Thursday, 24 July 2008

NEDDING! Part Two. Friday.

And so, where was I?

Ah yes, driving away with the Cheese Board, having done The Deed and signed the civil partnership. It all started very well. Fisher and I were very civil to each other as we listened to the Cheese Boarders attempt to complete the number-phrase quiz, designed to last until the Secret Location, before leaving St Andrews. They failed.

We pootled onward, enjoying the drive, as my navigators pretended to give me directions. It was, obviously, designed to entertain them and eke out the suspense of where we were going, rather than actually tell me where to go as - y'know - the Secret Location wasn't that secret. I did know the way.

Throughout the drive I was kept posted with the status of the other guests. 2.15pm, all minibussers had arrived apart from Pistol and The Doctor. And there - I had expected Chopper and 'Boarder to be the tardy ones! How I maligned them. Luckily, not 3o seconds after receiving that text, both latecomers arrived and the bus was able to set off. Phew. Then, of course, came the squealing texts from Spartan as the boys discovered their surprise.

Yes folks, I'd secretly rented them a 1962 Jaguar MKII to take them from Dollarbeg, where the folks of Caledonian Classics have their HQ, to the SL. Luckily, Dollarbeg is literally round the corner from Phid's, so Wheeler was able to deceive the Cheese Boys with alarming skill. He told them he had to go back home to pick up something he'd forgotten. He also managed to evade the question of why Norman the VW camper van had space issues. He said he had to take his motorbike back home. Naturally, Spartan, Pro and Badger had no reason not to believe him, and so they were duped beyond all duping. I believe their delight at seeing what they would be driving may have been tempered with sheer terror as they took the MKII over 40m.p.h for the first time. A 3.4, 6 cylinder engine is quite a beast.

Back in the Cheese Board car, we stopped at the very pleasant café at Tullybannoch and had a spot of lunch. I was too excited to eat much, but I appreciated the excellent coffee and off we went again. We were half way there! The Cheese Boarders remained, I believe, clueless as to the destination, and as the miles trundled by they entered into the spirit of secrecy with abandon. Apart from Blarney, nobody attempted to extract information from me - and with every question, I gave Blarney more and more cause for concern - just to serve her right. By the time we reached Taynuilt and the turn-off onto the final stretch, I think she believed we were sleeping under canvass, with portaloos and a nedding feast straight from the baked bean tin. And, of course, the real fun came at Kilchrenan Inn when I said:

"Here, ladies, is where we ditch the car."

"Wh - what?" Blarney squawked, like a strangled chicken. "Surely ... surely we can get the car up that road?" She was looking straight ahead, past the inn, to where a perfectly serviceable single track road led onward. It was wide enough to get an HGV up.

"Nope," I said firmly. "We're leaving the car - and that's why." I nodded out of the driver's side window.

"It looks big enough," Blarney bleated desperately, ignoring me. "Can't we drive?" The poor girl was convinced we were now going to be walking the rest of the way. But eventually I managed to draw her attention to the right hand side of the car and the Kilchrenan Inn car park, where there stood a horse drawn carriage and two beautiful Irish draught horses - Paddy and Jack.

Much squealing, akin to that from the boys, via text, was forthcoming. I couldn't stop beaming - especially as Ma and Pa were there to greet us, fresh from a 2 night stay at the George in Inveraray which had successfully banished travelling blues. Ma was extremely cold in her short blue jacket, having forgotten - once again - that acclimatising from a Maltsese summer (35ºC/95º F in the shade) to a Scottish one wasn't as easy as she though.

Ah yes. A word about the weather. As we got closer to our destination, my mood began to plummet. I'd always been prepared to be joyous no matter what the weather, but as we neared Taynuilt and the rain came down in sheets, the mist swirled about us and the view was utterly impenetrable, I started to question the sanity of a horse-drawn carriage ride. Fisher and I had packed rain macs for everyone, but even so - it was going to be a drenching. But lo! Some weather god was looking after us, because as we arrived at Kilchrenan the clouds lifted a little, the rain almost stopped, and the magnificent view emerged from the swirling Argyll mists. That's not to say the rain macs didn't come in handy - but the rain was easily ignored.

So up we hopped, off clopped Jack and Paddy, and the carriage ride commenced. Along the winding road we went, up, down, curving back and forth. The trees dripped, the air smelled sweet with fresh, rain-washed greenery, and the mountains peeked through the mist more clearly with every passing mile. Everyone agreed that horse-drawn carriage really was the only way to travel in this environmentally challenged time - and 45 minutes later, we rounded the final corner.

"Oooooooh!" was the general consensus - for we were here:

Those of you who have read my blog since its beginning may recognise this marvellous hotel as Ardanaiseig, last seen on the whisky tour with Arrow and Lu, and Fisher's & my new favourite escape. It's on the banks of Loch Awe, and anyone who wants a hotel close to amenities, a mere step away from the centre of town, and a hotbed of nightlife, should get the hell away from here!

Ardanaiseig isn't just in the countryside - it's quite literally in the middle of nowhere. It's 10 miles from the nearest A road, and that A road only goes to Oban anyway. Really, there's nothing there - apart from the most glorious scenery you can possibly wish for, lush green grounds, 6,000,000,000,000 midgies and, now, us.

The first thing I had to do was prove to Blarney that I hadn't been lying when I said canvas would be involved. But while she'd feared tents, or wigwams or something, what we'd actually provided was a Moroccan yurt. We poked our heads in and saw the yurt man constructing the chimney, so we could have our little peat-burning stove, and admired the rug-strewn floor. It looked very comfy, and would look even more so after the hotel provided cushions upon which to sit. Considering the weather, we were glad to have such an enticing area in which to shelter. We were sure we'd need it.

Back inside, everyone was shown to their rooms. Naturally, I had to be there to see their reactions to the luxurious suites we'd allocated - and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Koios was so overwhelmed with her loch view and mammoth king sized double bed (with no foot board, so Pro didn't have to worry about his legs being cramped) she shed a little tear. When it comes to reactions, that's what I'm talking about! You can always count on Koi to give you the feedback you want. Everyone else was bouncing with delight, too, and each squeal of glee sent me higher and higher. I was simply having the best time of my life!

After settling in, we went for a wander round the grounds in the rain, with my mother. Back inside with cups of tea, we were soon greeting new arrivals. Sister, Islander and sons arrived in their Land Rover, weighed down with luggage - and the barbecue, of which Islander had been dubbed King. Next up was the minibus, and out poured Chopper, Awesome Girl, The Doctor, Pistol, 'Boarder, Ceegar and Meeper. I showed most of them to their rooms. Awesome Girl obviously had to have the room called 'Awe', while Ceegar and Meeper had a garden view, ground floor room so Ceegar could nip out and have a fag through their private door whenever he chose. All were delighted, and by this time I was almost trembling with joy.

Next to arrive were the Cheese Boys in the Cheese Car! At first it appeared that they would drive straight to the car park, but luckily, because we were all gathered in the doorway to see them, they decided to come and show off at the entrance. This they did, faces split ear to ear in proud grins, and revved the engine to its loudest roar. We cheered and applauded - but arriving straight behind them were Arrow, Lu and Champaign Charlie - whom we'd not seen in God knows how long. So their welcome was cut short by us rushing to see our US-seduced pal, and make a bit of a fuss of him.

Then came Brother and Gaura in Elsie, having driven up from Edinburgh after a night in the Holiday Inn. They, too, were greeted merrily and shown to their rooms - but by this stage, time was getting on and we had a lot of preparation to undergo in order to be spick and span for the evening celebrations. Fisher was trying to wait for the arrival of her father and her ex Guardian, who were travelling together - but in the end she just had to start getting ready. I stayed downstairs for a little longer (my natural beauty means I need less time than Fisher to make myself purdy) and was rewarded by the arrival of Fisher's Dad and Guardian just as I was about to call it quits.

As I was chatting to Fisher's Dad, I was bossily ordered by one of my hench-women, Phid, to start getting ready - so after a final quick word, I obeyed. Shower, make-up, and into my bespoke dress I climbed - but not before Koios, my other hench-woman, performed wonders on my hair, curling it in loose ringlets about my face and really giving me a 1920s flair. The finishing touches were a long silver necklace of leaves, which I'd doubled up and draped around my forehead as a coronet, and 3 peacock feathers clipped in so they stood up from the coronet. And lo - I was ready. So, too, were Koios and Phid.

Koi had got a funky black skirt made for her, with a cherry lining and a small fishtail, and on top she was wearing her black corset - a gift from Pro. A very little cape, made from the same material as her skirt but worn with the cherry lining outwards, completed the ensemble, and a 1920s headdress with small feather was the icing on the cake. Pro, meanwhile, had a gorgeous, rusty orange dress with simple lines, a few graceful ruffles and soft straps across the back. They both looked fantastic, and we emerged from our room brimming with confidence. (I speak for myself, but there was no reason the other two shouldn't have felt indestructable, the way they looked, so I can't imagine their confidence wasn't sky high).

And at last, at long last, I was able to see Fisher in her much anticipated bespoke dress.

It was fantastic.

She'd had a 1920s flapper style modified a little to suit her, and it was bold, bright blue to match her lovely eyes. She was wearing her golden hair loose, which, with her wide-mouthed laugh always makes her look like a slightly naughty Boticelli angel, and she wore a coronet of silver cord. She looked, literally, a million dollars. (Make that 2 million dollars, considering how shite the exchange rate is.)

Down we went, descending the sweeping staircase to the reception hall, listening to the hum of gathered guests grow louder. The hench women entered the music room, where all were gathered, and Fisher and I followed. Our entrance went utterly unremarked - which was perfect, as we both hate to be twittered over - and we were therefore able to gasp in delighted amazement at what met our eyes.

People had taken the 1920s theme and not just run with it, but sprinted like Michael Johnson doing a downhill 200m. We gazed upon a laughing, merry gaggle festooned with feathers, white tie and tails, flapper dresses, sequins, 3 piece suits, walking sticks, white silk scarves, temporary facial hair (for the men - mine isn't temporary), trilbies and fedoras ... you name it, they were wearing it. Brother won the prize for best costume, though, for his vntage plus fours, tweed cap and v-necked jumper - straight from the Old Course Catalogue, circa 1928.

It was, quite simply, perfect.

We'd laid on a Bennet cocktail for everyone, which was delicious (gin, sugar syrup, lime juice), and after a bit of a gossip it was soon time for Ceegar to start his MC duties and usher everyone in for supper. Everyone went, nattering happily, leaving me with Fisher and our dinner escorts - Brother and Sister. A few minutes later and Ceegar popped his head round the door to tell us all were seated, and we headed in. I was nervous. I had a speech to make, and I wasn't all that inspired by it, to be honest. It wasn't very funny, it wasn't very interesting, but it served a purpose - welcoming everyone, and announcing the start of the evening.

We entered, took our places, and I gave the speech. It was ok. People kindly laughed where they were supposed to, and I did the job. I'm no Blarney, though, that's for sure.

And then the food came in.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm ... it was all so goooood! We started with a little amuse bouche of fois gras, then went on to smoked salmon blinis with red roe. Then came venison, cooked perfectly pink, and we finished with chocolate tart (lemon for Koios and my mother, who don't like chocolate desserts). And, of course, we glugged back plenty of tolerable wine.

The tables worked extremely well, I think. I kept looking round the room, and everyone seemed to be in full flow of conversation, and the buzz of chat was high. People enjoyed the little cards of questions we'd set out for them to ask their fellow diners. I think some were used, some weren't - but they were ice breakers, and if you didn't need them, then all the better.

It was such a fantastic meal. The only downside was that it was slow. The servers took a long time with the courses, and while we'd been told to expect to be finished by 10.30, it was well past that by the time the pudding was cleared, I'd made my second speech of the evening (explaining the Mouse Race - more on that later) and the coffee was being served. This ordinarily would hardly have been worth mentioning - but the thing was, we'd ordered a Casino to set up in the music room for 10.30pm. It was to be available until midnight, but we didn't start playing until near enough 11.30 - which meant I'd wasted money on something we barely used. I had to rush people out of the dining room with their coffees, too, which rather broke the ambience. It looked like it was going to be the first disappointment of the weekend - but the kindly Casino staff took pity on us and gave us a good hour, if not slightly more. So all was well in the end, and we only lost 20 minutes or so. We had Texas Hold-'em Poker on one table and Black Jack on the other, and the top 8 winners of the evening had points put towards the Mouse Race.

After the Casino had packed and gone home, the way was clear for some music. Actually, Pistol and Brother had done sterling work singing and playing the piano throughout, but once the room was cleared, we could have some turns from Minstrel and - shudder - me. It ended with people dancing as Brother strummed some jaunty tunes on the guitar ... while elsewhere in the hotel people talked, drank, and played billiards in the games room.

As the evening drew to a close and I began to yawn, I congratulated myself on not having drunk to excess. Yes, I was slightly fuzzy headed, but nothing to how drunk I've been in the past. It was time for bed, and I was confident I would feel fine on the morrow. Not so Awesome Girl, who entered into a spirited explanation of how she "needed my bat" from Blarney's room and how she'd been trying to get her bat out of the room and now Blarney wouldn't let her in to get it. This was all very puzzling, but I realised what she was actually trying to say was that she needed her key, which she'd left in Blarney's room after helping remove a rogue bat which had flown in through the window. Man, I was glad I wasn't Awesome. She was going to feel ro-o-ough in the morning!

I retired to bed, after having dragged a reluctant Fisher from the billiard room. She, unlike me, was very drunk. Very, very drunk. I'd hoped we might have some quiet, romantic time together on our nedding night, discussing the wonders of the evening and - well, you know. That wasn't to be.

I think it would be kind, in fact, to draw a veil over the events that followed, and simply say:

End of Part 2.


A word about the speech. It was drawn to my attention that I didn't say enough about Fisher in it. I'd like to make it clear that this was through no neglect on my part. Fisher categorically refused to have any attention drawn to herself, and any cooing was condemned from the word go. It's hard enough writing a nedding speech - but writing one in such circumstances makes things even more difficult - and anyone who would like to show me how it should have been done can feel free.


Anonymous said...

Oh it brings it all back in such glorous detail! I await part 3 with vast amounts of anticipation! Come on, pull the finger out, what's keeping you!!?!?!?!?!?

Seshat said...

Jeeze. That quick enough for you?

I see you're too cowardly to sign your name when you're ordering me about - but the prolific use of exclamation marks gives you away.