On June 12th last year, nearly 18 months after we first met on the tube, I asked Agnieszka to marry me. During a private dinner for two on a beach in Mexico, I asked the waiter to give us 10 minutes, dropped to one knee and dug out the ring I'd been hiding away with me since I'd popped into Tiffany's on my 30th birthday three weeks beforehand. She said yes almost before I'd finished the question.
It took two weeks after our return to London for a brochure to land on our doormat. Agnieszka had been to Bradenham Manor before, and two things quickly became clear: that this would be our perfect reception venue, and secondly, that this would not be the longest engagement.
The most complicated arrangement turned out to be the church.
Though I am not remotely religious, Agnieszka is, and I think churches are perfect for weddings. We saw a few civil ceremonies, and we felt they lacked some clout. Since my folks are bell-ringers, I'd been in and out of churches my whole life and feel at home there.
The Manor had a tiny church on the grounds, but we found (to my utter disbelief), that they would not marry us unless we either lived in the parish (a tiny village), or attended every Sunday for 6 months (which in this day and age of eco-awareness is surprising and somewhat insulting). We turned to the Catholics who are much more sensible: a two-day workshop, and occasional attendance with the brilliant Father Dom in Camden Town.
Agnieszka found us a tiny but lovely old Catholic church in Marlow - not far from the Manor. And after many months of arrangements, we were set.
The Night Before
The night before the wedding, we spent at the manor. We had dinner with our nearest family: my parents and brothers (Bernard and Howard: the Best Men), and Agnieszka's Maid of Honour Sonia, with her cousins and aunt.
Dinner was great - fine wine, good food. Piotr gave a short speech about his late father, a Pole. People sang. Everyone was just in the right mood. We rushed about afterwards, trying to organize the arrangements.
We had a moment of stress when it came to placecards. We'd spent a full weekend at my office printing and publishing all the various items. I'd had a battle with the placecards when I discovered that the Word layout that Confetti provide is incompatible with a mail-merge from Excel. I finally got it sorted with a new template, but unbeknownst to me, it had missed every 5th name out. This did not help with stress levels that night.
One of the hardest things to organize turns out to be table arrangements. If just a few people change their mind in the week before, then all your elaborate printing goes to pot. We had half a dozen dropouts in the last week - with four quitting just the day before. Eventually you have to just make do - and honestly, I think every table worked out well.
So we get it sorted. And head off to bed. Agnieszka and I had found that there are about two kajillion traditions of a wedding to which you "must" stick. We decided to pick and choose, and spent the night together.
At around 3.30am I heard someone running around on the gravel outside the room, and generally scratching around our door. I called down to security, who promised me they'd keep an eye on the cameras. Fortunately, there was no-one there. Either it was a midnight smoker caught outdoors, or a deer.
The Day of the Wedding
Wedding morning started with breakfast.
Well, no, that's not entirely true: it started with rain.
June of 2009 was a beautiful month. Except that day. We'd ordered a dozen umbrellas, and feared we wouldn't use them. Now we feared there were not enough.
I'm a lover of sunshine. Even my website is all about the sun. That day though, I discovered that some things were more important, and I don't really mind nor remember that the weather was grey.
Breakfast was a large fry-up, the full works including black pudding. For the bride anyway. Everyone else got continental breakfast. I found I had little appetite.
Agnieszka headed off upstairs to get ready - the last I would see her until the church. Meanwhile I ran about downstairs, making sure everything was ready for our return.
The time came for me to go and put on my suit.
At this point, I got a bit stuck - all the umbrellas had disappeared! We were stuck in the manor while my brother had efficiently packed them all away in his car! I had to run around in the rain trying to track him down...
I could then get to my room. Shower, curse, shave, then carry on showering. The suit went on. The cravat was done. And again. And again. And was right.
I was ready.
I got in the car and headed off to Marlow, arriving at about 1pm, giving us half an hour before meeting people. So we managed to get into town, and were the best dressed group at Fego that day. I had a chicken sandwich, but did not eat much.
I took the bottle of water with me back to the church, and we got ready. Signs went up, the "order of service"s were unpacked. People began to arrive. The priest came out to check pronunciation.
The photographer arrived, and started taking photos of myself and my Best Men (after a certain amount of time spend trying to attach buttonhole flowers - thanks Louise).
I was feeling pretty happy with things. As the time got closer to 2pm, I began to get worried. I wanted to know that Agnieszka was on her way; that all was well.
My mum has always said that "bad news travels faster than good". It's a good motto.
I got Howard to call Sonia to find out what was happening: no response. Her phone was switched off. This did not help my nerves.
The minute hand turned, and 2pm arrived. I stood at the front of the church. I caught sight of Agnieszka's driver, and felt much better. All was well. I got myself in position with my Best Men as the last of the guests took their places. All was ready.
Suddenly it occured to me that Agnieszka's cousins were missing. This would be particularly bad since they were giving readings, and Simon was actually standing in for Agnieszka's Godfather to give her away! They should have been here 1/2 hour beforehand to help! I sent Howard to find out where they were.
As he set off, they arrived at the back of church. Phew.
I relaxed as they settled. The doors at the back of the church opened, and the wedding began.
My mum told me afterwards that she could see in my face the moment when I saw Agnieszka. I bet she could.
After all those worries, setting my eyes on Agnieszka looking absolutely incredible in the sunshine was a moment I'll always remember. I grinned.
It is a strange moment, seeing someone you love, and not being able to go and meet them. We'd talked beforehand about walking slowly up the aisle, but now I wished we hadn't. What would be so wrong with a quick sprint? Maybe this is why wedding dresses are not made for running.
She arrived at the front of the church, and we took our places. At times we stood, at times we sat. We nervously held hands.
Despite the most careful of preparations, we made a slight error in one of the songs, such that the choir sang a different version to the rest of our guests. So be it.
Agnieszka's cousin Beata read a Polish poem beautifully. I thought I'd done a good job on the English translation (tweaking it from the original translation), but no-one cared. I think we all listened to the Polish, and read along with it.
When the exchanging of vows came, we remembered our rehersal. We spoke clearly. We looked into each others' eyes. The moment was marked by typical Kennethism.
Standing in front of everyone you care about, in the most important ceremony of your life, trying to listen, remember and repeat, this is not easy. As the priest went through the lines, he sped up, getting quicker with each line: "to have and to hold" (to have and to hold), "for-richer,-for-poorer" (for-richer-for-poorer), "insicknessandinhealth" (insicknessandinhealth), "frmthsdyfrwrd" - and I couldn't take it any more. I had it building up in me, and knew I either had to laugh or cry. I laughed.
Yes, I laughed. During my wedding vows. Typical Kenneth.
Signing the Register
We went backstage to sign the register. Agnieszka jumps for joy: "yes, yes, yes"!
It was great. We all signed carefully, had our picture taken, and lined up to walk back out of the church.
As we passed our guests, they appauded and cheered. As we stepped out into the sunshine, to the sound of cheering behind and bells ringing in front, I kissed my new wife.
My mum had arranged for a team to ring bells at the larger church in Marlow at just the right moment. We could hear them, but they weren't imposing. It was great.
We stopped for a couple of photos, then got into the Bentley and waved goodbye.
As the guests rushed off to the reception, we turned back and had a few private shots back at the church, and down by the river. It was rainy, and we had to keep holding, then hiding, the umbrella.
We didn't care. We were married.
To be continued...
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