And so, at last, the time had come. DaveJohnDaveJohnDave and Mathilde’s wedding. A bit like a royal wedding, really, except that this wedding would be the union of French and English families, rather than German and English families, with the added advantage of a rather more diverse gene pool.
So, it was with excitement that Lady Barton St Mary, Miss Katherine, Master Johnny and yours truly met up with Drew, Princess Ellie and their family at Bristol Airport for the trip to Toulouse. Abbie, Dave’s daughter, was also flying out with us, excited to be the ‘chief bridesmaid’ at the ceremony the following day.
We picked up our hire car at Toulouse Airport and drove down to Montescot, not far from Perpignan. I have discovered over the years that most of the hire cars on the continent tend to have a high pitched squealing noise when getting about, but recently I have detected the fault. Lady BSM is now seated in the back of the vehicle, where any sudden intakes of breath or suggestions that the sat nav system is incorrect in its directions on foreign roads she has never encountered before can be nullified. However, narrower roads with sharp bends and sheer drops to the left and right were almost too much to bear. Miss Katherine suggested that in these circumstances it may be suitable to put her mother in the boot.
We made our way to Mas Belric, an old farm estate where most of the guests were residing over the celebratory period and the venue for Dave and Mathilde’s wedding feast and reception. There, we were greeted by the happy couple ,The Marquess and Marchioness of Prestberries, Pete, Bendy Corrina, Soccer Billy, Poppilicious and Mathilde’s French relatives.
I was introduced to a thin, wispy Frenchman who had a thin, wispy beard and long brown hair, interspersed with grey and cement dust. He wore a long baggy jumper and an old pair of slacks. It was hard to tell if he was in his work clothes or whether he was a very recently released hostage of Al-Qaeda.
“Bonjour,” he said. “I am Benoir, the owner of Mas Belric.”
“Benoir has renovated the rooms,” the smiling French lady standing next to him explained. She had bright eyes and tanned skin, a healthy glow that comes from eating lots of lamb and cheese and drinking local wine.
“I am Ghislaine, the wife of Benoir,” she explained.
I surveyed the magnificence of the renovated buildings to my left and the ruins that were the other 75% of the property on the right and felt an instant empathy for Benoir. I looked into his rheumy eyes and detected a kindred spirit.
“I am a slave to zis place,” he murmured in a sad French accent.
The pool was full of happy, screeching children and happy screeching wedding guests.
A number of these folks had set up shelter in tents erected in the big old barn in the (as yet) non renovated part of Mas Belric, which had become known as ‘the refugee camp.’ Being hardened festival goers, these people knew how to make themselves at home in extreme circumstances. Most of them were involved in the arts or theatre and had at some time worked with Dave and Mathilde in and around Cardiff. In fact, I quickly realised that the creativity of Cardiff must have reduced by at least 80% during the week of the wedding. After seeing some of the actors partying hard, I should think the bar takings would have been similarly reduced.
Having left our children to their own devices in the refugee camp, we made our way to our hotel with The Marquess and Marchioness. This was situated on a very steep hill and required a couple of intricate car manoeuvres. I managed to squeeze the car in, but Lady BSM by this time was in the front seat, so the ringing in my right ear took a couple of hours to fade.
The following day, I prepared for the sweltering heat that the south of France is famous for. It turns out they were lying. It was cloudy. Worse, it was colder than England. We would later discover that this was the worst recorded May weather for nearly 250 years. However, it meant I didn’t have to worry too much about overheating in my suit.
The ceremony took place in the town hall, where a very proud mayor gave a great speech, translated into English, about the marriage of Dave and Mathilde, likening it to other great events like the 6 nations matches between France and Wales, though Mathilde looked stunning in her pink wedding dress and Dave equally dapper in smart blue suit and cravat. There wasn’t a gumshield or scrum cap in sight. The ceremony was everything you would want it to be, with a fantastic battle of the hats as the mothers of bride and groom did their best to embrace. Mathilde’s uncle gave a rousing performance on the organ, fully committed and suitably involved to provoke Drew into suggesting it was like watching Jon Lord’s best solo efforts in the 1970s.
And so, they were married and driving themselves off, back to Mas Belric and the obligatory welcomes and congratulations, followed by the wedding meal.
Lady BSM and I found ourselves on a table with Mathilde’s parents, Alain and Monique, as well as The Marquess and Marchioness, Antoine’s friend Pierre and Pierre’s son Antoine and his wife. Conversation was stilted at first, but red wine is a great translator. Pierre, an Anthony Quinn lookalike, engaged me in a suitably cross cultural conversation where we both learned some valuable things that both great nations could agree upon:
1) Johnny Wilkinson is indeed a wonderful rugby player. Yes, it is a shame that French players are ineligible for the Lions.
2) Concorde was a death trap and should never have been a passenger aircraft.
3) Margaret Thatcher was indeed a complete cow.
The food, as you can imagine, was magnificent. There was lamb of the highest quality, lots and lots of cheese, lots and lots of wine and champagne.
Then onto the speeches. Alain started with a few words in English, which were met with rapturous applause. The crowd were with him and he finished on an emotional high and an ovation.
The best man’s speech was rather novel, being delivered by Drew and Pete, with a powerpoint presentation. Drew read ‘Seven Ages of Dave’ in English, whilst Pete translated into French. It seemed to go down well in both languages, though some of the English to French was later reported to be a bit bewildering in parts, saying they had been able to keep up with the English version but the French translation gave them a nosebleed. One of the French guests explained that the part of the speech about Dave as a little boy releasing the handbrake on the camper van and hurtling down a hill into a grassy bank had in fact been relayed as : “he ended up running into a financial institute full of marijuana…”
Which, personally, I find funnier, plus the fact I have trouble getting past the French for hello and goodbye, let alone get the right tense and meaning of an entire wedding speech.
The dancing that followed was bound to be raucous. Most of Cardiff’s finest DJs were present, spending the evening wrestling over the decks as wedding guests wheeled, wobbled and careered around the dance floor to some of the best music available to humankind; no Will.i.aren’t or No Direction aural effluent at this shindig. More shouted conversations and laughter in Franglish ensued, with lots of kissed cheeks and hugging. By this time, bottles of rum had been discovered and Pascal, the French man with a passing resemblance to a young Bobby Womack, made a stream of rum cocktails, ably assisted by his lovely partner Sarah, who explained in her Scottish accent that she was also from Cardiff. Confused, I was delighted to find a whole barrel of French lager at my disposal, which helped me to make more sense of it all.
It was about this time that the true French spirit of ignoring all health and safety regulations came to fruition, as the satiated guests made their way onto the patio to release an enormous number of Chinese lanterns. Watching several of the guests trying to light them was fascinating. I swear a couple of the actors staying in the refugee camp and renowned for their party habits lit them just by breathing on the wax. The sight of dozens of lanterns disappearing into the night sky made one feel both wistful and liberated, whilst air traffic control at Perpignan airport went into meltdown…
The dancing continued unabated into the early hours. English, Welsh, Scottish, French, Spanish, Moroccans, Argentinians, Africans, all united together in an orgy of drunken dad dancing. Nigel Farage would have been crying on the bar of his golf club if he could have seen it.
It was with a heavy heart that I left the party around 1am, knowing that any further participation could result in a severe strain on my liver. I’ve seen a few performances involving my little brother in law. I’ve seen him as The Scarlet Pimpernel, a tree, a snake, a monkey (or was it a dog?) and as a spy. But I think that ‘husband’ could be the best role he’s chosen in his life.