I’m writing a wedding scene. Weddings are great from the author’s point of view, for a variety of reasons. A wedding is usually the only time that that exact collection of people will ever be together in one place. Unexpected meetings can take place that would be very difficult to set up in any other way. And then, of course, there are the emotional currents that may be sparked by the nuptials of two people from different backgrounds.
In the scene I was writing, I was helped by factors I had already written into the plot. The bride may or may not once have slept with the groom’s cousin. Her mother disapproves of the groom’s family and believes that her daughter is marrying beneath herself. The bride and her mother have not seen her father for twenty years and he is about to astound them both by walking into the reception and demanding a glass of champagne. Then a fight breaks out.
I could see no reason why I could not make the fight seem authentic because I’ve actually seen fights break out at weddings. (Something I didn’t mention earlier is the tendency of guests to drink too much and then remember why it is that they don’t like some of their fellow guests).
But when I began to think of the fights I had seen, doubts crept in. I was staying one weekend (on business; I wasn’t there for pleasure although, as you will see, enjoyment came to me) at the Runnymede Hotel near Staines, West of London. The Runnymede is yards from the Thames which is canalised at that point; the only thing that separates hotel from river is a towpath. It was a sunny afternoon and I was on the towpath, leaning against the lock gate with a glass of beer in my hand watching the mallards and a solitary swan while inside the floor-to-ceiling glass doors I could see a wedding reception in progress. It was a posh wedding, or at least a moneyed one (they’re not necessarily the same thing). Some extremely expensive clobber and jewellery was on view. I became aware that the amount of movement inside the reception room was increasing rapidly when suddenly the doors burst open and a brawl flooded onto the towpath. Expensively dressed women were taking wild swings at other expensively dressed women; men in morning suits were punching seven bells out of each other. One by one, wedding guests were going involuntarily into the river. I saw one man who under normal circumstances I would imagine to be a significant presence in the world of Commerce and who stood well over six feet and weighed more than 200 pounds deal with three lesser opponents in this manner when a beautifully dressed girl aged about ten with a face of unimaginable sweetness punched him with such force in the one place where no man wants to be punched that he doubled up, retching, and was heaved easily into the Thames by a man standing by. The man and the sweet young girl high-fived each other before making once more for the safety of the hotel.
On another weekend I was staying at an hotel near Sunderland of which a tender Providence has erased the name from my memory. I do remember that a golf course was attached to it. On this occasion there were two wedding receptions and something caused ill feeling between them. Maybe one party was made up of Toon supporters and the other of Mackems – I have no way of knowing. Whatever the cause, the fight that rolled back and forth across the lobby was so fierce that furniture, vases and windows were smashed with abandon and the fun only stopped when the police arrived in force.
I was still thinking about these sources for my wedding scene when an old school friend who returned to the north-east a few years ago sent me by email a joke about an Irish wedding. (Am I going to tell it to you? I think not; if I were to list the best Irish jokes I’ve ever heard this one would not get into the top one thousand). I told him my stories and he responded with this:
There was one in this area a couple of weeks ago where the bride to be gave birth at Hexham Hospital, then discharged herself and the baby immediately so they could all leap into a van headed for their wedding at Gretna Green. The party then went to the Anglers Arms at Kielder village (very remote) where the groom “glassed” the best man and they all ended up in jail.
How accurate a rendition of the true story that may be I have no way of knowing but it does leave me a little depressed when I contemplate the scene I have to write. To be taken seriously, fiction must bear at least some relationship with what people see as fact. When weddings in real life give rise to this sort of thing, how is the poor author supposed to compete with reality?