An Invitation to a Wedding – Benedict’s Tale
Although the first couple of years of living in England, as a German National, were a little lonely; it didn’t take me long to make friends in the village.
England may have a reputation throughout the rest of mainland Europe for being a somewhat frigid and unsociable place to live, but the opposite is really true.
The real satisfaction of getting to know the people of England lies in breaking through their thick skin of awkwardness (that stereotype is at least true) and finding the good-natured centre that, this travelling salesman, believes lies in the heart of every man and woman.
Maive Atkins was one of the first people I met in my first few years in Weardale – a kindly mother of two, her children were just finishing secondary school at the time when we met in my Rookhope’s adorably small laundromat. There was only 6 machines in there at the time, and conversation was essentially forced on the few women and (even fewer men) that gathered there on a weekly basis.
I usually used this time to catch up on some reading, but feeling particularly alone that week (a visiting friend had just flown back to Germany, leaving me a little morose), I thought I’d make the effort with my new found neighbours.
There was conversation and friendship to be found in Rookhope, it just needed to be discovered.
I’d seen Maive there a couple of times before, usually bubbly and chatting with the other women, however this time she seemed somewhat subdued, gazing through the translucent windows at the grim November day outside, whilst the gentle chugging of the machines filled the room with a light steamy mist.
Her smile, when I asked to borrow her detergent, was one that was tinged with sadness. After a brief chat, I discovered that she was also feeling a little melancholy. Her children were growing up – although they were still only in their mid-teens – that was the age that she was when she left home. I consoled her with the truth that all children grow up, but they will always need their Mother in some shape or form – and that her job was never truly done.
It was a frank and honest conversation, something us Germans specialise in. Although I’d been in a little melancholy mood myself before we had this conversation, by the end were both laughing, whilst she regaled to me stories of her children, telling me all about their little idiosyncrasies, the kind that only a Mother would know.
That evening helped me make the transition from foreign outsider to local neighbour, and I’ll always be grateful to Maive for treating me with such kindness – although she always maintains that it was me that helped her that day.
Maive and her family moved away from the area before her children had a chance to leave home. So, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a wedding invitation through the post a few weeks back to her oldest daughter’s wedding in the medieval village of Wharram Percy.
Now owned by the English Heritage, the village was wonderfully decorated for the event – with bride and groom, and all in attendance, dressed in plain cotton or hemp clothing; the whole thing would have come off as gauche had it not been for the sincerity and warmth which the whole day was imbued with. In addition to a wonderfully authentic banquet with a whole roast ox as it’s centre piece, provided by Apex Catering, there was also a stunning piece of ice sculpture by Glacial Art depicting a grand icy replica of our meal, rearing up on it’s hind legs.
Although it had been quite some time since i’d seen Maive, I recognised her winning smile from across the room – filled with pride and devoid of the sadness that I had seen on our first meeting.
The wedding was a triumph. A glorious day, one of the last few remaining in this year’s Indian Summer – the ceremony, a non-faith based one, was held in the ruins of St. Martin’s church – with the roof open to the glorious sunshine and the interior wonderfully decorated with flowers of the season.
Although there is perception of England, mottled by fiction and television, of a grim grey land of dour faced individuals – this is not the truth.