The Hen Do

Hens admiring the cocks on the 'Hen Calendar'

Hens admiring the ‘Hen Calendar’

I wasn’t planning to end my hen do in A and E. I am sure nobody does, but as a sedate thirty-something bride with my daughter in attendance for half of the event, I wasn’t planning a scene of messy carnage. The most adventurous thing I did was to wear contact lenses, one of which tore and got stuck in my eye, bringing my night to its premature end.

The ‘hen do’ apparently first appeared in the UK in the 1960s as a feminist response to the tradition of the ‘stag do’ and became popular in the 1980s. They were initially modelled on the stag do, which enacted every male stereotype in the book – excessive drinking, womanising and creating outrageous initiation rites for the groom (tying him to a lamp-post naked seems to have been a popular one). Although the name ‘hen do’ apparently references the Middle English word ‘hen’ meaning ‘female bird’, the aim of the night was not to conform to the typical female stereotype – it was for women to indulge in laddish behaviour. Just because they could.

As hen and stag dos competed for the reputation of showcasing the worst of British drunken behaviour, and more and more places refused to host them, the entertainment industry came up with solutions in the form of hen and stag ‘experiences’. Now, Google ‘hen do’ and you are answered with a whole host of organised events, ranging from canoeing in Wales, to dance lessons, to nude drawing classes. While it is still possible to stick with the popular 1980s format of drinking too much and dancing on tables until you collapse, there seems to be an expectation that you will ‘do something a bit different’ (and also, ‘a bit more expensive’).

I avoided the pull towards the suggestive and bawdy (blindfolded games of ‘pin the willy on the man’ being one suggestion from a friend which I rejected), and planned a day having spa treatments. Chief Bridesmaid and her friend came, and had their nails painted and their hair done. I had a massage and my first ever facial, most of my friends had facials or manicures, and my Mum came out with beautiful red toenails. My hen do approximated more closely to older forms of the bridal party, which would focus on preparing the bride for the wedding day. In the West, friends of the bride-to-be would dress like her in order to confuse evil spirits, and in India, it was traditional to paint henna tattoos on the bride, to protect her from the evil eye. Another suggested origin for ‘hen do’ is that it comes from ‘henna’. My day was focused upon relaxation and beauty, but without the precautions against the evil eye.

It certainly beat being tied to a lamppost, but my eye looked pretty evil after the jagged edge of the contact lens had lacerated it for a few hours. It began as a slight irritation while I had my hair styled in the spa. As I drank cocktails and got ready to go out, surrounded by the woman who brought me into the world, the daughter I brought into the world, and the friends I have made in between, it became more of an insistent pain. By the time we went out for a meal, the alcohol was definitely numbing the pain. The evening was relaxed and happy, the wine was flowing and glasses were clinking in my honour. It was perfect.

Sometimes this is the right time to leave – on a high – and this is what happened when two of my nurse friends looked at my eye and decided that the emergency department, not a nightclub, was the place for me.

A couple of hours later, my eye thanked them and the doctor who managed to remove the lens. Eye patch in place, I decided to call it a night, although my friends were still in the club, now drinking shots in my honour. It was enough for me, although there is now talk of a replay, a ‘bride do’ to make up for the bits that I missed. Whether that happens or not, the night can never really be replayed for me, for never again will I be at that point in time – less than 3 weeks away from getting married, wondering what the Big Day will bring…

Wedding Vows

Hearts and promises...

Hearts and promises…

Like most couples, at the instant we met we were child-free. However, unlike younger couples, we would not be child-free for several years while we cemented our relationship and planned for the future. Three hours, at most, would separate us from school pick-up time and the resumption of parenting duties. As our children unsuspectingly practiced for their Nativity Plays, we sat outside a cafe and talked. It was November, as I recall, and our words came out in puffs of smoke which mingled with the steam from the coffee on the table.

It was a small sliver of time in which to be our independent adult selves, to focus on each other, like any new couple. Yet on this occasion and the many that followed, our conversation focused often on the kids; we found a mutual pleasure in sharing stories about them. There was no ‘me’ without my daughter, no ‘him’ without his son, and no ‘us’ without the both of them. Right from the beginning, there were four of us. As the children meandered through their school day, they didn’t know it and neither did we, but we were beginning to dream a family into existence.

Five years later, we sat down to plan our wedding service. We wanted to acknowledge the importance of the children, without making the entire day about them. After all, they will actually leave home one day, and our union will outlast the family unit we are creating. I flicked around on the internet for ideas about involving children in weddings. In the US, there is a ‘family medallion’, a patented idea which seems to be fairly popular. It comprises three engraved circles which interlock to symbolise the couple and the child (ren), and is sold with wedding vows for children (also patented). We decided that these were too commercialised, and I wasn’t sure about the Venn diagram symbolism. The circles seemed more representative of a couple with a baby, than our shape-shifting family. Rather than three interlocked circles, we feel like planets orbiting one another – moving independently, sometimes out of sight of one another, but always returning to the same point, linked by forces we cannot see (like hunger, that undeniable force that brings them to the dinner table every day).

The children are fast heading for puberty and the creation of their own mini-universe, already beginning to struggle for independence, and so now doesn’t seem the right time to get them to promise commitment to an extra parent. I was even less convinced when I read this heart-rending comment on an internet discussion forum: from someone who had been overjoyed to get the family medallion as a child, only to be disillusioned when the marriage broke down:

‘It taught me that promises can be broken,’ she said ‘and I felt responsible for the marriage not working, as if I hadn’t kept my promises.’

This testimony reminded me that promises should not be bandied around like sweets; they are too heavy a burden for a child to carry. Yet, for my Intended and I, who have chosen to make promises on this day, it is important to show that we are committing to one another’s children as well as each other.

I carried on clicking through vows and comments, had a brief laugh at the idea of my daughter promising to obey my Intended, before finding these words:

‘I was not there when you took your first steps, but I promise you now that I will love and support you in every step you take in your life.’

This seemed to say just enough, but not too much. There is an acknowledgement that we are not the birth parent, and a simple promise – one that asks nothing in return. I felt that I could keep this promise, regardless of what happened between my Intended and me.

More clicking, and I found the necklace (above) and this beautiful thing from notonthehighstreet.

Dog tags and promises...

Dog tags and promises…

The pieces of jewellry on this page are made by Dizzy; we think that Best Man will like the dog-tags and Chief Bridesmaid the necklace, engraved with something short and sweet. Hopefully they will keep them and treasure them, these symbols of how far we have all come since that cold November day, back in the mists of time.

The Juggernaut

As 2012 turned to 2013, the wedding was approaching like a juggernaut. I felt the ground shake underneath me at the approach of 60 stampeding guests, all expecting to see a bride in a dress, not to mention flowers and cake (none of which were yet arranged). This wedding, which I had wanted for so long, was beginning to feel like a force of doom, bearing down upon me as I fought the urge to run away.

Dress from shopweddingdress.co.uk, showing how I will probably (not) look on my wedding day...

Dress from shopweddingdress.co.uk, showing how I will probably (not) look on my wedding day…

It seems that it is normal at some point to feel as if you have totally lost control of your wedding. For me, this happened at the moment that I ceded victory to my old school friends over the guest list. Having initially decided that I found drunken guests much more offensive than children at a wedding, I made the decision to avoid inviting people I knew were likely to view the whole event as one huge piss-up. This decision survived a few weeks of anxiety and guilt, until a bad dream in which they were hurt and no longer speaking to me prompted me to invite them all. And their boyfriends.

The guest list having grown exponentially, along with the cost of the wedding, we went to view the small room into which these guests would be stampeding. At the wedding fair, we spoke to people on flower stalls and cake stalls, and the photographer we have miraculously managed to book. Everyone asked the same question

‘What date is the wedding?’ and then pulled the same expression of shock and horror.

‘How long does it take to bake a cake, seriously? Do you have to order a birthday cake a year in advance? Why would a wedding cake take a year to prepare for? Why do you all make such a fuss?’ I muttered (but silently, in my own head).

Put the word ‘wedding’ in front of anything (flowers, cake, dress, drinks, meal) and it seems to take on an extra seriousness and gravity, a slightly ominous and threatening quality – as if the ingredients are all somehow different and harder to get right.

We emerged from the wedding fair somewhat frazzled. We drove silently through the frosted country landscape, the trees becoming starker against the sky as night fell. My Intended pulled into a car park in front of a building that looked familar: – a B-and-B that we stayed in once, in the early days of our relationship. Memories rushed to greet me like old friends.

A few hours later, ensconced in front of a log fire with a glass of wine and a meal, happily discussing our past and our future and basking in a warm contented glow, I felt as if nothing could faze me. Until my Intended informed me that one of the guests is planning to bring some of their home-made moonshine to the wedding…