Scotland, Day 5: The Wedding

The Morning

Jane: With a belly still full of Innis & Gunn beer, I wake and am too full to eat a thing. We are ready for our morning run. The weather is lovely — a good Scottish morning, overcast, damp and chilly. We head to the canal and begin the run. Mark’s training schedule calls for 12 miles. He is ready to do a 5K instead, because today is a special day, but I say, “No way. We’re doing 8.” We decide we will run 4 miles down the canal and 4 miles back. Unfortunately, about 3 miles into the run, my body decides, for the first time all week, that it is ready to participate in gastrointestinal activities, and if I run one step further, I will forever defile my pants, so I tell Mark I have to stop and walk. He continues his run, as he is on a roll. I begin to walk back towards the house, wishing at every moment for a toilet, contemplating the possibility of stopping in a bush by the thistle on the side of the canal. At one point, I come to a church. It is architectually beautiful and there is a neat old cemetery behind the sanctuary. I think, “Surely, the church is open for the parishioners who may wish to come in and pray. And they most certainly have a restroom.” I try every door. Having walked around the entire church, I come to the conclusion that it is abandoned and no longer in use. It’s locked up tight as a drum. I continue my very uncomfortable walk back to the house, clenching and worrying about whether or not I will recognize the turn off when I reach the point at the canal when I need to head back home. It turns out all right in the end, thankfully.

The Card

We have told Helena and Billy that we need to get a card for the bride and groom to go with their gift. Helena offers to give us a card — they have many, but I feel so strongly that we need our own card that I have decided we must find a card ourselves. We do some research on Mark’s phone and discover that downtown Kirkintilloch has its own card shop, so we start walking to the center of town. My hope is that the two of us can stay out of the house all morning so that Helena and Billy and Wee Billy and all the groomsmen can get themselves ready without having to worry about us being in the way at all. My goal is not to shower until every other person in the house is clean, dressed, and beautified.

Kirkintilloch is a great little town. We pass by our favorite pub, The Kirky Puffer and find that there is a main drag at the center of town with the card shop, a clothes store, a couple of bakeries, a dollar store, and several thrift shops that all benefit different charities — cancer, heart association, etc. We go in the card store and immediately find several funny cards. It is hard to choose just one. In fact, we find many cards that we buy to bring home and give to friends for birthdays.

Mark buys breakfast at a bakery, but my stomach is still churning, so I look in all the cute little shops and admire their wares. Then, we head back to the house, hoping that everyone will be ready and we can start showering and getting ready. The morning walk to town with Mark is one of my favorite parts of the day. We two travelers, going on an adventure, chatting amiably, decompressing before a day of social overload.

The Photographer

Mark: If you’ve ever wondered who’s in charge at a Scottish wedding, it’s the photographer. I ask several people around me and they confirm as much.

You may be used to the American wedding photographer who hides in the wings, who crouches at the front of the church snapping shots from down low.

This is not the case here.

She carries several large cameras and positions herself directly at the front. The ceremony ends and it’s time to sign the registry. She spends several minutes arranging everyone at the alter before the signing continues.

At the reception, everyone is posed out on the patio for a group shot taken from the second floor.

Telling people “Close your eyes! 3–2–1, now open them!” becomes a running joke over the rest of the weekend.

But the end result speaks for itself.

The pictures are amazing.

The Reception

Jane: We get lost on the way to the reception. Jamesie kindly offers to drive us from the church, and the moment we get into his very fancy BMW, he asks if I would like a beer. “Well, why not,” I say, because I think he is joking, but he pulls over, goes into the trunk and pulls out a bottle of Bud Light. He realizes he has no bottle opener, and calls his sister in the car behind us to ask if she has one. I keep saying I don’t really need a beer at all, but these sentiments are ignored. The Scottish people are a very hospitable and accommodating bunch, and if they believe you want something, they will stop at nothing to obtain it for you.

Mark says he knows how to open a bottle with a key, so he starts working on it. Five minutes later, I have my beer, and Mark’s hand is bleeding. We drive for a while and find that we don’t know where we are. The fancy car’s navigation system seems not to be taking us where we need to go. We stop to ask a pedestrian if she can tell us how to get there, and she says she has never heard of the street we are looking for. Jamesie calls his son Graeme to ask if he has found the place, and Graeme replies that he has just arrived and is cracking open his first beer.

Eventually, we find the Glenbervie House and it is beautiful. A large estate set back from the center of town, peaceful and quiet. We take all of our bags and things down to the guest house where we will be spending the night, and I change from my uncomfortable blue flats into Ugg boots. We walk back up to the reception and see the wedding party held captive by the photographer. Shortly after we arrive, she sends bridesmaids to gather every guest at the wedding for a picture with EVERYONE. Standing outside in my one-strap dress, I nearly freeze, but the cold seems not to bother the Scottish women in their finery at all. They are a tough bunch, well-accustomed to damp, sunless days. The photo takes forever, but it ends up being a really cool picture.

We spend a long time chatting with everyone, drinking beers and soda with lime, eating hors d’oeuvres, waiting for dinner to be served. When it is time to find our tables, we go to look at the seating chart and find that we are at a table with no one we have ever met, which in the world of a Biek is quite possibly the most terrifying thing that can happen.

We sit at our table and say hello politely to all the other diners, and then we sit quietly for a long time. Soon the speeches begin. The bride’s father makes a lovely speech about how proud he is. The best man makes a very funny speech in which we find out that he described the groom’s sister’s boyfriend as “foxy” when they first met, because in Ireland, where he is from, foxy is a way to describe a redhead. The highlight of the speeches is when the groom, Billy, makes his speech. He declares that he has quite a few things to get off his chest, and now that he is part of Julie’s family, he would like to tell them exactly what he thinks of them. He proceeds to tell us how the birth of one couple’s son has taken attention away from him. Another couple gave Julie a better present than him last Christmas. His laundry list of complaints goes on and on and becomes more and more ludicrous, and I am reminded why we made the Herculean effort to cross the ocean and be here for the joining together of these two amazing people — two hilarious, beautiful, kind, fun people who will spend the rest of their lives together. How could we miss that?

After Billy has made us all laugh, and after a few beers, I feel much more at ease, and we begin to make small talk with the people at our table. We immediately hit it off with the couple next to us. He is a Scotsman and she is from India originally. They were recently married in India, and the bride and groom traveled all the way to Calcutta to see the wedding. Alan says that his wife Urvashi’s family still likes Billy better than him because Billy is such a good eater. He also tells us that his brother’s daughter, a flower girl in the wedding, much prefers Urvashi to him. Alan and Urvashi are charming and lovely, and the meal passes quickly as we are rapt in conversation.

The meal itself is amazing. There are many courses, and each one is more delectable that the last. It is the first time during the trip that we have been served a real salad, and we relish every last bite. Of course there is haggis, which is also delicious, and for dessert there are tiny cheesecake bites. Mark and I are both missing our own Stuart at this point of the meal, because Stuart is a cake connoisseur and there is no greater cake than a cheesecake.

The bride and groom do cut into a large tiered cake at one point with an enormous sword. It is pretty fantastic to watch. Billy says later, he was relieved to find out after the initial cut that they did not have to do the entire cake that way.

Soon it is time for the dancing to commence. Billy and Julie start us off with their first dance, and as I watch the two young lovers, filled with joy, gaze adoringly into each other’s eyes, I find myself recalling that moment when Mark and I held each other and laughed and smiled, and felt so full of happiness at the promise of the beginning of our life together. A tear falls down my cheek as I think of all the wonderful adventures that these two sweet souls will share together, and I selfishly hope that our paths will cross more often than every 6–10 years.

Before we know it, the group dances begin, and the groom’s father, Billy, snatches me up and tells me that I must participate. The first dance is so complicated that I never come anywhere close to doing it right. I feel ridiculous and clumsy, but I continue to flail about the dance floor and laugh riotously at my preposterous attempts to do whatever this dance is. I almost wish for the YMCA or the hokey pokey. My favorite group dance is a line dance, where each couple takes a turn, and the woman swings around by the elbows with every man in line, while the man swings around by the elbows with every woman in line. (The next morning, several ladies show me their bruised arms, as many people take this dance as a challenge to see how forcefully one can propel their dancing partner.) It is fairly simple to follow along with this dance, and everyone is having so much fun that the laughter and enjoyment are contagious.

The Elephant Tie

Mark: I first spot Stewart outside St. David’s. Just about anyone in a kilt cuts an imposing figure. But he’s a head taller than most and stands out as he walks down the sidewalk toward me.

He reads a poem during the service, his voice is clear and steady. I am surprised when he tells me later how nervous he was.

We first meet in the toilet during the reception. I have similar conversations with other men over the course of the evening but he is the first so it’s funny.

(I’m standing at the sink, him at the urinal.)

Have you figured out how to piss in that thing yet? (indicates my kilt)

Yup, it’s not bad. Turn the sporran to the side and lift up the front.

(He laughs) Cheers!

We’re standing in the hallway when a friend of his passes by, heading for the ladies toilet.

Having a meeting of the beard club?

Aye, that’s right!

We chat about beards, where we live, nothing of consequence.

Jane has been eyeing him all evening, dying to meet him, and is so pleased when I come back with information. She finds her chance to approach him at the end of the night.

The hotel staff are clearing out the dance area and trying to herd the crowd into the next room. Everyone (except me) is well into their cups. The three of us are chatting when I notice his tie is covered with white and red elephants. He is standing too close but it’s not unpleasant. Piercing blue eyes drift back and forth between the two of us as he talks.

He tells us how the tie was his grandfather’s. He tells us of one night at dinner with his grandmother and grandfather where he made such a show of liking the tie that his grandfather took it off and gave it to him on the spot. The grandfather gave him a second covered in zebras (pronounced zeh-bras).

His grandfather has died recently and Stewart is pleased to wear the tie in his honor. He made sure to stop at his gran’s so she could double-check his outfit. It is somewhat adorable to listen to this very handsome, extremely drunk gentleman talk about how much he loves his grandparents.

Jane: I have a huge crush on Stewart and I could stand and listen to him talk for ages, which I do. I read an article after the wedding that says the best thing you can ever do at a wedding is to listen to people talk, and I feel so pleased with myself because that is exactly what I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Stewart has funny stories about living in Ireland, face massages, and which of the bridesmaids he would like to take home. We find out the next morning that Stewart slept in the bathtub that night because he had to share a room with one of the groomsmen.

The Finale

Jane: The last thing you do at a Scottish wedding is play the song Loch Lomund by Runrig. It is a phenomenal version of the old Scottish tune, and everyone sings along. I remember this from when I came to Anne’s wedding in 1992, and I am so excited for Mark to see the spectacle.

We all gather around the bride and groom in a big cluster. We join hands and we sing Loch Lomund. We all run into the center of the circle towards Billy and Julie, and then we run back. The noise is deafening. A sweaty mess of party-goers screaming “You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore you,” at the top of their lungs.

In and out, forward and back, over and over, encircling them with our well-wishes, with our hopes and our dreams for them and their future.

The Guest House (Our American Friends)

Mark: Some people move into another room of the main house to continue celebrating. Another smaller group of us hike back to the guest house after the reception ends. It’s about 100 meters down a dark dirt road and we use our cell phones as torches.

It’s me and Jane, Stuart, Cloé, Chris, Jamesie, Catherine Coventry and Catherine Bianchi. Ann and Tad have already gone to sleep upstairs.

The first floor of the house has a giant den adjoining an even larger kitchen. Stuart and the others have brought massive amounts of food and drink. There is beer and wine, huge bags of chips, bread, cheese, and more.

Someone turns on the television to a music channel and Stuart and Catherine B. head into the kitchen. They make tea and coffee and cheese & toast.

Jane and I sit on one couch. Catherine C sits on the couch next to us and Cloé sits next to her. Jamesie and Chris are on the couch opposite us. Chris is well into his cups so he alternates between practically crawling into Jamesie’s lap and hopping up to expound at length about all manner of topics.

Chris refers to Jane and I as “our American friends” for the entire evening. We had an extended conversation during the reception that ended with him telling us what positive people we were and how we were going to do a lot of good in the world.

He is indignant on our behalf when the cheese & toast are served.

“Our American friends don’t want cheese & toast! They want mother-fucking chips and dips! Isn’t that right? That’s what American parties are all about. Chips and mother-fucking dips!” and so on. Also, if bread and cheese are on the menu, they need to be served as “grilled cheese.” “That’s what you call it, right? Grilled cheese? I’ll make some grilled cheese!”

We are absolutely loving our cheese & toast and lavish it with praise but Chris won’t have any of it.

Everyone laughs when Cloé says “Can ye not just sit quietly for one minute?” Chris is unphased.

We comfortably pass a couple of hours that way. Everyone is relaxed and conversation flows easily.

It is so pleasant to be a part of this group of people who all clearly love each other so dearly — brothers, lovers, exes, father and daughter, friends, and now “our American friends” are part of the mix.

We feel honored and we stay up later than we have in more than a decade, despite the fact that we are still sleep deprived from the journey.