With This Ring

10th March 2022 In the words of the Gilbert O’Sullivan song: “Something that begins with ‘M’ and ends in ‘alas’… that’s Matrimony”. This week I’ve been thinking about weddings and marriage. I’ve had a go a couple of times, and not done too well at it, but it works for some people, I know. What got me thinking about the subject is that on Tuesday, my mum’s sister and her husband celebrated their 49th Wedding Anniversary. I spoke to my aunt last weekend, and she told me about it then. They won’t be celebrating, as such, as neither of them are in particularly good health but then he will be 90 this year and she will be 93; their birthdays within a couple of days of each other. It was a second marriage for her, and first for him, all that time ago in 1973. I remember it well – I was fourteen, coming up fifteen at the time. My brother, almost 18, had already left school, but my younger sister and I were allowed to take the day off to attend the Register Office ceremony then a buffet reception afterwards at the Victoria Park Hotel.

The first ever wedding I was associated with was when I was about five years old and chosen to be flower girl at the wedding of my mum’s friend Ann. I don’t remember much about it, but photos show me in a posh white dress and white lace gloves, with my hair up in a bun and holding a basket of flowers, and on one of them I’m seen to be giving the bride a lucky horseshoe. They did that sort of thing in those days.

My own first wedding was a much more low-key affair! I had left home at 17, after an enormous row with my mother, and moved in with my future husband and his mother and sister, who lived in Longway, Roose. Times being what they were, I suppose it was inevitable that I got pregnant. The baby was due in December; we married in the July at Barrow Register Office. It was a far cry from the civil ceremonies they have nowadays which are almost as good as a church wedding but without the hymns. My sister’s wedding nine years ago in July was a fabulous affair with the bride in the posh white frock and veil, the groom and groomsmen in morning dress, and bridesmaids, including me as the Matron of Honour, in red dresses. There was music and flowers and it was a wonderful occasion at the Nan Tait Centre on Abbey Road. The reception was at the Victoria Park Hotel (again), with a sit-down wedding breakfast, speeches, and music and dancing afterwards until the wee small hours.

Not so for me 46 years ago. The Register Office was a dingy little office which at the time was on Ramsden Square if I remember rightly. As relations with my family following the row had barely healed by then, (actually, it was just my mother!) the rest of the family didn’t really get involved. So, the only people present were the Registrar and a clerk, me and the groom, our respective best friends Sue and Barry as witnesses, and the groom’s mother and sister. It took about ten minutes, and afterwards, outside on the street, my mother turned up to throw a bit of confetti and take a couple of polaroids, after which we went to the Regal Bar in Forshaw Street for a few butties and pints. Mum didn’t bother with that part. The Landlord and Landlady of the Regal at the time were Buster and Jessie Harris, a wonderful couple who very kindly lent us their bungalow at North Scale for a week so we could have a ‘honeymoon’. Yes, we were that broke!

Sadly, there was a bitter and very acrimonious divorce three years later when the marriage went down the pan in almost the worst way. It took me a very, very long time to get over it – in some ways it is still affecting my life – but that’s a long, long story for another occasion.

My second wedding was as different to the first as the two marriages were different – polar opposites. I was 32 when I married for the second time in 1990. This time I went all out – I figured it was probably the last time I would get married (I was right!) so I intended to party hearty this time around. We had a ‘themed’ wedding – I was passionate about the 1920s at the time and loved the fashions and the music from the Roaring ‘Twenties. I had a gown made to order – cream lace over peach satin, in a 1920’s style with a drop waist and handkerchief hem. I had, and still have, a wonderful friend, Jenny, a brilliant seamstress, who spent days sewing tiny pearls and sequins on to the sleeves, bodice and hem of my dress. She also made my bridesmaid dresses (I had FIVE!) from a lovely peach coloured fabric, again with the drop waists and the pointy hems. We weren’t broke, but neither did we have money to throw around, so I had a wonderful time making the bouquets and the headdresses myself using silk flowers, and also typing out and printing the Order of Service booklets – all my own work!

We couldn’t marry in Church, since the groom and I were both divorced, so we married at our nearest Register Office which was in Chesterfield, and followed it with a blessing at our Parish Church, St Michael and All Angels, South Normanton, where I was part of the congregation. I was devastated when my dad missed the Register Office ceremony! He’d dropped off my mum and my great-aunt outside and then drove off to find somewhere to park. We were all in the waiting room when the Registrar called us in. I objected, saying “I can’t get married yet, my dad’s not here!” The response I received was that it was now or never – we were the last wedding that Saturday morning and they closed at noon. So poor Dad missed it, only turning up as we filed out of the building when it was all over. Fortunately, he got to take me down the aisle at St Michael’s, thanks to the good graces of the vicar, Eric Chamberlain. Afterwards, we had a buffet wedding reception at Alfreton Golf Club and I’d provided the DJ with a few 1920s Dixieland Jazz and Ragtime records just to get us in the right mood. It was a fabulous day which I still look on very happily, even though the marriage is no more. At least it lasted much longer, that time – Trevor and I were together for sixteen years before we grew apart and wanted different things in life – and neither of us was willing to compromise, so that was the end of that one. No hard feelings, as far as I’m concerned, anyway.

I very nearly made it to a third wedding after eight years of living with Glyn Hughes, the author and poet. We knew that his non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma was terminal, and he proposed while he was on the Oncology Ward at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary saying “You’d better get it organised pretty soon if we’re going to make it.” I bought a beaded ivory dress and a light ivory coat with a drop hem at the back, and the shoes are kitten heels encrusted with ivory beads. I’d got it all arranged for a June wedding (“They say when you marry in June, you’re a bride all your life,” according to the song in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), but Glyn didn’t make it that far and passed on 24th May 2011. I still have my wedding outfit and shoes in a suit bag at the back of my wardrobe; I’m a sentimental old fool I suppose but I can’t bear to get rid of them. I didn’t exactly turn into Miss Havisham, but I confess to having a small part of my living room walls filled with his photographs; eleven years later, I’m still in mourning. Never mind Miss Havisham – I think I’m turning into Queen Victoria! But at least I don’t lay his clothes out every morning, I’m not quite that mad yet.

When you think about it, the song lyric in the first sentence is pretty clever – there’s never really a good end to a marriage, is there? Either divorce, annulment or death – none are happy endings. The romantic in me loves a good wedding – any excuse for a good old cry and to be a bit sentimental. I do believe in true love – honest I do!

Nowadays, after almost eleven years of living alone, I can’t see myself ever tying the knot again. Even if there was someone special in my life, which there isn’t, I think I’ve just become too selfish – too used to pleasing myself what I do and when I do it. I eat what I want, when I want; I sleep when I want; watch and listen to whatever I want, wear what I want, go out and stay in when I want – it’s all me, me, me and I don’t think I want to change that. I’m happy enough to put someone else first if they’re visiting – but as a lifetime choice? No, I don’t think so. Having said that, I never say never – not about anything. I’d like to think I’m adaptable enough to change should I have to, and you never really know what’s around the corner, do you?

The thing is, you never really know someone properly until you actually live with them for a time. I hear all too often, “She was lovely before we married, then she changed”, or “He changed completely once we were under the same roof, then I became his mother!” I once heard somewhere that men go into marriage hoping she won’t change, and women go into it hoping he will change. I think there may well be some truth there. But I’m too old and set in my ways now to be changing for anyone; nor do I have the time or the energy necessary to change someone into my perfect partner. I could mention some specific requirements for my perfect man – honest, loyal, intelligent, faithful, kind, generous, thoughtful, well-read, politically left of centre, open-minded, talented, creative, sociable, sensitive, tough… I could go on, but it’s pointless really. This paragon of virtue does not exist except in my imagination. Even my late beloved did not possess all of these qualities; he was stubborn, self-centred, single-minded as well as all the good stuff, and he was one of the best things that ever happened to me. He wasn’t perfect, but I knew what his faults were and I could live with them. Whether I could now, is a different question. In those days I wasn’t used to pleasing myself – I think we might clash a little bit if we were to meet now!

And of course, times have changed so much in recent years. It’s no longer a woman’s prime aim in life to find the perfect husband – we’re brought up now to understand that we can do whatever we want on our own terms. That certainly wasn’t the case even during my lifetime. My careers advice at school was ‘Office, shop or factory, until you get married and start a family’ – those were the only options at Risedale Secondary Modern in 1974. Only five years later, as my sister was leaving Grammar school, girls were being accepted for apprenticeships in Vickers, and not just in the Drawing Office! They could do welding, plating, electrician, engineering – the whole works. At school I wasn’t even allowed to do woodwork – I was a girl, so for me it was Domestic Science! Subjects like Physics, Metalwork and Tech Drawing were for boys only. We got to do Needlework – woohoo! I never did finish the apron we were supposed to make in the first year which we were to wear for all of our Domestic Science lessons until we left!

It’s good to know that in the past 100 years, in the western world at least, the lot of women has improved so that marriage and children are not the only objectives in life. Which ties in quite well with the fact that not only was Tuesday my aunt and uncle’s 49th wedding anniversary, it was also International Women’s Day. Good though the changes have been, from women getting the vote to being accepted in most arenas as equals and not second-class citizens, we are still far from equality on many levels. It’s still a fact that women do not earn as much as men – I know this to be true. Before I was made redundant from my last employment, for a few years I worked in the same office as three other colleagues. We were all administrators, working for a multi-national truck and trailer hire company, and although my title was Rental Administrator, and one of the guys was Workshop Administrator, we pretty much did the same job – dealing with customer queries, obtaining purchase order numbers for work or hires carried out. We did have different duties too – he took calls from HGV drivers and arranged for callouts to roadside breakdowns, and I organised and filed all the documentation, including MOTs and service sheets for 2500 trucks and trailers attached to our depot in Bradford. I know his technical knowledge was far greater than mine – but he did not actually work on the vehicles. He was also head-hunted for his job, whereas I began as a temporary filing clerk before accepting a permanent position. But I had been there about 2 years longer than him, and I know that about 12 years ago he was being paid £25000+ per year before he left in 2012. When I left in 2017 after 13 years with the company, I was still earning less than £20,000. And that was after changing my position to one of half a dozen National Tyre Administrators and claiming back over £1,000,000 from customers in tyre recharges within 2 years. Why didn’t I do something about it? I knew it was a hiding to nowhere, and to be honest, I liked my job and my colleagues and that was worth an awful lot to me.

I suppose in a way, working full time is a lot like being married. You spend at least eight hours a day trying to please, and looking after your job, holding on to your temper except when it’s impossible to do so, and then when you do blow a gasket you have to compromise to solve the problem and restore the status quo. You’re committed to spending a huge amount of your time and care when you might probably wish you were doing something else with your time – something for yourself! I guess the good thing is that if it’s not working, it’s simple enough to move on to pastures new – although, come to think of it, I know of married people who behave that way too!

Certainly, divorce has lost the stigma it once had. In the first half of the 20th century, it was scandalous to get divorced and was a very difficult task. When you married, you married for life and if you ended up with a drunkard or a spendthrift or a wife beater you just had to suck it up. Thankfully it’s much easier to escape nowadays. Although sometimes I wonder if it’s perhaps too easy? I don’t think it bodes well for a happy marriage if you can go into it thinking ‘oh well, if it doesn’t work out, we can always get divorced.’ Marriage is hard work – especially if you haven’t lived together beforehand – which I think is a pretty sensible thing to do before taking the plunge. At least then you have a taste of what it’s going to be like.

I’m completely bewildered by these reality TV programmes ‘Married at First Sight’. I haven’t actually watched any of them, but I’ve seen the trailers for them and can’t help but wonder what’s going on in their heads. Yes, I know it’s how it used to be, back in the ‘good’ old days, and possibly also how it still is with arranged marriages, but I don’t know enough about that to voice an opinion. But when there’s the option to get to know someone before you march down the aisle together, I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to do that. I suppose it must be like sleeping together on a first date, but at least you know you’re going to see each other again because you’re already wearing the ring! But what if it’s no good? What if there’s no chemistry, no liking for each other, no understanding of each other’s needs and expectations from the relationship. It makes absolutely no sense at all to me. Having said that, there’s a lot about reality TV that I don’t understand, but we won’t go into that right now either.

Well, that’s enough of my pontificating for today – what are your views on wedded bliss, I wonder? Why don’t you let me know in the box below – I’d love to hear from you!

Till next week

LH x

By lizziehughesauthor

Hello! I'm Liz, a writer from Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire. I've lived here for nearly 20 years, although I'm originally from t'other side o't hill as they say around here. I'm from Barrow in Furness, which was in Lancashire when I was born - still, whether it's Lancashire or Cumbria, it still makes me a Northern Lass. That means I'm honest, straightforward and feisty. My current book is (very) loosely based on my family history, though the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty!) I'm hoping to publish in April 2022, or possibly earlier. Watch this space!

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