We were delighted when our son Simon proposed to Sara during a romantic holiday in Mauritius, and were even happier when they decided that they wanted to be married in our garden in France. How nice that they had grown to love our little patch as we do!
Some research, however, revealed the practical problems of being married in bureaucratic, secular France: weddings in France are always civil ceremonies in the local Mairie or Hôtel de Ville, followed by a blessing in church. Prerequisites for the civil ceremony include residential status. So they decided to have a “quickie” registry office ceremony in England, followed by a blessing in a French church near to Tessel Bas.
Organising the wedding was quite complex, but fun, it brought us into contact with the locals and also with local expats. The ecclesiastical side was cleared through the Anglican chaplain for Aquitaine and confirmed with the Curé of Villeneuve – which required some scary telephone calls (my ecclesiastical French vocabulary is virtually non-existent!). The secular side involved coordinating people such as the local caterer, the florist, the organist, the choir, the hotel for guests from the UK and the ladies’ hairdresser. Simon & Sara came out for a couple of prenuptial visits but the rest was coordinated by phone and email.
At Tessel Bas the resident handyman packed his wife off to the UK for Peter’s 21st birthday and got stuck into the redecoration of the lounge. Afterwards the grassed area outside the kitchen window was terraced, paved and a pergola built to support a grapevine. Perversely seeing this as a challenge the handyman eschewed the use of mechanical aids and got big and brown while wielding pickaxe, shovel and barrow. An unfortunate fortnight of rain when work on the sticky clay was impossible put the project back, but it was completed with a week to spare.
During the week prior to the wedding, Simon, Sara and the wedding guests from the UK arrived by Ryanair, car and TGV. I spent some time on Internet weather sites wondering whether the planned reception in the garden was a safe bet. Fortunately I had a Plan B, which was to place the tables on the covered terrace at the end of the barn, or, in the case of really bad weather, Plan C was to use the barn. Accordingly the rest of the time was spent clearing out the barn!
The Wedding Eve was hot and gave the guests a taste of a Lot & Garonnais summer day; the final guests arrived and a dinner in the hotel gave people a chance to meet each other.
The Wedding Day dawned bright and dry but with a dire forecast; Plan B was invoked and the tables laid out under cover. In Tessel Bas, Sara emerged as a vision in white ready for my last task as chauffeur for the bridal car.
A last minute hitch was a locked church organ with a quarter of an hour to go - but multiple phone calls in bad French to the Pujols' ecclesiastical hierarchy combined with divine intervention by the Anglican priest managed to free up the instrument.
The bride arrived a suitable five minutes late at the church.
The service by the Rev Barnwell-Bearcroft was in the beautiful mediaeval Church of St Nicolas at Pujols. Bible readings were given by Simon's close friend, Jason, and Sara's sister, Jackie and the groom was supported by best man Tim Gillis. An excellent expat choir provided tuneful support to the hymns and a notable Ave Maria.
After the service the party assembled outside the church for photographs to be taken by the Official Photographer, Peter Gillis. It was bright and the promised rain held off.
Back at Tessel Bas the guests were greeted with champagne and petit fours, then took their places to a hastily reorganised seating plan and tucked into an excellent meal catered by two efficient girls from the “traiteur” (caterer) "La Garonnaise" in Villeneuve (recommended).
The traditional “piéce montée” ritual was exciting and gave many of the Brits stories to dine out on – the fireworks atop a mountain of glazed and cream-filled choux pastry balls made a dramatic sight.
Bride and groom were then each given a bottle of champagne, the neck of which had been broken by the waitress’ tapping with the back of a heavy knife. A few more taps and cork and bottle neck were launched into space, allowing the champagne to be poured into the top of a fountain of glasses.
Finally the more significant players said some short and touching words.
Towards the end of the celebrations heavy thundershowers started but under the terrace and in the barn we stayed dry - the barn became a disco cum indoor football pitch, allowing those who had been seen spending short breaks watching the Cup Final to relax and those with lovely white dresses to get them thoroughly grubby while boogying on the dance floor!
Unfortunately several calls to taxi numbers failed to persuade taxis to come out into the sticks at that time of night; however Christine was on hand to ferry the bride and groom and Tim and Jo back to their hotel in Pujols, then to lead a small convoy of the more sober drivers back to Villeneuve.
Next day the attractions of a damp Sunday in Villeneuve proved less than those of returning to Tessel Bas, so most of the guests came to lunch; fortunately we’d got an enormous leg of pork which spent almost four hours cooking on the Weber kettle barbeque, producing sweet meat and crispy crackling and helping to feed the multitude.
Some guests left that night, Simon and Sara left on Monday to be able to fly off on their honeymoon in Antigua on Wednesday; Peter and Bernice helped with the clearing up and left on Wednesday.
“La noce” is French for the wedding festivities and “faire la noce” idiomatically means to have a really good time. We certainly did and I believe that the others did too.
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