A Wedding in Galle | Part 3

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Drinks on the beach, Weligama, April 2015.

The Wedding Ceremony

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.

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Fish curry on my 40th. The Sun House, April 27th 2015.

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…

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All my girls, out and about in Galle, April 2015.

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.

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Kate and Dicko, rocking the fans!

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.

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Keeping cool in the heat.

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!

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Getting settled in.

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.

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Dress fixed, and looking fabulous with the father-of-the-bride.

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.

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Finding a cool spot!

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.

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Pobby, Bish, me and Joey heading into the fray.

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.

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Yasmin, Jensie and Becks with front seats, whilst Chloe negotiates ID checks for the bride with our registrar.
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A celebrant’s fanning duties are never done!

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.

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Flower girls Hazel and Martha.

The opening bars of “Good Day Sunshine”, courtesy of DJ Chloe, jolted everyone into action.

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Ella, Flo, Martha and Cake
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Bish, Hazel, Sunny, Lulu, Phoebes and me

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.

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Go Teegs!
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Walking out.

Issy looked stunning and was relishing, it was clear, the sensation that things were, once and for all, now underway.

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The Bride has arrived.

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.

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Phoebes, on form!

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.

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Stuck in time, briefly.

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.

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Married!
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Time for a drink?

A Wedding in Galle | Part 2

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Sunrise on our wedding day. The Sun House, Galle.

Friday 3rd January, 2020

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

A Wedding in Galle | Part 1

Sun House
The Sun House, Galle, New Year’s Day, 2020.

New Year’s Day, 2020

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

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This morning’s dawn on our bed-sheet
Glows as it did yesterday.
Summoning into consciousness
A mundane familiar –
Jumbled thoughts,
Whispered finger-tipped
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.

Our Time

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The Sunhouse, Galle. January 3rd, 2020.

Our Time

In jasmine-drenched heat
She tilts to one side
Ever so slightly and catches me
Flush on the cheek
With a knowing smile.

Our toes inches apart
Fingers clasping strange fabrics,
And eighty pairs of eyes
Twinkle
In the fanned breeze.

Afterwards, as newlyweds
We walk together along the drive
Shrouded by a setting crimson orb
As tuk-tuk plumes
Spiral the ocean.

A bygone revelry in sepia form
These months now past,
These days before us stretched out
As lazy afternoon birdsong –
Our new paradigm unfolding.

My night out of Laos

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The Mekong River, Vientiane, 16th March 2020.

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

Back on the road in Laos

With my nose pressed against the airplane window, I watched the sun drop down below grey candy floss clouds earlier this evening. As the turbulence pitched us up and down for a few brief moments, my toes twitched in their socks and the imposed face mask scratched at my cheek.

The fading golden disc of fiery heat closed inwards to a final, gasping dot of colour. I wanted it to come with me, to touch down on the tarmac two miles ahead, walk with me off the sky deck and onto the fusty, carpeted walkway into Vientiane’s arrivals terminal.

I could have pocketed that bright, baby orb of light, as it dwelt for five more seconds over the horizon skirting. But, instead, I blinked and it was gone.

Later, I was stood by the baggage carousel, checking the notes I needed to change at the counter nearby. There was a comforting familiarity in the metallic surfaces around me, the garish advertising and the random assortment of backpackers and silver haired tourists shuffling past.

Who was watching my sun now? I wondered.    Continue reading

Endoman

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Luang Prabang hills, December 2019

Endoman

Blown by the wind I lean in
To each next flailing stride,
Eyes creep up,
Take in the green ‘scape
Running on,
Breathing faster
Chest tightening
Bones cursing
A rhythmic shudder of coarse
Foot planting,
Legs, knees
Stretching up
Lifting higher,
Every sinew clenched,
Fighting for oxygen
With teeth grinding left and right,
Another 100 yards,
– A kilometer even –
Holding on, and holding
Just on,
Around the corner
Forest breeze surfs through my hair
And then, assured, then –
A gear change,
A release between
Then and now and why and how
Becoming stronger,
Fluid, perfectly fluid,
The strokes as if through water,
Over air,
Beyond pain and forward,
Forward, forward.