Choosing wedding outfits for a gay couple can be a minefield. Do you match? Do you complement? Do you co-ordinate? Should it be a surprise? In the end we decided to go for matching suits, but different ties. The suits we eventually settled on were we grey three-piece numbers from Charles Tyrwhitt.
The ties we chose were both gifts from Donny’s dad in San Francisco. Also, the silver pocket squares were also made by Donny’s dad so it was really good to have a little piece of his parents there, even though they could not be there in person.
Donny’s shoes were awesome, as I think you’ll agree:
Mine were somewhat less colourful, but super comfortable – which is a definite advantage of dressing well as a man – you can look fabulous and still have working feet at the end of a wedding.
As the day got hotter and later we lost the jackets to reveal my favourite part of the ensemble:
Our waistcoats had this fantastic electric blue fabric for the back, which just looked sensational (if I say so myself). It wasn’t a conscious choice to find outfits that matched the colour scheme of the wedding so well, but the fact that the suits we liked also had this amazing colour as part of the ensemble – well, it did rather seal the deal.
We greeted my brother Jimmy this morning, and then our friend Debby who flew in from Philadelphia. And then in the evening the partying began in earnest when Chris’s parents, brother, sister-in-law, and the Ruggiero clan from New York all descended upon the Wong-Dicken household.
It was a short evening–we started at 5:30 and kicked everyone out by 9:30. But it was SO MUCH FUN! How often in life do you get to get different family members and friends from so many different parts of your life together in once place? By my reckoning, this type of convergence happens at going-away parties, at your wedding, and at your funeral. And for the latter–everyone will be enjoying it except for you.
But not only were they interacting, they were also enjoying each others’ company, getting to know one another, and forming new friendships. And much of it without any of our help. We even had a small cake that we cut as if it was our wedding cake (actually, it was our wedding cake because we’re not having one on Friday!).
For me, even if this small party at our house tonight was the entire wedding “event”, I would be wholly satisfied. And tomorrow is going to be amazing…it will be the same thing as tonight but 10 times bigger (well, 6.21 times bigger, but who’s counting?)–and 100 times more fun!
Today was our last day of wedding admin. We put together the ‘Magic Bag’ (a bag containing everything we will need on the day), did a bit of last minute shopping and also got the house ready for a party tomorrow evening where family and jet-lagged Americans will enjoy pizza and bubbly together in our garden. Then this evening we got together with our ushers to go through the planning for the day, and also have a lovely meal out together – which is the closest thing we’ll have to a stag night before the wedding.
Actually, I reckon the evening in the pub will serve well as our stag night. We will have a gang of friends together, in a pub, with a drag queen. What’s not to like? Why celebrate a ‘last night of freedom’ when it’s much more exciting to celebrate ‘a first night of partnership’.
As I write, Donny’s brother – Jimmy – is currently on a plane somewhere above Canada and he is heading our way. This wedding deal has just shifted gear from ‘planning and preparation’ to ‘oh my goodness this is actually happening’.Tomorrow morning we welcome Jimmy and also Debby (our friend from the US) straight off their planes and into our home and the whole wedding experience will officially begin. I hope I’ll have a chance to blog but if not – see you on the other side!
I’ve just spent a very pleasant morning working on signage for the venues. Nothing gets you into a more romantic mood than creating signs to tell people which toilet to use.
I’ve also been working on speeches for the day. Donny and I will be attempting to do two speeches together – which could be either end up an almighty mess or else be the best comedic double act since Morcambe & Wise (and I love that Donny will have no idea who they are). Speeches are actually my favourite part of being involved with a wedding. I’ve always loved public speaking and a best man’s speech is a brilliant opportunity to show off a bit. The grooms’ speech is generally just a long list of thankyous (which we are doing as there are so many people to thank) but we are also doing our own personal little spin. Again – could be brilliant, could be terrible. Either way – there’s wine to drink.
Like Donny, the stress and activity of the last few weeks is starting to take its toll a bit physically and I’ve been having real problems sleeping recently. It’s not that I’m dreading it, it’s just that there are so many details whirring round my head it’s really hard to switch off. Still, I’m off work this week so it’s an opportunity to chill out and reflect a little on the important things about getting married – such as the fact that I have forgotten to make the seat reservation signs…
So following on with Chris’s mini-blog update, here’s mine:
We’ve been quiet on here the last couple of weeks…but only because it has been a flurry of activity filled with daily discussions with different vendors, friends, and each other about lots and lots of details. I was doing OK until a couple of weeks ago, when it suddenly dawned on me one morning that we had only TWO WEEKS LEFT. I like to think of myself as being relatively calm and unflappable, but I underestimated how the anxiety would creep into my subconscious (via a series of strange vivid anxiety dreams), and the physical symptoms that also accompanied the mental ones. Having several work deadlines also didn’t help.
Nevertheless, there was some time for humour. I played a roguish trick on all my Facebook friends by posting a picture of someone else’s wedding at the Town Hall with the caption “What a lovely day it was”…which note doubt caused many brief moments of panic across London as friends double checked their invitations.
Anyways, I was glad that we had distractions such as the Olympics and friends visiting from the States over the past two weeks. And in fact, we have been attempting as much as possible to continue with our normal busy lives. For example, this past weekend, in addition to wedding planning, we had a Thai food cookery course in west London on Saturday, and an evening at the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday to hear two youth wind orchestras.
So these final few days, now that we have just FOUR DAYS LEFT, will be filled with speech writing and vow writing, and a bit of cleaning before family and friends start descending on Islington en masse. And everyone, keep your fingers crossed for dry weather!
Inspired by various daily Olympic micro-podcasts I’ve been enjoying over the last couple of weeks, I’m going to have a go at writing a mini blog update each day this week on the run up to the wedding. I probably won’t be blogging on Friday – you know how it is.
Today there are just four days left before the big day, and bizarrely we’re finding that the closer we get to it, the more relaxed we’re feeling about the practicalities – mainly because most things are nailed down now. We’ve briefed our key helpers, done our final confimation with the registrar and venues and it looks like we will definitely have a wedding on our hands come Friday.
Having said that, last night I only slept about two hours, which is probably down to my sub-conscious doing cartwheels about the epic implications of the week ahead, but hopefully that’ll sort itself out. Or I’ll have a flask of espresso with me on the day itself to take sneaky sips from.
Today I will be spending most of today in a cinema watching The Dark Knight Rises on IMAX – it’s important to have your priorities straight 🙂 Also today I will summon up the courage to have my final pre-wedding haircut. Probably nothing too radical – unless the mood strikes me.
The only other big outstanding job is writing some personal vows for the ceremony. It’s been a real challenge this and I’ve been umming and ahing and trying ideas out for weeks. I’ve tried trying to do something funny, and that didn’t feel right, and I’ve tried something with more formal composition, but that felt stuffy and contrived. This is a bad time to get writer’s block. Maybe I will end up just reading out the end scene from When Harry Met Sally after all…
Those of you who have been following my part of the blog know that I have been dealing with a lot of conflicting feelings about my family and their reaction to the news that Chris and I are getting married. I genuinely did not know if my parents were happy about the situation or not. And they are probably as conflicted as I am.
On the one hand, I am certain that they were still holding on to a shred of hope that this “gay thing” was a passing fancy and that I would eventually find the right woman to settle down with. Getting married to another dude obviously dashes this last remaining hope to smithereens. (And never mind that I had previously been in a relationship with my ex for 14 years, which is still longer than the marriages of most of my school friends). If it is indeed a phase, it is one to be measured by decades rather than by seasons.
On the other hand, they have to feel at least a modicum of happiness that their younger son has found someone (whom they profess to also like) to spend the rest of his life with. The only thing is that the person whom I have fallen in love with is not of the gender that they had envisioned for me when I was growing up, and they still dont have the emotional wherewithal to embrace us for who I am, rather than who they think I should have been. So this modicum of happiness is likely to be bittersweet, at best.
So it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I landed in San Francisco last week. I had been in Philadelphia for a medical conference, and decided to tack on a few days in San Francisco for some client visits and to see my family. As a bonus, it was my brother’s 40th birthday and my older nephew’s 5th grade graduation, so there was plenty of opportunity for the whole family to get together.
One thing I noticed almost immediately was that the invitation we had sent to my parents was nowhere to be seen. I eventually found the invite and the save the date card, both tucked inside an old birthday day card inside a big pile of cards. The invite had obviously been hidden from sight, in case anyone visiting the house should see. I was not at all surprised by this (but I also could not help but feel a bit annoyed, since I knew that even wedding invites sent to them by distant acquaintances would often be displayed prominently on their dining table for months before and after the wedding was over.)
You see, I was already used to being marginalized in this way by my parents. For example, despite all those years that my ex and I were together, there were never any pictures of us on the fridge or any of the walls. However, the walls are festooned with pictures of my brother and his wife, and of their two kids. On the fridge there have only ever been two solitary pictures of me–one of me alone and one of me with my brother’s dog–and these have been up for well over 15 years. In this way, they could acknowledge that I existed, but also continue to fool themselves and others into thinking that I was not gay but merely single, as in the pictures.
And so, for the first couple of days, I did not mention the wedding. And neither did they. I had already written a lot about the Elephant in the Room, and they were still playing this game of avoidance. They had shown no interest at all in attending the wedding, or even talking about the wedding. So I needed some way to engage with them, and to connect with them because this game of avoidance is a zero-sum game, with no winners and only losers on all sides. Continued avoidance would just create further distance between us–an open wound which would eventually turn into a chasm or void. Life itself and the physical distance between us was hard enough. No family needs such additional obstacles.
My big opportunity to bond with my folks came from my suit, of all things. I had brought back my wedding suit for my dad to alter. He’s a master tailor with over 50 years of experience and it is not uncommon for me to bring back some “homework” for him to do in the form of trousers that need hemming, zippers that need repairing, or pockets that need re-lining. But for this suit, in addition to helping me save a few bucks, I thought it would be a good way to get him involved in the wedding, albeit indirectly. However, when I first brought out the suit for him to inspect, his first reaction was to ask, “Why on earth did you buy another suit? You already have so many suits that I have given you.” (Yes, that is how deep the power of avoidance and compartmentalization can be–he truly had no clue what the suit was for).
“It’s my wedding suit, I replied.” And then at last he understood. The change in his expression and demeanor were instant. And I finally saw a glimmer of hope that it was even possible for him to engage with me and with the wedding. He might not have the words to express his feelings, but his youngest son was going to get married, and he was determined to make sure that the suit fit me better than any suit he has ever worked with. After pinning and marking all the alterations that were needed with my outfit, I showed him a photo of Chris in his suit and in addition for chastising me for not having brought Chris’s suit for him to alter, he proceeded to document in detail all the changes that Chris’s outfit would need in order for his suit to also fit like a glove. We’ll be taking these instructions with us when we go back to the shop in London for Chris’ fitting.
My mom’s opportunity to participate came when I modeled the finished product for them. She came over for a look, and to fuss a bit over the outfit, and I could sense that she was proud of me and of the man I had become (although again, the words were lacking). She again lamented that the wedding was so far away, and that there was no way for her to get there without having to board a plane.
And finally, on my last morning in San Francisco, they presented me with a monetary wedding gift for me and Chris, with apologies about their inability to come to the wedding. Most importantly, however, the gift also came with verbal reassurance that they would be happy for us both, even though they wouldn’t be there in person. That was worth more than any amount of money. And so I was able to finally breathe a big sigh of relief, and to smile a bittersweet smile knowing how difficult of a journey it has been for them and for me to arrive at the very point we had just found ourselves at.
We are discovering that the more actual work there is to do for the wedding, the less we are updating this blog. Sorry about that. Here’s an update on where we are.
First of all our fabulous invites eventually arrived from the US and they have gone out.
We just love the ‘I DO’ idea that our friend Kiki came up with, and we’ve loads of positive feedback too. I expect that it’ll find its way into other things like the orders of service and place settings, and all those other things we should probably think about at some point. Working with a professional designer for the invites was a bit of a luxury, and we could have probably done something ourselves for a bit less money. But just having a dedicated and creative person coming up with all these fantastic ideas has meant that the finished result is streets ahead of anything we could have achieved on our own. And having someone else sort out the printing for us was just amazing. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Kiki at Alternate Greetings if anyone out there needs some fresh and funky graphic design.
And on other areas of wedding preparation, it has to be said that we are doing pretty OK.
We have paid the final deposit on the town hall so we are definitely getting married. Phew. And we have suits to wear! Hooray for not being naked! And we’ve got some rings on order too. From Hawaii of all places. Now comes the fun part of customising the ceremony to make it reflect our personalities a bit. Surprisingly, the standard civil partnership ceremony wording they have at Islington isn’t actually that bad – they’ve made it sound just like a wedding ceremony. The driest part of the whole thing is the legal part which we can’t change – it goes something along the lines of ‘by signing this piece of paper you are confirming your desire to enter into a civil partnership’. That’ll have them weeping in the aisles… But aside from that we are coming up with some readings and music to make the thing really feel like our day.
And figuring out how to enter from the ceiling on abseil ropes. Obviously.
Lunch is pretty much sorted too, and people seem keen on the lunch options we picked out. All we really need to do is figure out some content to entertain people with between courses. There will be a few traditional speeches, but we are also going to try something a bit unusual with a bit of audience interaction. Should be fun.
The only things I am losing occasional bits of sleep over are the drinks reception and the evening. We’ve paid deposits for both venues, but whereas the Almeida has a dedicated person for us to deal with, with the other venues we have been dealing with lots of different people, who sometimes tell us different things. I’m sure it will all be OK on the day, but we may be recruiting a few friends to run ahead to the venues early and make sure they know we’re coming and have everything ready.
Worst comes to worst – all back to ours…?
One of the biggest challenges I’m personally facing is keeping in mind why we are actually doing this. A wedding is such a powerful cultural institution that runs deep in everyone’s sub-conscious. Everyone has an opinion on what makes a good wedding and a bad one. When thinking about the day I can’t help but compare it to ones I’ve been to, or ones I’ve seen in people’s Facebook photos. How will we measure up? Should we have spent more money? Is a pub really the right place to spend a wedding day? Shouldn’t the manager have called me back by now? (That last one is going through my mind right now as it happens).
But then I take a deep breath and remember that as long as Donny and I actually get married at some point, the rest of the stuff is just details. We aren’t creating a moment for the ages. We’re providing an opportunity to have the people we care about be with us as we start the next stage of our journey together. If we can have a laugh and eat some good food as well, that’s all to the good.
So we have had a fairly eventful week in the Wong & Dicken household. First of all, after much hemming and hawing and trying on dozens of suits, we have finally gone back to a nice one that we both liked very much the first time we saw it and tried it on. Our suits fit all the criteria on our checklist: European cloth, design, and construction; can be worn on occasions other than our wedding (otherwise we would have just hired something for the day); festive enough that we don’t look like we just left the office; special enough that we look like grooms rather than guests. Hopefully none of the guests will upstage us by showing up in tailcoats or a tophat (which I did see happen at one wedding we attended).
And NO, we didn’t go for this outfit.
So the next step is that I will be taking my wedding suit home to California for my dad to alter. He’s a master tailor with over 50 years of experience working on high end Italian suits, so I think he will do a great job on mine. Plus, it will give him an opportunity to participate in the wedding, albeit indirectly. And for him to have to handle the wedding suit will make it all more “real” to him, if that makes any sense. It’s too bad that Chris can’t join me on this upcoming business trip since it would have been great to be there together, as a couple. (Plus my dad would be able to alter Chris’s suit too). We still need to get our accoutrements for the suits too (ties, shirts, pocket squares, etc), so if anyone has any recommendations (or knows of a good tailor in London who can alter Chris’s suit), please feel free to pass along the details.
Also, after a couple of weeks of waiting, we have learned that our invites are still stuck in customs. They were designed and printed by our talented friend Kiki at Alternate Greetings, but the Royal Mail doesn’t seem to care. Nor do they care that we are working on a deadline. Instead, they are treating the invites like any other business shipment entering the country, which needs to be checked for contraband and for which duties must be levied. With foresight Kiki has mailed out the U.S. invites on our behalf, so at least one portion of the invites are out already. (A slightly scary thought, as this now means the event is on for REAL and there is no turning back!).
And we have also touched base with each of our venues. One venue apparently has come under new management since we made our deposit, and has had a complete turnover of staff! A nightmare scenario, but the new manager was very accommodating, and they were able to find our names in the Big Book (where all the important pub events are listed), so we at least still have the venue. And I checked in with the venue for our drinks reception too, in order to get a few details (that affect where we purchase bubbly)–and have now been informed that we may not be able to bring our own bubbly after all! I have an appointment to speak with the manager next week, so hopefully we’ll get that detail sorted soon. And lastly, we’ve also been in touch with the restaurant, and those of you coming to the wedding will be happy to know that we have now added a dessert course (with a choice of crème brulee or raspberry white chocolate mousse!). Yum. And lastly, we have paid the final deposit for the Council Room at the Islington Town Hall. Again, it’s all real and it’s all happening!
Any lessons from this past week? Probably a “touching of bases” 3 months before the big day should be prioritized on the diaries of anyone planning a wedding. And as we go into the final stretch, I would aim for once monthly touching of bases with each venue and stakeholder. Also, especially if international guests and invites are involved, if I had to do things all over again I would err on the side of caution and have invites printed, delivered, and sent even earlier than the 6-8 weeks recommended by most wedding planners. (Who makes up these rules anyways? And do they apply to all countries and cultures?).
Fingers crossed that everything else will run more smoothly from next week onwards…
So here is another article about us and this blog, this time in the Islington Gazette. We’re sandwiched in between a few stories about the Arsenal football team, a missing paedo who failed to check in with the police, and an article about a Twitter campaign against the “dog poo menace“.
I guess this is a cue to write more about Islington, and some practical tips that we can pass on to anyone else planning a wedding in Islington.
1) The Islington Town Hall is gorgeous, and everyone who works there is super friendly. Go visit if you are considering a wedding in Islington. However, be aware that the Town Hall is an office building first and foremost, so if you are planning a weekday wedding like we are doing, be aware that some rooms will be off limits (due to meetings). We originally wanted to have our drinks reception in one of the adjoining rooms near the Council Chamber where our ceremony will be held, but because it is a weekday, there are conflicts with groups using the space for its original intended purpose. A Saturday wedding would have allowed for a reception, but Council Chamber hire fees are a bit steeper on Saturdays (and the Town Hall is closed on Sundays). Also, there are not many town halls in the boroughs within Zones 1-2 that can accommodate 100 guests. Most can only hold 50-60 guests. Because of this, Islington Town Hall is quite popular, even among non-Islington residents, so book as far in advance as possible if you want to get married there.
2) We opted for the Vineyard across the street for our drinks reception. It has a lovely outdoor space if the weather decides to cooperate, but you can reserve space inside just in case. The deposit is only £50 for semi-private hire. Full private hire, which we considered as an option (but only briefly until we found out about the cost!) can be as much as £10,000 minimum spend on a weekend evening. Ouch. The Vineyard can also do canapes, and their corkage fee is a reasonable £10 per bottle. Hence we are currently on a quest to find excellent (yet reasonably priced) bubbly that would come in at (or hopefully lower) than the price of the venue’s house bubblies after adding on the corkage fee. Other places we considered for a drinks reception included the Almeida Theatre, which has a lovely foyer next to the cafe and bar. Unfortunately, the theatre will be undergoing some maintenance and refurbishment late this summer, so we weren’t able to book the space.
3) There aren’t very many restaurants along Upper Street that can accommodate greater than 75-80 guests in one room. In fact, most restaurants would be jam packed with just 50 diners. We probably looked through the windows of almost every single restaurant along Upper Street. The two that stood out were Fredericks and the Almeida Restaurant, which can each seat around 100 guests. Fredericks also has a lovely garden and conservatory, which would make a great reception and photo venue. We had a meal at both restaurants to try out their food, and both delivered on that front. The team at the Almeida, however, has been extremely accommodating and flexible so far, and we have enjoyed ourselves immensely each time we have dined there.
Other venues that we briefly considered included St Lukes (a former church now turned into a concert hall, but with a £6,000 hire fee. ouch!), Clissold House and Stoke Newington Town Hall (council chamber is too small), some of the various guild halls in the City (too expensive), Kings Place (where we could have arrived at the reception via canal boat), Tower Bridge (too expensive and too small, although it would give a great view over the Thames), Lincoln’s Inn (too formal and expensive, although beautiful), and the Central Library by Highbury Corner (would require too much work to turn into a suitable venue for a wedding reception, but it is a great space for putting on a stage show). We also considered a few options further afield: a friend’s restaurant in Camden, and a pub in Muswell Hill that used to be a church. However, both would have required the extra complication of requiring transport from the Town Hall. (The Wedding Special double decker bus would have been a fun option, but costs about £500 per bus, each fitting about 50 guests).
4) We also checked in with almost every decent pub within a 1.5 kilometer radius of the Town Hall for a place to go to after our meal. There are some lovely pubs with beer gardens in Barnsbury. The Albion and the Drapers Arms immediately come to mind. However, these gastropubs consider themselves to be restaurants first, and pubs second. (and because they are in residential areas, they are also quite sensitive to noise and large groups). And several could have been nice places for exclusive hire for the entire reception (for a smaller guest list), although also with £4-6K minimum spend. Many of the pubs with lower minimum spend were a tad too small for our group, but again, two stood out: The New Rose on Essex Road and the Florence near the Town Hall. Both serve food, and also seem responsive to calls and emails. (This might make it into another blog post eventually, but I am amazed at how so many pubs and restaurants can be so poor at returning messages! Especially in this current economic climate, don’t they realise they are losing business?).
So there you go, some practical advice and things we learned while investigating wedding venues in Islington. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions. We’re happy to share our views and experiences.