Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I'm afraid there is no chance of brevity, so I hope you have a few minutes. At last, at last The Story can be told. I now of course feel like a bit of a fool for all that cloak and dagger business with the Undisclosed Location. You will be expecting to be told that I was doing espionage, at the very least, or running off with a mysterious Albanian, or having a tattoo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa inked onto my right shoulder blade.
It was, as some of you have cleverly guessed, a wedding. As I said a few weeks ago, my very tall, very clever friend N was planning to get married to his boyfriend. (I know it is officially a civil partnership, but that sounds so bloodless; it will always be a big gay wedding to me.) In a rather glamorous fashion, they are going to have a romantic wedding party in the sunny Mediterranean in September. But as well, there has to be the legal part: going to a registry office in London to sign on the dotted line.
Sarah, my co-writer, who is also N's great friend, called about ten days ago. 'He is threatening to go and do it in his lunch hour,' she said.
'Oh no,' I said. 'That will not do at all.'
'I know,' she said, indignantly. 'I have persuaded him to have at least a couple of guests, and some cake.'
'There must be cake,' I said, nodding.
'I may make sandwiches,' she said, pensively. 'I know it's only a registry office, but it is still important.'
That was when I had the brainwave. 'I must come,' I said. 'It will be surprise.'
I do not leave the compound on a whim. I make two or three trips south a year, and these are planned weeks in advance. Packing starts at least a fortnight before I go. But I have known N for twenty-five years; we met at university, and have been bosom buddies ever since. I love him. I could not miss it.
Things were slightly complicated. My deadline is looming; one of my dogs has just been diagnosed with a heart condition; my stepfather had been in the hospital. I wondered if I should just leap on the sleeper and go for the day. Whatever the logistics, the more I thought of it, the more I knew I had to be there.
Then I had a tremendous idea. Last week was, as you know by now to your cost, Cheltenham. I would spend most of it watching the ponies on the television anyway. Why not put the dogs in the car, go to the beloved cousin in Gloucestershire (her husband is working in South America, so it would be nice for her to have the company), and then drive calmly to London for the wedding?
I was due to leave on Saturday the 11th. The forecast on Friday was for a huge band of snow, flying in off the North Sea, between Edinburgh and Preston. The more I looked at the weather map, the more terrifyingly impassable it appeared. I kept thinking of the stories from the last snow, of people stuck on the A90 for 36 hours. At three-thirty on Friday afternoon, I suddenly made a policy decision, threw everything I could lay my hands on into the car, and fled south, the weather at my back. It started to snow as I got to Moffat. I only just got out in time.
So it was I ended up having an enchanted week with the cousin, my eleven year old godson, his sister The Dancing Queen (you should see her moves), and the adorable Three-Year-Old, who, it turned out, loves nothing more than watching a bit of racing on the telly. 'Horses go gallopy; faster, faster,' is her refrain. We shouted ourselves hoarse over the four days, caught up on all the gossip, made endless jokes, and ate my special green soup. It is rather an odd thing to say of a week when the news brought daily horrors and tragedy, but I can't remember the last time I felt so purely happy.
I wish I had been able to show you photographs, but I was stuck with the iPad. I do rather love my iPad, but it is a very limited vehicle for blogging. The keyboard is rotten, the screen is too small to check properly what one has written, and Steve Jobs, in his wisdom, has decided that it shall have no place to put in one's camera memory chip. Silly man. The absurd air of mystery I affected was because I had to preserve the element of surprise. N has a very demanding job; he has to read a great deal for his work; the last thing he has time for is to go and look at my blog to see the latest dog picture. But for some reason, I had become obsessed with appearing quite unexpectedly, like one of those ladies who leap out of cakes (not exactly like, obviously). What if he suddenly decided this was the week that he would see what I was up to, in the north, only to discover I was actually in the south? Hence the cloak; hence the dagger.
On Saturday morning, the sun decided it was its time to shine. It was as if the weather gods were smiling on the auspicious day. I beamed all the way up the M4. I went to lunch with my old friend L and her gorgeous daughters, one of whom is another of my godchildren, and they advised me on my outfit. ('Do you think the brooch and the earrings are too much?) I left the dogs with them, in their lovely sunny garden, and took a taxi to Peckham.
I am rather fond of Peckham. I had an actor friend who lived there, and when I was in my twenties I used to go to his flat and write perfectly awful screenplays, which we were convinced would make us millions. But all the same, it is not one of the parts of London that teems with hidden romance. I had a slight dread that the registry office would be neon-lit, soulless, replete with lino and woodchip. I wondered if people would laugh and point at me in my purple velvet coat and my red patent wedges and my jewel.
All the same, south London was in her pomp in the ravishing spring light. The lovely brick terraces they have down there were elegant in the sun, and everyone was out on the streets, smiling after the long cold winter. As we drove over Vauxhall Bridge, Louis Armstrong started singing It's a Wonderful World on the car radio. I laughed out loud.
To my absolute delight and amazement, the registry office turned out to be the most beautiful Georgian brick house, set back off the road, with huge sash windows, and a garden behind. It was like something out of Jane Austen. I could hardly believe it. I had arrived early, because I always allow time for two punctures, and so I stood out on the stone steps, a huge bunch of mauve tulips from Wild At Heart clutched to my breast, waiting, waiting.
At last, there he was. The element of surprise had been brilliantly preserved. He actually stopped, took a step backwards, did a double take, and opened his mouth in a perfect cartoon O of amazement when he saw me.
I hurled myself into his arms. 'You didn't think you would get away with this without me?' I said. Then we just laughed and laughed at each other, twenty-five years of history running between us, all leading up to this day of jubilee.
It was perfect. There were five of us. Sarah looked amazingly chic in an opera coat and fashionable wedges. (It seems they really are In this season.) The sun shone in from the French windows, where we could see the pretty garden, glimmering in the light. There was a fabulous Four Weddings moment when the registrar could not pronounce N's husband's name, and we all got a bit giggly. The vows were serious and touching. When the thing was done, we all burst into applause, and I actually whooped, I could not help it. ('Sorry about the whooping,' I said, afterwards. 'You know I don't get out much.) I was chosen to be the witness, because I had come the furthest. I had so hoped it might be me. I don't know if I have ever felt so proud and pleased as I signed my signature.
Afterwards, we toasted the happy couple in champagne, and ate cheesecake from Borough Market. I arranged the tulips. The sun went on shining. We all laughed and laughed and smiled and smiled. It was very simple, and very happy, and I shall remember it always.
Then I collected the dogs, and drove north. At Oxford, I stopped for petrol. As I drew into the service station, I saw the big moon. NASA had been getting very excited about it; it was to be the biggest moon in twenty years, because it was on an orbit bringing it the closest it has been to the earth since the early eighties. I had looked for it when I left London, not seen it, and then rather forgotten. But there is was, hovering over the horizon, bright amber, and absolutely vast. I never saw anything like it. It had a benign, reassuring aspect, almost paternal in some odd way. It felt like a sign, a marker of that lovely, perfect day.
I know there are people who do not like the idea of all this. I know there is the Melanie Philips tendency, which sees it as undermining the social fabric and going against Biblical law and I don't know what. I like to get into a bit of complicated abstract thought; it's one of my favourite hobbies. I have a fatal tendency to see all sides of an argument. But sometimes I think things are very simple. There is so much sadness in the world that we must catch every drop of happiness as it flies past. So I really do not understand how anyone could object to so much human delight. It's not often that you have a day of sheer, unadulterated joy. Saturday the 19th of March was one of those days.