Thursday, 1 August 2019

Dressing Up

Growing up, by no stretch of the imagination, was there a lion in my life but there was a witch (a good one – think Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz) and a wardrobe!

The witch was my Grandmother, Gladys, whom I adored. I used to go and stay with my nan most school holidays and was truly happy whenever I was with her. I don’t really know what first made me suspect she and other females in the family might be witches. She certainly was not like the archetype witch with a pointy black hat and broomstick and I don’t think she could cast spells but she certainly had a sixth-sense. Someone once sought to insult me by pointing to warts on my face and saying, “You must be a witch!”. I smiled; that’s a compliment in my books.

The wardrobe was in my Grandmother’s home. There was no secret door in Nan’s wardrobe but, none-the-less, it contained a magical portal. Three, in fact! My mother’s wedding dress and two bridesmaids’ dresses that, when worn, transported the wearer to fanciful kingdoms where adventures happened. I had a travelling companion for these adventures. Nan lived in a small hamlet; there were few children living there except two obnoxious boys who lived in the big house next door, and Gill who lived two doors’ away in the opposite direction. During the school holidays, Gill was somewhat isolated so she looked forward to my frequent sojourns with Nan as much as I did. Gill and I imagined that we were princesses being raised in secrecy to protect our true identities.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I know that I went to stay with Nan during the winter months and I can remember things like laying the open fire and sitting around it in the evening, or toasting slices of bread on a fork held over the Rayburn, but I don’t remember it ever being cold or raining. I only remember halcyon days of sunshine, butterflies, and laughter. Occasionally, Gill and I played inside the house but mostly our adventures took place outside. When we were young, we were confined to the garden wrapped around Nan’s semidetached cottage. When we were older we were allowed along the road to play in a field that Nan owned. Here, she and my grandfather had once kept pigs and chickens and grown vegetables to feed themselves and their six children. By the time Gill and I were galloping imaginary horses around overgrown paths, the pig pens no longer housed pigs and had fallen into disrepair. Nan still cultivated a small patch of vegetables but much of the field had become a wilderness of self-set flowers, hence the clouds of butterflies that lifted into the air wherever we passed.

After leaving school, my stays with Nan were shorter and less frequent. Gill married and moved to another part of the country and we lost touch. We had long since stopped putting on the dresses in the wardrobe and pretending to be princesses but my love of dressing never left me and I still relish any occasion that merits a posh frock and, better still, a hat!

We were afforded one such occasion at the beginning of July when my eldest stepson and his fianc√© were married at Billesley Manor, near Stratford-upon-Avon. The Elizabethan Manor House, where Shakespeare is said to have written “As You Like It” in 1599, provided a stunning setting for their enchanting wedding.

© AJTImages

Excited about the day ahead, I woke early so I took a solitary stroll in the grounds, enjoying the peace and stillness of the morning. After breakfast, I joined the bride and her bridesmaids in the Shakespeare Suite. The photographer was already there and soon the hairdresser and make-up artist arrived. Despite being a spacious room, it was becoming rather crowded. It was a joy to be with these lovely young women as they started prepared for the day but when the hairdresser had finished me I returned to our room to finish my own preparations.

It was lucky that our own room was also spacious. Just as I had finished dressing and Jon and I were about to repair to the terrace to greet the arriving guests, the groom and his groom’s men descended upon us to get changed. The next 10 minutes were joyous pandemonium as new shirts were ripped from their packaging and handed over for ironing along with pocket handkerchiefs to be pressed and folded. While young men showered in rotation, Jon pre-tied ties and I stuffed handkerchiefs into breast pockets and pinned buttonholes to lapels. As Jon fastened their cufflinks, I left them teasing the groom and returned to the Shakespeare Suite to collect confetti cones.

There, the calm of earlier had turned to a flurry of activity as the bridesmaids tried to get into their dresses without disrupting their hair. Fortunately, the hairdresser was still on hand to do last minute fixes (and help me put on my hat securely just before she left). In the midst stood our beautiful bride, patiently waiting for someone to tie the ribbon fastening on her dress. She looked radiant and much calmer than the groom. When every dress was fastened, I made my way down to the terrace to join my husband.

© AJTImages

The ceremony took place in the 100-year-old topiary garden. I had not realised that it was to be the first wedding ceremony held in the garden; no wonder the Manor staff worked so hard to ensure it took place outside despite the threat of rain! I enjoyed every moment of the day but I was especially pleased to be involved in the ‘dressing up’ part of the day with both the bride and the groom. I had chosen my own outfit several weeks earlier; address and hat that I had been looking forward to wearing. And I loved wearing them; at the end of the day, I did not want to take them off!

© AJTImages

We had a fabulous day filled with smiles and laughter and the rain, when it did fall, did nothing to dampen our spirits.

Many thanks to Alex for his kind permission to use his photographs. You can see more pictures of Stephanié and Adam's special day on his blog.

© AJTImages