Practicalities Venue

Work Work Work

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.

Family Key Events Practicalities Venue

The joy of practicalities

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.

Nope, not that one!
What we did NOT choose for our wedding

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…

Islington Practicalities Venue

More about Islington

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.

Practicalities Venue

Go With The Flo

A quick update on the practical arrangements:

The Town Hall is all booked for the ceremony, and we have paid the sizable deposit for the restaurant for lunch (so whatever else happens on the day – people are going to eat!) This only leaves a couple of loose ends now – the main one being over what we’re going to do in the evening.

The plan has always been to have a more informal ‘after party’, where people can join us after work and have a few beers. But finding a venue in Islington that can accommodate us has been really hard work. For some mysterious reason, bars that would normally be crammed to the brim with thirsty booze-hounds on a Friday evening aren’t too enthusiastic about allowing a relaxed group of friends to spread out and take over the entire place. Can’t think why…

All our favourite (slightly swanky) places wanted a good £5-£10,000 guaranteed minimum spend for us to hire out the place, which just isn’t an option. We did find a couple of places that would let us reserve large areas, but the added complication is we’d like to have a bit of live acoustic music as part of the evening fun, and that just isn’t an option when the other half of the pub would be full of noisy Friday night revellers.

However, just when we were starting to give up on the idea of doing music, The Florence (a pub right between the Town Hall and our lunch venue) got back to us and offered us their function room. It might be a bit of a squeeze, but they will let us do music and bring in our own food, and people can always spill into the main pub downstairs if it gets too crowded. So it looks like a very pleasant evening is on the cards. Can’t wait.

[EDIT: Now we’ve got the entire pub for the whole evening. Amazing!]

The Florence

Practicalities Venue

All The Money In The World

Remind me why we are getting married in London? Why don’t we just bus everyone out the middle of nowhere and then bus everyone back again. IT’LL PROBABLY BE CHEAPER!

Oh yeah – that’s why.

<fx: breathe>

So, we knew the meal would be a bit pricey but that’s OK as Donny and I are both big foodies and we wanted to treat everyone to a really nice meal because, frankly, how often to you get to do that for a huge bunch of your close friends? Well, hopefully not too often or else your bank manager will be having words.

Anyway, after the meal we were thinking what would be easier and nicer then all piling down to a local bar, taking the place over and having a lovely relaxed evening of drinks, snacks and live entertainment? Except when I started to arrange this today I discovered our top contender for bar of choice wanted a minimum spend of ten thousand pounds.


OK – let’s figure this out. If their staff costs all came to a grand that would leave £9,000 split between around 150 people. That’s £60 per person. That’s enough for a really good meal and a bottle of wine each. Not an evening spent drinking beer and eating sandwiches.

So it’s back to the drawing board. The plan is to look for places within a 15 minute walk from the restaurant which are a bit more off the beaten track and have a rather more manageable minimum spend. I’m sure there’s a place out there with our name on it.

Announcements Dates Key Events Practicalities Venue

Days and confused…

So it has been difficult to select a date for our wedding. You naturally want to be inclusive. And you instinctively want to be practical. And yet you want to please as many people as you can. But at some point, you just have to let go and accept the fact that the one all-inclusive-date-that-fits-100-peoples’-schedules does not exist. And so you have to make sacrifices, and take chances, and eventually just commit to a date that you think will work for the greatest number of people.

It seemed easy at first. We found a venue we liked (Islington town hall) and a restaurant we liked (to be announced), with the seating capacity we were looking for. So you’d think that it would be a simple matter of marrying together the available dates from both places to see what we are left with. With the help of a lovely lady named Viktoria, who is the friend of a friend who works as a registrar at Islington town hall, we were able to get a list of times for dates we were interested in. And the restaurant had previously told us that they didn’t yet have many wedding bookings. Ace.

We had started off by blocking out a series of dates that we knew would not work. This included bank holidays, upcoming trips that we already knew about, other friends’ weddings and celebrations, the Greenbelt festival that a lot of friends go to every year, Chris’ band concerts, and of course the Olympics (during which London would be crowded, hotel rooms would be scarce, and transportation would be chaotic). Then there were two other criteria we wanted to consider: school holidays and peak summer flight fares. And this is where we started running into trouble.

Oddly, both Chris and I have quite a few friends on the invite list who are schoolteachers, and their needs are very similar to those of parents with school-aged children (even if they dont have children of their own). So one key issue we had to consider was that the school holidays are different between the US and UK. Whereas the school season starts up in earnest at the very beginning of September in both countries (Labor Day is the typical last hurrah before school starts in the US, while the August bank holiday serves that purpose in the UK and students are back to school the first Tuesday in September), the academic year doesn’t end until July 20th in the UK, whereas it ends a full month earlier on June 22 in the east coast of the U.S.

So suddenly, we found ourselves with a much narrower timeframe than we thought, when both countries are on summer break, and that timeframe is sadly punctuated by the Olympics, which will knock 3 weekends out of commission. And of course these times also correlate with peak fare season for the airline industry. I checked out summer fares to London and whereas the inbound trip to London was as cheap as $250 from the east coast of the United States, the flight back was almost triple that price! (In contrast, flying in June or September, while school is in session, could easily knock 40% off of those peak fares.)

Also, for extra flexibility with budgets and negotiating, we wanted some weekday options. For an American guest, a wedding on a weekday versus Saturday would be neither here nor there since they would likely be on vacation anyways while visiting London. Time off can be very difficult for school teachers to get during the academic year, so this was another reason we wanted the flexibility of having the wedding during the summer recess. But this then opens a new can of worms as all our friends who still have to work during the summer would have to take a day off.

And lastly, the other dates we considered were in September and October but the problem there is that anyone with school aged kids, and our schoolteacher friends, would not easily be able to attend.

To make matters more complicated, last week being Chinese lunar new year and all, I started looking into “fortuitous” wedding dates based on the lunar calendar (not that I really believe any of that stuff, but it doesn’t hurt to choose a lucky date if you have options. Friday 13th was another date on our list!). The system is very complicated, but certain dates are earmarked as good dates to get married–although not for everyone because there were exceptions for those born in the year of the dog, rat, dragon, or whatnot. My sign, the ox, wasn’t affected negatively by any of the dates on our short list but Chris’s sign, the dragon, was affected by a couple of dates. I can only imagine Chris’s face when he saw my email talking about these special dates–we were getting stressed out enough just with having to make some choices, all the time realizing that time was ticking (and other people were out there booking venues too!!).

And so at the end, I needed a zen moment. And so I learned to let go.

We got some advice from friends who had gone through the same thing several years ago. And it was good advice–the gist of it was that you cannot expect to please everyone. So the most important thing is to find dates that work for you. And so, there you have it.

Dates Uncategorized Venue

Shadow puppets in love. What’s not to love about this video?

No major news this week, but we’re winnowing down sites, dates, and options. Everything is becoming a little more real–and hence a little more scary too! Anyways, here’s a fun video with a cute message that’s all done with shadow puppets.

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The joys of Islington

So I am happy to announce that we have decided to try to do as much as possible for our wedding in the borough of Islington, where we live. You already saw in a previous post how enthralled Chris and I both were with the main council chamber at Islington Town Hall. And I was personally taken by how friendly and welcoming the staff at the reception at Town Hall were when we told them we were interesting in having our civil partnership ceremony there. (Islington has a strong history of supporting GLBT rights, including sacking a registrar who refused to perform civil unions after those rights were granted by British law in 2005).

My personal history with Islington goes way back, to the days before I moved to London, when it was still an idea rather than a reality. I still remember sitting down with my company’s CEO with a map of London. He had lived in London for 12 years and still had many connections to the city. So he marked a few places on the map that he thought I should check out as nice places to live. He remarked that Knightsbridge and Belgravia would be far out of my price range, but suggested that I check out Chelsea and South Kensington, Putney and Fulham, Notting Hill and Holland Park. I didn’t realize at the time that these were all prime places to live around central London, and that the salary he was sending me to London on would barely afford me a studio in these areas!! (I should have taken the opportunity to ask for a raise). But ranked #4 on his list was Islington in North London, which I checked out while on a pre-move visit.


I still remember walking over to the Angel along Pentonville Road. I had set off after work one day from the office at Russell Square, passing by Euston Station and Kings Cross-St Pancras Station. And I found myself feeling strangely at home.

Now fast forward a few months: I was in my temporary flat in Bloomsbury after having made the move, and I had been scanning online adverts for affordable one-bedroom flats for hours. I had previously had a bad experience with a housemate in the months before I left Boston, so I was adamant that I would live alone no matter the cost.  I started my search rather pragmatically by drawing a 30 minute walking radius around the office and seeing what I could afford. Naturally most of the area around the office (Covent Garden, Soho, Mayfair) were far out of reach on my salary without doing a house share. But there on my computer screen, I was looking at the perfect flat off Kings Square, on the southern tip of Islington, in an EC1 postcode, just a few minutes walk from the Angel, and within a 25 minute walk from the office. It was the first flat that I saw, and I knew that this was going to be home–and it was where I stayed there for over two years.

So naturally when I realized I was going to stay in London for a while, and it came time to hunt for someplace to buy, I looked primarily in Islington. This time I ended up in the north-east side of the borough, near the Hackney and Haringey border. And this is where Chris and I now call home.

What do I like about Islington? Our area of Islington, called Highbury, is relatively quiet, yet with good transport links by both tube and bus to central London. One side borders on being lily white with tons of hair salons, and even a fromagerie, yet on the other side we have a wealth of ethnic markets and a multicultural blur of activity, a little bit of craziness, and some edginess, and we are a stone’s throw from Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal Football Club. We’re also surrounded by three parks within short walking distance (perfect if we ever decide to get a dog), the lovely village atmosphere of Stoke Newington Church street (where Daniel Defoe used to live) is just a stone’s throw away, and the bars, restaurants, and hustle and bustle of Upper Street are just a short bus ride away.

And best of all, two of these “top 10 British pubs” are within stumbling distance! So Islington is where Chris and I have set up shop, and Islington is where we will be inviting everyone to our nuptials (once we have decided on a date and venue–but that’s another story).


Cake Practicalities Venue

Say “cheese”!

Say "cheese"!

So just for the record, Chris doesn’t want confetti, and I don’t want a “cheese”-cake (unless it can be made en croute and doesn’t look crappy like this one that we found on a wedding photographer’s blog. Honestly, who wants something mouldy on display for everyone to see? Or a mound of stinky cheese in the corner of the room, with aromas emanating for all the guests to enjoy along with their meal?

In my opinion, a real cheesecake would be far tastier than the traditional English wedding cake (which is essentially a fruitcake encrusted in some frosting sugar). My American friends would find the idea of a fruitcake as a wedding cake rather odd, since you typically see them only at Christmastime, and because no one really likes eating them, they tend to be regifted. Frequently. And since part of my work is to research the drug markets for obesity and diabetes, I feel that we should be presenting healthier options if we are allowed to make any choices. Fruit cake anyone? Fruit Cake

But I digress. We digress. In fact, we have been musing about what we would like or not like for our big day most of our waking hours when we have been together lately.  But we are definitely putting the cart before the horse, since the most important aspects of the big day–date and venue–have yet to be decided. I have to say though, that Islington Town Hall does tick a LOT of our boxes.