The day of our registry office wedding on 4th May 1984 was gloriously sunny. During the two days of frantic organising, the Englishman had managed to enrol the help of our neighbours in Southsea, a couple who lived opposite us, people whom I hardly knew. The husband had deep sideburns and grey hair. He got very drunk at parties I’d been to in their house, which was a mirror image of the one we stayed in. In his inebriated state he’d get out his guitar and sing to us. His wife was a short, jolly woman in her forties with jet black hair, which I suspected was coloured because of the white roots that showed at the parting. But she was incredibly kind to me. When on that Wednesday, two days before the ceremony, she found out about the wedding, she immediately crossed the street from her house opposite and demanded to know if I’d bought everything I needed.
‘You have to have something, old, something blue and something borrowed,’ she said ushering the Englishman out of the way. She took me shopping the next day, and said she’d be over on the night before the wedding to make sure I had company. The Englishman was to go out with his friends, ‘to celebrate his last night of freedom’. He was planning to stay the night in the Bed and Breakfast rooms his best man’s parents had upstairs in their pub. ‘It’s bad luck for you to share a bed the night before your wedding,’ my neighbour said.
The Englishman squeezed my shoulders, ‘You going to be alright here on your own?’
I nodded. I’d lived in the house in Southsea for weeks on my own. Why would this one night be any different?
The night before the wedding I sat with my neighbour on the velour sofa in the front room of the terraced house and emptied half a bottle of Smirnoff she’d brought with her, ‘I remembered you said Finns drink vodka.’ I told her about my fiancé, about the night at the British Embassy, about the Englishman’s ‘mistake’, about the tennis player, about my father, and about my mother and sister. She held my hand and listened. We laughed and we cried.
The next day, in the back of the neighbour’s car, clutching the posy of white and pink roses she’d ordered for me, I took her hand and thanked her. When she noticed the whole of my body was shaking, she put her arm around my shoulders. Her husband, who was driving, turned around and gave me a worried look. I felt the black curls of my new friend’s hair touch my cheek and smelled the strong musk perfume she wore, ‘You’ll be fine girl. You know you love him and he loves you, so there’s nothing to worry about.’
Her husband nodded vigorously from the front seat, as if to confirm her words.
I smiled. I knew they were both right, but suddenly the previous night, alone in the large bed, listening to the empty house creak all around me, I’d panicked. It dawned on me that in the morning I was going to marry and there wasn’t going to be a single person there who knew me. I was abroad and utterly alone. I’d not had the heart to tell either my sister or mother about the wedding. I didn’t want the real wedding in Finland to be spoilt for them, but when I lay there drunk on the vodka and wide awake, I realised that what we were going to do the next morning was the actual wedding. This was going to be when, in law, the Englishman and I were going to be joined together.
‘You look lovely,’ my neighbour said and gently helped me out of the car. I was wearing a new white hat I’d bought shopping with her and a white skirt and top my friend in
had made. The blue of my outfit was a lacy garter I’d bought at the same time as the hat. My white shoes were the old item; they were the same pair I’d worn to the cocktail party when I met the Englishman. Finally my neighbour had lent me her gold bracelet, which was the only item of jewellery, apart from my pearl earrings and of course the diamond engagement ring, that I wore. Finland
Outside on the pavement there were a few smiling faces I knew. When the people saw me, they hurried up the steps to the registry office and disappeared inside.
But my nerves would not let me be. When inside, at the top of a mahogany staircase, further down the landing, I saw the Englishman chatting to his best man, my legs almost gave away underneath me. He kissed me lightly and said, ‘You ready?’
I looked into his eyes and fought the tears. I couldn’t speak but nodded instead. He placed my hand in the crook of his arm and turned to his best man, who disappeared behind a set of double doors.
‘We’ll wait here just for a moment, and then we go in,’ the Englishman whispered in my ear.