This is my favourite image of our daughter Olivia's marriage to the fine young Tomasz Grabowski in eastern Poland, an hour from Lublin. The musicians came from Warsaw and stayed two days.
So our big fat Polish wedding was the antidote to the heavily orchestrated, anxiety-laden, cosmically expensive affair that we are so used to these days. The party started with our coach crash, fifteen minutes after I had collected fifty English guests from the airport. Nobody was hurt or badly shaken and we adjourned to a bar whilst a replacement arrived. Not your usual kind of icebreaker, it has to be said. (That's the hapless Mercedes owner in the apricot shirt. What a gentleman, he never uttered a word of reproof after we comprehensively ruined his day.)
Olivia and Tom live in London but she was insistent they should go to his family for the wedding. They arrived a fortnight beforehand and set it all up then, including obeying the custom of visiting the Polish guests and inviting them in person. She and I didn't really know what to expect (I arrived three days in advance) but we went with the flow, with a lot of help from the neighbours. It was a stunning community effort. I remember calling my husband to say I was up to my elbows in sausage meat and madly chopping onions with the ladies for the world's largest and most delicious Bigos stew. That was for Day II as it turned out.
The men cut down silver birch saplings from the surrounding plantations and decorated a traditional wooden barn. There was no point interfering and fussing about the mis-en-scene: we'd chosen to do it this way and were delighted that everyone went to so much trouble.
Well, almost.. Instead of a sea of ruched satin and a groaning table of food Polish style, Olivia wanted flowers on white damask tablecloths. I already suspected they'd be polyester with a bluish sheen and yes, she wept when she saw them. Then there was a 'matrimonial' with Tom about the soft drinks in plastic bottles going on the tables but that's about the sum of the pre-nuptial panic. That is, if you discount her reading the riot act to the workers who were making free with the wedding beer out of a nice tap. Naturally there would be vodka - shedloads of the stuff. Champagne was the only thing that came at eye-watering expense but what the hell.
Incidentally, we were to hear a knocking sound when the party started. Someone was banging in a nail to hang up his jacket.
The bride and her father got to the church on time in the vintage American sedan, despite the fact it had been pulled over for speeding on its way to collect them. A large table decoration of artificial flowers and ribbons fixed to the bonnet (the hood?) by a magnet flew off as they turned a corner but my husband fielded it. He had it in his lap for the rest of way.
Couldn't resist this picture. But I am not going to bore you with the whole church thing.
Suffice it to say that we had found a priest the day before who could speak English. I did think that was cutting it a bit fine. Olivia was four months gone but nobody seemed to mind.
Nobody quite knew who this little old lady was but we were pleased she wanted to join us.
When the newly weds arrived at Tom's parents' little farm, they were greeted with the bread, salt and vodka symbolic of the sustenance, pleasure and vicissitudes of marriage. Glasses hurled over the shoulder, yes!
A latter-day Botticelli's Rites of Spring? The time was early May.
After a shy start to the reception, the Brits and the Poles were soon dancing together (a pair of false teeth flew across the floor which my husband also fielded) between elaborate food dishes that kept on coming. At one point my eldest son exclaimed 'Ah, I see this is the fish and gateau course!' Later, an international football match..
There's the goalie, a young doctor friend of ours, in his morning suit.
Delightful Polish relatives and friends
A pair of our guests about to leave in this, adding a touch of the surreal. That wheatfield had never seen such excitement one way and another.
As night fell, the hog roast arrived in a white van:
No modish cuisine here. Love the banana tusks.
The whole experience was riotously funny, riotously drunken, but I write all this with great affection. We weren't expecting sophistication and got what we really wanted, an authentic gregarious and massively enjoyable rural Polish wedding.