Garrison Fields

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Chapter 40 - The wedding tea

The wedding was a brief functional ceremony, as befits a service at the Town Hall. This better suited Derek as he appeared uncomfortable being the focus of attention. The high point of the wedding was when the rings were asked for, no one had thought about it so from a moment of tranquillity everyone erupted into laughter.

After the service had been performed the wedding party and their guests made their way outside onto the steps of the Town Hall, Fawcett Street was busy. Mrs Dunbar gave a small bag to Ted with a whispered instruction, within seconds he was showering the new couple with rice. There were several in the wedding party and under Mr Dunbar’s instructions, they made their way down to the tram stop, to catch the tram back to the General. Several people in the queue congratulated them on their betrothal and the nature of all was high spirited and good humoured. Mr Gregson had not taken too much arm twisting to come to the General Wolf for the wedding tea, a wink to Mr Gregson let him know.

‘Tea in the General, will help the ladies. I’m sure that a nice drop of rum can be found! ’

‘You didn’t get a chance to throw your wedding bouquet.’ stated Mrs Dunbar quite downcast, that something had not gone according to her well laid out plans.

‘No, I didn’t, but I’m glad. I thought I would keep it. I’m going to put it in water when we get back and press some of the flowers as a keepsake in the family bible. I want to be reminded of this day; it has been so special for me.’

They both smiled and Mrs Dunbar took her by the arm ‘You know, we’ve come to think of you as a daughter, you don’t know the joy it gives me to know, that you’re happy.’

Before sentiment could overtake them any further the clanking of the tram alerted them to its proximity and as it drew up the tram conductor holding the rail at the back lent out and surveyed the queue and smiling at the party stated for all to hear.

‘A rowdy bunch, if ever I saw it, and the navy as well, I hope I’ll have a tram to take back to the depot tonight!’ Derek stood to the side of the door, as Jane went to climb the couple of steps into the tram and put out his hand.

‘Take my hand love.’

She obliged and with her gloved hand, lightly took his and boarded. The Dunbar’s followed Mr Dunbar adopted the same pose offering his hand and repeated the same words. However, the response was less formal.

‘Get away with you, you big soft lump, we’re already married, and I hope you’re not suggesting I need help to climb these two little steps.’ She turned round as she boarded grasping his cheek between her fingers and giving it a shake.

‘But thank you all the same my love.’

She disappeared into the tram to catch the newlyweds up. Mr Dunbar turning round to the boys, ‘You see what happens after forty years of marriage, remember stay single for as long as you can!’

The wedding group were all in good spirits and several people on the tram moved seats to allow the wedding party to be together, the conductor refused to take any fairs when offered.

‘I don’t think that’s needed today.’

They dismounted the tram and were wished all the best for the future, from all onboard. Walking the short distance back to the General Wolf, Sarah opened the door upon hearing them, greeting them enthusiastically. She was visibly excited and rushed to Jane and kissed her, wishing her all the best, then back to Mrs Dunbar, informing her of how all preparations were now completed and that all deliveries expected were in place.

There was even Mr Schwartz the photographer she explained, and well, he had given her so many problems. You would think that she had nothing to do today but run after him! First there was not enough light, then there was too much and then there were reflections, and nothing would do, and nothing was right for him. But now, finally, he was satisfied.

They made their way into the Lounge bar where several of Derek’s close friends were present, each in turn came and congratulated them. It was noticeable that a single man could have many friends, but a single widowed woman with children had no friends, especially girl friends at this time.

Mr Dunbar and Bob Jenkins immediately made everyone at home by inviting then to partake of which ever drink was their fancy. This went down rather well with all and set the scene for a very exuberant Wedding Tea, though not too much tea was drunk in the course of that afternoon. The attention of Mrs Dunbar was now turned to Mr Schwartz the photographer. He had a shop of the highest standard, just behind Fawcett Street, and was reputed to be the best photographer in the town. He was an aged man of perhaps seventy, very slim and wore a rather old-fashioned black frock coat and wing collared shirt with a cravat fixed with a tie pin, which proposed to be a diamond. Closer inspection would have decided it’s origins closer to glass. Alerted to the fact that Mrs Dunbar was close to him, he turned.

‘Mrs Dunbar as you see I have arrived in good time, as you requested, and have brought several plates for the camera.’ she surveyed the large wooden tripod and the light-stained teak box with its large lens cover and black cloth cover at the back of it.

‘Mr Schwartz I hope you did not have to carry your apparatus all this way, it indeed looks very impressive and cumbersome?’ The thought however which intrigued her was, how had such a frail thin aged man, managed to carry it unaided, the question was duly answered.

‘My assistant has accompanied me. It is unusual for me to leave the shop, most of my work is performed in my studio.’ She thanked him, it was indeed good of him to venture out, even if he was being paid handsomely by her for the short notice that had been given. The formalities over, it was time for business.

‘Your letter said that you required several poses.’ He pointed to areas of the Lounge which were arranged with a photographer’s eye. I have asked Sarah to furnish me with several items, he pointed to one area where one of Mrs Dunbar’s best lace tablecloths had been spread over a table. On top, an aspidistra and bible had been placed. By the table a single chair was standing. This was a typical Edwardian pose, the lady sitting with her arm perhaps resting on the bible and her husband stood behind, to the side with his hand placed on her shoulder. It showed all the virtues of the day, one would never guess that this picture was taken in the lounge of a public house.

She agreed this would be an excellent picture and knowing that Jane still had her bouquet asked if he might also include this. He was only too happy, as he said.

‘It would be the making of the picture.’ She then went through the other poses he was to take to preserve this day for posterity. The first was to be one of Jane, Derek and the boys, then of the happy couple cutting the cake and afterwards a group photograph. He admitted that the group photograph might be problematic in the confines of the lounge, but he would try his hardest. He would still have a couple of plates left over would there be any other pose she might require? She thought for a moment.

‘Yes, I want a picture of Mr Dunbar, Myself and my little Ted.’ She was happy with this arrangement; it was a picture that she knew she would cherish. Knowing full well that it would only be a matter of time before Jane and Ted would leave her nest for good.

All was arranged ‘Well if you do not mind Mrs Dunbar, I would like to start immediately, before I lose what is left of the light.’ She agreed and turning round clapped her hands together several times, thus drawing the attention of all in the room. She explained that before the light was lost, they were going to take a number of photographs, all were to follow Mr Schwartz directions without question. The portraits were taken, Ted enjoyed having his photograph taken and was amazed at the flash, when the man lit the flash pan. Ted thought this was gunpowder, like a cannon. The room was filled with smoke and the smell of the sulphur became quite nauseous.

After all the requested portraits were taken there was one plate left over, it was unusual but the Wedding Cake that Mrs Dunbar had ordered was standing in the middle of the buffet.

‘Let’s use the last plate and have a picture of you two cutting the cake.’ It was a novel idea and within moments Mrs Dunbar and Mr Schwartz arranged the pose, with the new Mr and Mrs Beech stood behind the buffet. It was an unusual picture Mr Schwartz declared, he had never taken such a subject before, or ever had the request, so they tried several poses before committing the final plate. First, just standing by the buffet, then gesturing towards the cake and finally the one portrait they all agreed was the most artistic. That of Mr and Mrs Beech both holding the cake knife with it resting as if cutting the cake. They cry went up from Mr Schwartz as usual for the pose to be held and the sulphur tray was ignited by his assistant. The blinding flash as usual and the acrid smoke resulting from the flash filled the room.

There was clapping and cheering by now, it was the last plate, which meant that the merriment could properly get under way and the buffet was formally declared open. Mr Schwartz turned to Mrs Dunbar and stated.

‘I think we have captured some excellent portraits... The posing and setting we have created for each will give it the air of a country house wedding!’ She smiled.

‘I will look forward to seeing them.’ She smiled inwardly she had heard the General Wolf called many things, but to be mistaken for a country house in a picture, not even Mrs Dunbar’s regulars late on a Saturday evening would mistake it for that!

‘Now Mr Schwartz, once you and your apprentice have packed your apparatus, we’ll be seeing you for a drink and a bite from the buffet. It’s a long walk without a drop to sustain you.’ It was cordially accepted. The apparatus was cleared and the fanlights above the doors were thrown open, to let the acrid smoke out, which was now stinging everyone’s eyes. Glasses now charged; the formal toasts began. The best man made his speech and Mr Dunbar spoke for the bride’s family as Matt wasn’t quite sure what to say. The buffet was consumed quicker than anyone had thought possible, finally it was the cutting of the cake.

Mrs Dunbar called everyone to order, to observe the formal cutting of the cake. She stepped forward and lifted the iced three tier wedding cake up revealing a smaller white iced Dundee cake decorated with ribbon and with the piped lettering on the top declaring the wedding of Derek and Jane. Mrs Dunbar laughed out loud as she placed the false wedding cake to the side.

‘I didn’t have much time, so the baker lent me the plaster display model from his window. They just had time to ice this beautiful fruit cake.’ There were roars of laughter all round, some heightened by the alcohol that was now flowing freely.

Jane kissed her. ‘It is the most beautiful cake I have ever seen’. The cake cutting began and each filed past and received a small portion on a tea-plate. Mr Dunbar was presented his by his wife.

‘Now love that looks like an awfully sweet cake for me.’ She responded.

‘Ay... that it is and sweet or no, you’ll be eating a piece of cake at Jane’s wedding.’ He knew argument was futile and picked the small slice given to him and proceeded to eat it, his face grimaced as he did, after the last crumb was digested he cried out looking at Ted

‘Get me a drink before I may choke, a grown man should not have to eat sweats.’ Mrs Dunbar obliged, passing him a cup of tea. He looked in horror ,but drank it down anyway.

‘That’s better.’ He exclaimed. Ted was in convulsions of laughter.

Now all the formalities were over, one of Derek’s friends sat at the piano and began playing several of the local tunes of the day. Several pints of beer appeared on top of the piano and for each pint consumed his playing appeared to improve. The man played by ear and as such there was no song requested that he could not play. Though the observer would note, each had a remarkably similar melody. This did not seem to matter to his accompanists. Only once did Mrs Dunbar intervene, informing the gentlemen beginning to sing around the piano.

‘Gentlemen please! This is a wedding.’ at which point a more suitable tune was played, such as “If you were the only girl in the world” or a particular favourite appearing to be “Nellie Dean”, which most seemed familiar with the words.

It was now opening time in the General Wolf, the bars filling with the regulars. About halfway through the evening, Mrs Dunbar walked into each of the bars and declared, as it was the special occasion of Jane’s marriage, all present should take a drink on the house to toast this, they all did readily. Jane and Derek were called from the back for a moment and standing behind the bar, they were toasted for a long and happy life. Similar to the toasts that had been called in the lounge by Mrs Dunbar.

The happy couple thanked all present and then moved back into the lounge. Time was drawing on and the day had been a long one for Ted. He was now asleep on one of the deep red cushioned settees that were fixed to the wall. He had fashioned a pillow from a coat or two that had been placed down and was oblivious to all that was around him. Jane on returning to the lounge looked at him.

‘I think it’s time we got him to bed, it’s been a long day, I think the poor mites all done in.’ Derek agreed, it was time they made a move, there was only one question. Although he had prepared his house, to the best of his ability and even made up one of the empty bedrooms for Ted. He had no idea where they were to spend that night; whether at the General or at his house. The question was answered for him by Jane.

‘I made a bag up of things we would need for the night earlier, we’ll be getting on our way in a moment. I’ll just go and get it.’ She disappeared upstairs; she wasn’t gone long but did dawdle just for a moment. She knew that a new chapter was opening in her life for better or for worse. She went to each room in turn and just stopped for a moment, she knew that she would come back to these rooms tomorrow and the day after, but in the evening light, there was something strangely nostalgic about them. A feeling that she wanted to hold on to, if just for a brief moment.

Making her way back down into the lounge, Derek had let the boys and the Dunbar’s know that they would be “pushing off soon”. They said their farewells for the evening, she would not see Matt now for some time, she was not sure when. The boys wished to walk with her, to see them both to their new home, but she stopped them. Mr Gregson was having such a good time, and since he had taken over the piano playing, the tone let alone the music had improved drastically. He had been so very kind to her several times in the past, and she was happy with the thought, that in this small way, hopefully she was repaying some of that kindness that he had shown her. She hugged and kissed Matt and Luke and Derek shook hands with them and thanked them reiterating.

‘You know you can walk through our front door any time you wish; you’ll always be welcome.’ They knew it, but sadly they felt too old and knew that they wanted to start out on life’s rocky path themselves. The goodbyes continued, with of course the Dunbar’s, Mr Dunbar shaking hands with Derek and then grasping both of Jane’s hands in a very paternal manner.

‘We really are proud of you lass,’ you could tell that on some occasions public speaking in certain circumstances was not his forte. It was his nearest and dearest’s turn now who again took her hands and kissed her goodbye, whispering some small piece of woman’s intuition, which caused them both to giggle, while the men looked on in blissful ignorance. Derek rose his voice and bade those mainly his friends a hearty farewell for the evening, they all began to assemble round them, and started to sing a song of farewell.

Mrs Dunbar looked at Jane. ‘Don’t worry about opening up tomorrow, pop in if you feel like it, you’ll have plenty to sort out.’ She grabbed her mentor’s hand.

‘I’ll be here as usual; we’ll need to get things ship shape.’ They both surveyed the room, yes, they would have their work cut out for them tomorrow. Derek wrapped a coat round Ted and picked him up, he was dead to the world and hardly stirred, Jane took the large carpet bag of things she would need for that night and they made their way out into the cool night air. The quiet and coolness was in contrast to the room they had just left, the cries of the well-wishers growing fainter in their ears.

They walked together slowly talking quietly, very measured. They both were very nervous, you would never have guessed that they had known each other since childhood.

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