I’m standing in a hotel car park trapped in a dress wedged over my arms and face. I do not know if it is a small mercy or an awkward misfortune that at least the bottom half of me is covered by the largest pair of sucky-in knickers available on the Irish market.
When I emerge from my stretch polyester prison, thankfully I regain the gift of sight just to notice that the entire wedding crowd was watching my reverse burlesque act with a cup of tea. The reception room, or pre-wedding guest holding pen, has a window with a generous aspect of the car park, allowing them to have a good gawk.
There’s no point being early to something if you can’t smugly look out at a woman running late with a dress jammed over her head, waving back and forth like one those wacky inflatable tube men they have outside car dealerships. So, you can turn to your neighbour and say, “I told you we were just as well leaving 30 minutes early.”
To my relief, more cars pull up on the grass and, soon, half-a-dozen men are stripping off next to us, asking their partners if the folding creases from shirts taken straight from new packets are noticeable. Partners are leaning against cars trying to hook one foot into uncooperative slingbacks while the other hops on unstable, sodden grass.
We are late but not the latest. Mercifully, Irish weddings seem to have an inbuilt buffer for guests who got tricked by Google Maps.
I find choosing the right seat at the ceremony difficult. How close are you meant to sit to the front if you kind of know the bride and groom but not that well? Where is the appropriate seat for work colleague who got invited because it seemed too mean to invite everyone in the office but you?
The only people who seem to be confident are the aul wans and that’s because they arrived early to get the good seats, as if they were attending a stadium concert. Instead, they’re here to witness their neighbour’s son reciting self-written vows about loving his bride forever, “even if she’s from Leitrim”. This is meant to be funny. I do not know why – he’s from 10 minutes down the road, not somewhere more cosmopolitan like Louth or Wagga Wagga.
Everyone uses the official part to give each other a good eyeballing. We look at the rig outs. The hats, the bags, the shoes. There are nudges and meaningful looks between seat mates that indicate they’ve spotted something that will be bookmarked as a conversational piece later. “Did you see your one’s cleavage? And in front of Grandad!”
There is a bee line to the drinks reception afterwards. This is not the time to go upstairs and have a small rest or a make-up retouch up in the bedroom. “This is where you get as much free drink as possible,” says my self appointed cultural guide (a complete stranger who has asked me if I’ve been to Irish weddings before).
“Isn’t it all free?” I ask.
“Oh no, you couldn’t do that,” he replied, gravely, looking at me like I had suggested making a newer, more efficient atomic bomb.
The former cleavage police had made themselves Southern Comfortable on the bourbons and, pleasingly, their stick-on bras were in full view and in danger of taking an eye out if Proud Mary rolled a bit too energetically on the river
In Australia, there would be a riot at a wedding if you asked guests to pay for their drinks. But, here, you take as many glasses of warm prosecco or welcome cocktail (also warm prosecco but with cordial) as you can without looking like you have an obvious problem.
Once you are seated, usually a child wearing a bow tie appears to take your drinks order. On one occasion, my request for a whiskey ginger was turned down because it was “top shelf”. As was scotch, bourbon or any other kind of brown liquor.
“What isn’t top shelf?” I asked.
“Vodka,” said the server.
The speeches brought tears. The cake was cut. The bride and groom danced. We felt the warm and fuzzies.
Fascinators got thrown in the air and ties went around the head. The former cleavage police had made themselves Southern Comfortable on the bourbons and, pleasingly, their stick-on bras were in full view and in danger of taking an eye out if Proud Mary rolled a bit too energetically on the river.
“You can’t beat a wedding,” people say fondly to each other, safe in the knowledge that they won’t make eye contact in the buffet queue for coffee in the morning.