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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
We’d chosen to marry at The Sun House, and host our wedding dinner next door at The Dutch House, for largely sentimental reasons.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
******************* THE END ********************