bars of “Good Day Sunshine”, courtesy of DJ Chloe, jolted everyone into action.
Our guests craned forward and arranged their phones, whilst our blessed photographer for the day, the wonderful Teegs, adeptly took up prime position.
Issy and Mark took centre stage.
Issy looked stunning and was relishing, it was clear, the sensation that things were, once and for all, now underway.
Over the next fifteen minutes we basked in the delightful informality and tenderness of Phoebe’s curation of our wedding ceremony.
With only a few clipped, unscripted moments (Issy taking control of a fan to wave the perspiration off Phoebe’s brow; whilst towards the back I could just make out the muffled heckles of Butler, prematurely suggesting “I do” before Richie could suitably gag him!) Phoebe spoke touchingly about our union, and about life.
The sky showed no signs of monsoon raining (as it had done at the same time the previous day) as everyone simultaneously squinted, fanned, and momentarily paused their lives and their conversations.
Time stood still, as Phoebe’s words injected a beautiful and wholesome dose of thoughtfully crafted sentiments into the thick air, and into the respective consciences and imaginations of her audience. I didn’t want it to end.
The moisture had disappeared from my mouth, and my cheeks strained at the sensation of being so happy, of being in love.
I also felt increasingly ready for a drink – as, it transpired relatively soon after we’d exchanged our rings, did a number of our party. Fortunately, we had catered very well for such eventualities.
At last we were wed.
Nine hours of flagrant revelry was about to get properly underway.
I awoke in a bedroom with my daughters around 7:45am. Plans to see the sun up, in my battered pair of runners, were immediately dashed. I’d over-slept and over-indulged the previous evening. My phone pinged. Issy was sending me a photo of the sunrise. She’d made it up in time and had run 10kms. I smiled, and drained the glass of water that had sat patiently waiting, since 2am, for its chance to play a part in the day’s events.
At 3:30pm today, on the steps of The Sun House, and in front of eighty-two people (who had respectively and kindly rearranged their family Christmases and New Year celebrations to be with us) Issy and me would marry.
As I struggled to determine exactly the total number of hours still up for grabs before 3.30pm, and the silence of that moment when Issy and her Dad, Mark, would walk out in front of us all, it felt increasingly inefficient to remain in bed. I swung round and left the house, blinking hard as the garden colours came into focus. Continue reading →
It was lunchtime, a Wednesday, and my shirt clung with sweat to my back, as I slid out of the tuk, grinning at Issy, who eased open the battered green and white door of The Sun House. We were marrying here in two days’ time, and were overdue a meeting with the venue’s manager, Rukman.
There are seven ground floor bedrooms at The Sun House, a main living area divided into two open plan rooms, a side cocktail bar next to the office, an expansive but simple kitchen, and then an eighth upstairs suite, which runs the length of the two living rooms below it.
Exploring these spaces – connected as they are by an outside courtyard, a tiered lawn running down to a small plunge pool, and a sleepy south facing terrace – is to explore one’s own sense of illusion and imagination. Sat afterwards, replete and surrounded by a century’s worth of books, in the pleasant cushioned recesses of one of the House’s regal green sofas is, in many ways, an event in itself. Continue reading →
This morning’s dawn on our bed-sheet
Glows as it did yesterday.
Summoning into consciousness
A mundane familiar –
Touches, stretched out limbs.
Nothing here lies
In deference to a higher code,
Nor to a haunting pandemonium.
Through our window yellow sunbeams taunt
And pierce translucent bowing fronds,
Blinking time into place.
In steeped Earl Grey,
A soothing balm – a Blessed relief! –
Nothing here pretends
Any difference need unfold,
Nor mask that which matters most
In each wondrous, sentimental stroke
Of this morning’s dawn.
36 hours ago, after a day long workshop, and as part of a consultancy assignment for CARE in Laos, I had planned to visit my colleague and friend, Tanya, and her young family, for dinner. I’d a bottle of wine at the ready and Tanya was making chicken kiev. But it didn’t quite go to plan…
I always knew that taking a flight out of Vietnam, in these times of Covid-related travel restrictions, would be taking a calculated risk. However, this week I was to be headed to Laos – a neighbouring country with zero Covid cases reported, and I was in possession of the requisite existing Vietnam visa to get me back in.
So, my risk was indeed a well calculated one but, in truth, I was also too motivated to deliver the 3 day workshop for which I’d been hired to now cancel. My last occasion outside of Saigon on assignment was back in November.
I touched down in Laos on Sunday night and arrived at the office the following morning. The day came and went, a safety and security briefing, meeting the team, and preparing for the our time together. I took myself out that evening in Vientiane and enjoyed the fresh new surrounds. Continue reading →