It occasionally happens that a photojournalist supplements his labour of love with easier work that involves lump-sum payment. For some it’s what keeps them fed, housed and afloat. I had a call from a woman who was soon to be married: the £40 ad in the newspaper would pay for itself with interest after all. After some blinding with science with technical photo-jargon and keen questions I felt my heart jump as the lady graciously booked me for the upcoming wedding.
Jobbing photographers tend to relish a lucrative day snapping away at a family wedding. It doesn’t matter if it’s a revoltingly ugly couple, if there’s a screaming baby clogging the church with brattish wails, or even if you don’t get to pig out on a free slap-up meal, cake, and a pitcher’s worth of wine later on. Pay aside, weddings are mostly happy affairs complete with exuberant guests, the parents having spent more on that single day than they ever will another are anxious for it to be ‘perfect’. When things go wrong it’s often a trivial matter; the bride loses a keepsake she wanted with her at the altar or something. Witnessing those present being high-tempered over such unimportant rubbish is a great pleasure for journalists as many of us enjoy schadenfreude; especially if it is derived from frivolous histrionics.
I arrived to see many guests outside of the church as the vicar made preparations on an ideal sunny morning in springtime. The locale was a picturesque village in North-west England. I greeted and introduced myself around to people; both families were present, suited and booted with flowers pinned to chests.
Happy nerves abound: it’s all painfully normal. The usual remarks are made about my set-up which consists of two tripods, camera, a macro and all-purpose lens: ordinary folks having an extraordinary day, as usual. The groom’s father who we’ll call Albert referred to his son Henry in what I assumed to be a joke: “Henry’s been very excited about the mongoose. Ever since he was about eight he’s loved animals and nature. He first raised the idea aged sixteen, saying ‘Dad I want a mongoose when I walk down the aisle’. He’ll be the only man in England to ever have a mongoose at his wedding!”
The final words were stated with glowing paternal pride.
Nobody laughed and no awkward silence or glances followed. Another relation chipped in with “He’s been waiting nearly 20 year now an’ he had a helluva job securing one.” The topic then casually changed. Perhaps it was just a wry inside joke or eccentric relations everyone was used to and tolerates? I casually remarked that weddings tend to be pricy these days. Albert spoke up: “That’s true Peter; everything here cost about £31,000 all told. But it’s the biggest day of my son’s life and what price can you put on that eh?” – My habit of thinking about how many marriages end in disastrous train wreck style divorce reoccurred. For many people a wedding day becomes a sad, wistful memory of when the love was alive.
Pessimism was stifled by canapés and the bride’s cousin who I took to flirting with light-heartedly. She was a dyed-blond attractive girl in her late-twenties. Twenty minutes in I said it: “So your cousin’s husband-to-be has a mongoose on the way for the ceremony?” She sounded weary rather than enthused as she reaffirmed Henry’s infatuation with animals; it had only intensified after a month of Zambian safari. I mentioned I knew a few weasels in the press that could’ve substituted since I’d heard about the struggle to source the mongoose.
Everybody crowded into the church. It was an old place in the Gothic style with high ceilings, spotless stunning stained glass and pews freshly varnished. I stood at the grand, arch-bordered oak doors that formed the entrance, awaiting the bride and making a show of adjusting the tripods.
The bride, Miranda, arrived in a mildly trend-bucking old school Rolls-Royce. She looked similar to her vivacious young cousin but had a graceful, traveled air. She wore a traditional dress with a modest tail for nowadays at a mere 6 feet. She courteously posed for snaps and shook my hand lightly, asking with justifiably affected elegance: “Mr. Demain is it?”
I replied to the affirmative then pretended to chimp at my camera with a look of intense examination: most think you’re a workhorse who foregoes pleasantry for quality if you do that. Miranda entered the church to gasps and fawning and assumed her place at the altar awaiting the bridegroom.
Henry arrived on perfect time, just as all guests were anticipating and comfortable. One hundred and twenty people in all were present. He emerged from a dignified rented Jaguar saloon, and sure enough so did the mongoose on a leash. He was a portly, rosy-cheeked man who had succumbed to baldness young but had a genial, earnest baby face. I greeted him and his two friends and took more shots. He handed the leash to his best man; a pony-tailed ash-blond guy who to my relief offered me a wry smile and a wink as he assumed control of the little critter.
As I discreetly observed the ceremony from the doorway, the organist struck up a quintessential rendition of the Bridal Chorus as the stubby mongoose’s legs pattered up the aisle, leash tightly gripped by the groom’s hippyish pal. Then the party began: mongeese are carnivorous, aggressive bastards at times and the safari-numpty groom was ignorant of eventualities. A suit-wearing boy of nine booted the hitherto well-behaved critter with his pointed, polished shoes after swiftly leaping from the adjacent pew; his mother had no time to stop the sudden, gleeful assault. It wasn’t a hard kick; but it was firm enough.
Henry’s mongoose let out a high pitched cry and sank its sharp incisors into the best man’s leg; he cried out and released his grip on the leash. The animal bounded towards the altar, continuing to cry in a piercing fashion as a mixture of shocked cries, rumbles, stifled laughter, and soaring wedding music accompanied the creature’s relentless roam. The vicar backed off in haste, silk and cotton robes fluttering about his bespectacled, alarm-betraying face.
The mongoose vanished. The ceremony continued despite the best man having to exit to have his bite-wound tended to. Shrill wails of startled women and the mongoose periodically interrupted the vows and formality. The smart little bastard had taken to rubbing against guests’ legs as it darted between pews. The groom was more blushing than the bride: his face beet with evident embarrassment and shame as he fumbled words and repeated himself. His kiss to the bride was the most frigidly passionless I’d seen since observing my great-uncle grudgingly peck his wife on Christmas last year.
Later, Albert made the finest understatement I’d heard in awhile: “Things always go wrong with weddings! Little Toby will be punished for his cruelty. Come on he hardly ruined the day!”
The mongoose was eventually cornered by a veterinary team called in by the men of the cloth. Meanwhile a terrible, confetti-sprinkled row had erupted. Miranda’s beauty and charm were besmirched in smears of moist eyeliner as her vitriolic condemnation of her new husband went on: “You fucking cunt: happiest fuckin’ day of our lives? Happiest?! You’re a thick, self-centred, daft little shit for bringing a rodent to our wedding. ‘Oh, but it’s my dream’ you said! Fuck your bizarre fantasy dreams you shit-pulling – No! Shut your fucking trap!”
The groom looked pathetically sheepish and pleaded in that quiet, mulling-over tone that oppressed husbands adopt with irate spouses. I got the photos done after the bride scrubbed up but somehow the vibrant, jovial mood was never recaptured. Even as the cake was cut and the slap-up meal and red wine were served the newly-weds’ smiles were strained and joy hollow with the bouquet never thrown either.