Elisa Segrave

I got married in January in my dead grandmother’s fur coat. I had to take it to the furrier afterwards as the seams had split. The furrier thought that the soft chestnut fur was dyed ermine and said it wasn’t worth getting it repaired; it had split too many times before. The coat probably hadn’t been kept cold enough during the summers, he explained.

There were only 12 family members and one Irish friend at our wedding in a Catholic church in Kingsway. Even the flowers weren’t ours. The priest had suggested that we use ones left over from a splendid Irish wedding there the day before. I walked up the aisle in the fur coat and a short orange dress I’d just bought in the Harrods sale. I felt rather sick. I was three months pregnant and recovering from mumps. When the wedding march started, I realised, too late, that I’d missed my chance of doing it properly. Now I’d never have a white wedding.

I’d already been living with my husband for two years when we decided to get married. It seemed out of place to have a conventional wedding. Why then did I feel that regret as I walked up the aisle about not being a ‘real’ bride? Why, at the last moment, did I make a bid for respectability by asking my Catholic godmother’s husband to give me away? (One reason was that my father was dead and my brother was embroiled in a dispute with his Hackney neighbour, who kept banging on his door and holding up new-born puppies, threatening to sue him and his mongrel Sid for paternity unless he found them homes. Already ‘stressed out’, it was doubtful that he would be able to get out of bed in time for the morning ceremony. He did.)

Of course in not having a white wedding, I was simply following the habits of my friends and peers. Most of us in the Seventies married in registry offices. There was something phoney and passé about the old-fashioned conventional wedding (or so we thought), particularly if you’d been living with the man already. I recall only one exception: R., a young woman who had two white weddings in three years. Her first marriage collapsed at once and at her second full-blown wedding in some formal church near the Strand, she was literally bursting with her prospective husband’s child. Soon that marriage folded and she married once more.

My American friend Liza, who’d been at acting school in London, married a gay friend of mine in a Kensington registry office for £200 so that she’d be able to join Equity and work in English rep. None of the other men she’d asked could go through with it. A couple of ‘straight’ men, still in their twenties, at first thought it would be ‘a bit of a lark’ but then balked, saying that, after all, they took marriage seriously and couldn’t possibly have a fake wedding, even for £200. Initially hard-headed in the determination with which she’d approached various men with her offer, Liza lost her cool when it came to the actual event. That morning she bought a romantic flowery dress and large straw hat from Biba, and at the party one of us threw for her with fizzy white wine she wept tears of remorse. A few years on, after she had divorced her gay husband and remarried, in a respectable Jewish-Episcopalian ceremony, her first husband suddenly spotted her in the first Superman film. He nudged his current boyfriend excitedly: ‘That woman is my ex-wife!’

My grandmother had died a few months before I met my husband. For years she had held onto three bottles of pink champagne for my wedding. She had been longing to see me ‘settled’. It had never occurred to her that I might be happier single, though once while we were walking round her garden, she admitted that some women married ‘just to have children’.

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