Most of us don’t realise how much freedom we have, until it’s suddenly limited.
H and I empty our Christmas stockings, scattering torn wrapping paper across my mother’s lounge. As we quaff the wine her partner Tony graciously pours for us, we realise that time is ticking by faster than we had noticed. A six month visa seemed an enormously long time when we entered the UK back in August, but suddenly it’s almost gone.
It’s not that I don’t like planning. Actually, I love it. I love researching options, making lists and coming up with a great idea, only to chuck it out at the last minute and do something completely different. A friend waving me off on my way to Turkey would not be surprised to get a postcard from me two weeks later, sent from Estonia. I’m used to life’s direction taking sudden three-point turns on a hairpin bend, of utilising that invisible freedom.
Arriving in the UK in late August, I had planned to move to Turkey after two months. I then planned to stay in the UK for two years, to be an English teacher; a travel writer, and to train to be a yoga teacher. I had definitely not planned to get married.
Marriage. The thought snuck up behind me. At first it was something we joked about. Sure, we’re in love, but we’re not the type to get married. Scoff.
As it turns out, weddings are not only for those lovers of tradition who believe they need the sanctity of the church and the state to stay together. Sometimes, living in sin isn’t even an option.
The thought of marriage and weddings grew from a tiny seed. It had germinated at some point over the autumn, and suddenly we found a stem, a leaf, a tiny bud had sprouted.
Mum is overjoyed of course. Recently married herself, she’s always been quite a traditional romantic. There are hugs and tears when we break the news over Christmas dinner. We’re starting to really get into the idea.
Trouble is: When? Where? How?
We were under the illusion—mistaken, as it turns out—that there was some kind of a law prohibiting us from getting married in the UK. H’s visa application had explicitly stated that he shouldn’t be planning to get married.
We began looking into options. Ireland seemed like a good idea. I’m actually Irish, though many people don’t know that. It’s quite a recent addition to my identity, and is of course restricted to the legal citizenship and holding of a passport. I still have the utter embarrassment of basically being English, carrying all of that colonial history, with most of the privilege that was conditioned into me from birth left to meticulously unpick.
If I’m Irish, we can go to Ireland, right? We can get married there, in a field—no, a temple—or a hippy community—or a retreat centre—or what about an Armenian church? An Armenian church in Ireland—that’d be cool, right?
There isn’t exactly an Armenian church in Ireland, as we discover when H telephones the Armenian Archbishop (speak to him in Armenian, I whisper). They do weddings for a donation, but only at certain times of the year, when the Archbishop is over from England. The next one isn’t until late spring. I call and email Buddhists, retreat centres and non-denominational solemnisers.
Suddenly, we discover something. We can’t go to Ireland. H will never get a visa unless we’re already married, and even then, being Irish turns out to be the thing that will actually prohibit us from going there. Being a citizen of a country restricts my access to E.U. Law while within its territory.
My head is swimming in regulations, directives and legislation. I call and email everyone that may be able to give us free or affordable legal advice.
Eventually, we go to a lawyer. It’s a week into January by the time we can get an appointment. H’s visa is now perilously close to the end date, but finally we have some clarity: we can get married here, in England, but we have to hurry up.
We dash down to the registry office. You need to give 17 clear days notice before the wedding. You need to give notice during a specific appointment, and the next one available is in two weeks. It won’t be possible to get married before H’s visa expires, but, fortunately, we can apply for his spouse visa ahead of time, then forward the marriage certificate later.
Suddenly, we’re getting married in three weeks time—in England. Never having got married before, I haven’t a clue what to do. We need to get married in a specific place that’s legally sanctioned for such an event. We need to organise venues and music and vows and invitations and witnesses and ridiculous things that I never in my whole life believed I would have to organise. What the hell does somebody like me wear to her own wedding?
What about shoes?
We beg, borrow and steal everything possible.
Our party is going to be held in our favourite anarchist social centre. Friends working in a fancy dress shop lend H a dashing tuxedo, trousers and shirt. I whip up accessories from friends and a jumble sale, meticulously colour co-ordinating everything.
We have a theme: chili and chocolate. Yum.
A friend asks if we need anything two days before the wedding and ends up being tasked with the cake.
Wait… you don’t mean the cake??!
I type “cheap honeymoon UK” into my favourite search engine, just for the gas. I find a cottage in the West country for £200 a week. I find cheap train tickets for £12 return. Who ever would have thought a honeymoon could be affordable?
A honeymoon. We’re actually going to have a honeymoon. The only catch is going to be cycling twenty miles in the middle of the night to get there from the train station, though that does seem somehow reflective of our whole relationship.
The big day rushes toward us. My very best friend flies all the way from Santiago de Chile to be my Best Man. H’s plies him with vodka to steady his nerves.
The A303 is practically deserted at 1am, save for the occasional lorry that roars past, quivering our bikes to the edge of the road. The great floods of 2013 are all over the news and here we are down in the West Country, not twenty miles from the worst of it. The lanes are pitch black and my bike-light batteries are low. I hold a torch in my hand aimed at the road and hope I’ll at least hear a splash before cycling into the worst of it.
It takes more than two hours before we glide downhill into the ghostly quiet grey-stone village of Butleigh. We pass the churchyard, the Post Office, and find the gate of our cottage, fumbling for the key in the place the owners described for us.
It is actually the most beautiful cottage I have ever seen, no joke. H genuinely gasps, a sound I’ve never heard him make before.
It wasn’t a dream. We wake in the afternoon, sprawled on a four-poster bed with green satin curtains around us. A big bronze bathtub stands right beside the bed. I set about filling it with bubbles and hot water, before trotting downstairs to make tea. Two champagne flutes perch waiting on the kitchen counter. I peek inside the fridge and literally squeal with delight. The cottage owners have left a bottle of bubbly in the fridge for us.
A honeymoon in Glastonbury town was always going to be unusual. We meet a plethora of fascinating characters and learn many intriguing facts, such as the fact that the Somerset floods have been engineered by the New World Order to further their grip on humanity, sending the ancient sites and magical symbols of Glastonbury and the outlying countryside out of spiritual whack.
H is almost beaten up by a conspiracy theorist rant poet when we try to leave his event early, and we get some first class lectures about the nature of mankind and musical auras.