Wedding at Halswell House

Blue helicopter G-LMBO is parked on the lawn of a large country house, group of guests in background

Now, where was I? Aah, yes … The night at Blackmore Farm was comfortable and restful, the breakfast of Somerset Smokies divine. Ann and Ian Dyer gave me a small booklet which they’d put together to answer some of the questions they must be frequently asked about their property, and it made very interesting reading. From memory, (I don’t have the booklet to hand right now) Blackmore Farm is featured in the Doomsday Book and the last private owners eventually moved on to Halswell House, where I was headed for Emily and Ben’s wedding today.

The Halswell Estate is situated top it’s own long, winding driveway from the village of Goathurst. The impressive square front was rebuilt following a fire, with the rear of the house being the original part of the extensive building. Today the Halswell Estate is having the arse run out of it by an institutional pension fund with maximum emphasis on profit at the expense of the character of the building. Large stains adorn the walls of many of the narrow wooden staircases which lead to the bedrooms. Our room (175.00 GBP per night) had no toiletries or bathmat, and a large nail banged crudely into the floor served as doorstop. The gorgeous beamed ceiling, for we were directly beneath the roof, and the truly authentic garderobe WC went some way towards the staff’s inflexible attitude in only letting us into the rooms at 12:00 precisely, not a minute before. From what I could gather by various accents and the paper file by the clocking-in machine, most of the “senior” staff were South African and everybody else was Polish.

The other wedding guests started to arrive just after 12:00. Some came by taxi, most drove. Chris flew in with his Robinson R44 and landed it neatly in front of the house – probably the most stylish entrance made during the weekend. Once Nicky had arrived with my suit following an unexpectedly long drive from home that morning we changed and drove the remaining few miles to St. Michael’s in Enmore for the service. I’m not at my most comfortable in church, seeing only hypocrisy and control wherever I turn, but the vicar – surely Jay Leno’s twin brother – made up for this with a splendid good nature and ever-smiling outlook.

The car which was to bring the bride had broken down on the way to the hotel, so I made good the 30 minute delay by opening at random the prayer book in front of me. The parable told of a man who was a rich land owner, living in a large house in the centre of town. At his gates lived a beggar, whose daily subsistence comprised of the rich land owner’s scraps. The book was at great pains to point out that the beggar suffered from sores, which dogs would travel far and wide to lick. To cut a long story short, when the land owner went to hell and the beggar to heaven, the land owner’s pleadings for a drop of water from the beggars table with which to cool his infernal burns were answered with the justification “You had luxury for all your life, yet the beggar had none, so now the balance is restored for evermore”. Being of a practical nature I obviously fail to grasp the deeper meaning of this; other than if you lie about all day and let others provide for you then you shall go to heaven, whereas if you and your family work for generations to ensure a comfortable life then you shall go to hell. (Furthermore, the writer of the tale was ignorant of the fact that canine saliva has antibacterial properties which prevent infection – relying only on the layman reader’s sense of revulsion to add weight to his parable). Disappointed but not entirely surprised I closed the prayer book, and took instead the book of Anglican Hymns. It fell open at hymn number 666, and I was immensely tickled to learn that this was written by a chap called »Damian« Hurst. Balance restored.

The rest of the service placed emphasis on the commitment and beauty of marriage rather than turning into the expected “you’re all going to hell” type sermon, culminating magnificently with Emily’s sister Vicky playing a piece of classical violin with skill and emotion rarely witnessed outside a dedicated concert. Vicky, you made my day.

Back at the hotel we were seated in two oak-panelled rooms and served a menu that was very pleasant despite being rather more diction than cuisine. The speeches were good natured and sincere, with Emma’s father scoring top marks in my opinion. Chris took anyone who was interested for rides in his helicopter, much to the chagrin of the hostess, who seemed convinced that only good fortune prevented the machine from barrelling into the crowd and bursting into flames.

I chickened out and went to bed once the disco was underway and the first dance had been had. All I can say in my defence is that there’s only so much Abba once can endure, and once all possibility of conversation has been sucessfully eliminated by the screeching Scandinavian ex-boy band you may as well turn in.

Emily and Ben, bride and groom, in a shower of confetti outside a church