A little time in Ireland for my sister’s wedding last week meant seeing lots of family for the first time in a long time. It also meant reintroducing me to the joys of a family wedding back home, as we hadn’t had one in Derry for almost a decade. Like all modern weddings, it was filled with bespoke frills and personal touches, which meant it looked almost nothing like the weddings I went to when I was my son’s age.
As a child, the weddings I attended were usually all the same. Not a humanist ceremony brimming with individual traits, but a model Catholic service in a church close enough to the large, friendly building in the countryside cutout, where the reception would be held. There, the adults shook hands with people they had known all their lives and hadn’t seen in years, but said they didn’t matter so much it was as if they were aliens pretending to be people; slapping each other, comparing travel times and distances, and talking about how the bride, groom, parents, venue and each other looked.
Time and recent illnesses would earn liberal mention, in this age-old flurry of dog whistles designed to clean out the room of any child not surgically attached to their closest adult. As such, every miner in the building was legally obligated to run and disappear as fast as possible to see what goodies were being stored by this large, fancy building that had thick, thick carpets and smelled like gravy.
Older cousins congregated in quiet corners, for they were above the insult of actually playing with their younger relatives, but still too young to willingly submit to adult boredom.
The pre-phone/tablet times were truly a dark age of teenage boredom, so anyone between the ages of 13 and 16 lurked out of sight like racetrack tipsters, ready to offer leads on poorly guarded ramps that could provide decent swiping opportunities or flag down aunts and uncles they thought were drunk enough to cough up a few pounds your way.
For teenagers, cold and stumbling money might allow them to put on a serious face and order a sly drink, but for the youngest among us, there was only the pleasure of amassing this futile little wealth. that all the kids wanted. Frequent outings were undertaken in the direction of uncles whose drink-activated swing sounded the telltale clink of coins in their pockets, since every Irish uncle I met between 1989 and 2002 carried enough shards shells in their pockets to shoot down a German bomber. You could really clean up if you timed things at the right time, levying an uncle tax that could set you up for life. I’m pretty sure a ten-year-old cousin started a factory rental business out of it.
Eventually these cowardly ramblings would come to an end, either with the reprimand, a dinner bell, or another lightly censored order to assemble for the dinner portion of the evening. The adults, still immaculate in their finery, did their best to wipe small faces and smooth out tiny dresses, as they wondered aloud why their sweaty, scruffy children – and somehow other financially enriched – all looked like they had come out of a six-day coke bender after 35 minutes of unsupervised play.
My sister’s wedding meal was beautiful but, at the time, food was in its infancy as a pleasurable substance. Dinner was therefore of the beef or lamb type, but with a variety of sausages and fries for the younger ones. . Unlike the tears engendered by last week’s series of emotional and tasteful speeches, my childhood memories of that part of the evening were that they always lasted about a fortnight and were filled with jokes that I hadn’t heard, about people I had never heard of.
Then a room full of family and suited friends laughed and grew increasingly unsteady as a cake was cut, before a live band played an hour-long medley of pop/showband hits, followed by a DJ who looked basically identical to the priest who performed the ceremony, closing the evening with a suite of bangers from the 70s and 80s.
I don’t know when the prevalence of Mark McCabereally started – the scientist in me would suggest sometime after the year 2000 – but it hadn’t taken hold by the time I was one of the oldest teenagers myself, around 2002. As such, Sweet Caroline did most of the heavy lifting in the “universally adored banger” department, and I’m happy to report that it’s work he still does beautifully to this day, oblivious even to the ubiquity that has brought it. been inexplicably flushed by English football fans over the past few years. At my sister’s wedding, he had a starring role again, sending an entire barn full of tipsy revelers into paroxysms of delight.
There were none of the small finger-sized sandwiches so commonly served during my childhood – we had, instead, an incredibly excellent batch of small burgers and artisan curry chips – but the kids weren’t anyway not interested. They had long since retired to pockets of laughter and delight, crowded around phones and iPads at three small tables in the back.
Some might think this is a step backwards in Irish marriage culture, but I was heartened to see technology advancing along with the needs of children of marriage. Maybe it’s because, despite all the slipping and sweating, I remember the boredom, and I know I would have given a limb for that kind of escape when I was their age. Or maybe it’s because it’s my turn to uncle 18 kids now and, I’m sorry to say, I just don’t have that kind of money.