A tangled web of a family

Its rather strange you know, being at your own wedding in front of a huge congregation and hardly anyone knows who you are.

Its 1983, I’m living in a small pit village in Northumberland, Suzannes place of birth and the place of her family’s residence for as long as there’s been a coal mine in the vicinity, which is a long time, long enough for her family name to be indelibly engraved into the history of the place.

Her dad, god bless his cotton socks, is a trustee at the village working mens cl-erb, so everyone knows him and everyone knows the family, everyone knows who I am too but I know nobody, I’ve only lived here for two years, I’m the one they stop and talk to in the street because I’m still a foreigner around these parts, I’m the one who they call “Tha la-ad from Leeds, y’knaa, tha one thats marr-ying Harry’s daw-ta”.

And they are all invited to the wedding, the whole village, thats is they never actually got one of the gold embossed invitation cards that Hans at the cl-erb printed at his employers when his employer wasn’t looking, but everyone came anyway, a wedding in the village was open invitation, always had been thus, wedding, goat to slaughter, then a piss-up, thats the way it was.

And of course my wife-to-be’s extended family was huge, absolutely huge, with new members being added almost weekly and as with all large families you have to invite them all or one branch holds the grudge for generations afterwards, there was a rumour of one branch of her family not having spoken to the rest of the tree since 1842 simply because they didn’t get a christmas card one year, its true.

So I turn up at the village pseudo-gothic revival church on the outskirts of the village and many of the extended family are already arriving and there’s a crowd gathered outside the church door – its protocol at these village events that the family are allowed to enter first to claim their seats in strict “I’m more important than you” order before the unofficially invited villagers are allowed in.

Our Ned and I and Suzannes younger brother Mark (soon to be professional boxer but then a gangly 14 year old) walk down the path through the graveyard to the church door, we’re clad in identical suits hired for the day from a wedding hire shop in Newcastle who had completely ignored the measurements that we had previously supplied to them resulting in Ned and I spending all morning trying to turn up six inches of excess trouser leg without the aid of sewing implements – all three of us now have trouser legs that end in a diagonal and are held up by staples which glint in the sunlight.

We had a videographer present, that is our photographer had just bought himself one of the new fangled Ferguson home video cameras, the ones that were only slightly smaller than a full size professional TV studio camera and required you to lug along a Ferguson Videostar tape recorder slung over one shoulder and a huge battery pack over the other – he’d given the camera to his son to “mess around with”, we didn’t get charged for the video, which is just as well as most of the time it was pointing at the pavement.

So on the video you get a shot of me, our Ned and Mark walking towards the camera and we pass a very old woman dressed in sunday best and hanging on the arm of one of  Suzannes uncles, its Mary-Alice, dateless old bat of the family, sometime shit-stirrer, never short of a word on anyone, always determined to have her six’pennoth in any debate – she looks up as we walk past, turns to her chaperone for the day and asks, “Wheys he then ?”

Lets just pause there, for there’s a sidetrack to this story…

Mary-Alices chaperone for the day was a random member of the family who had volunteered for the job, Malcolm one of Suzannes many uncles, except that he isn’t her uncle he is her cousin by virtue of the fact that when he was born in the 1940s his mother was not married and to save face in the already huge family, Malcolm was raised by his Grandmother as if he were hers and as if his own mother were in fact his sister, wait around for a while, it gets better.

I just like the idea that a family is so huge that no-one notices that one of the siblings is pregnant and that one day her mother is stating to the world that she’s just had another baby and all the time no-one knew at all that the mother was pregnant although the daughter did look a bit podgy for some time and now she’s suddenly thin again.

And it gets better, by a twist of fate Suzannes father was out with his own father one day doing their glazing business when they called into the pit canteen for a cup of tea and there behind the counter was the woman who eventually became Suzannes mother, and her older sister (start making notes at this point).

The sisters eventually marry the father and son combination which throws the whole of the family tree into turmoil for Suzannes father’s father is also now his brother-in-law, his sister-in-law is now also his step-mother and Suzannes Grandfather was at the same time her uncle.

“Lets draw our family tree” used to be a favourite way to spend three days at family gatherings over the christmas holidays, its one of the most complicated and tangled webs I’ve ever seen and is best that we leave the topic for another time…

Where were we…

“Whey’s he then” asked Mary-Alice of Malcolm as we walked past

“Its the groom Mary-Alice, he’s the one whos getting married to wor Suzanne”

“Oh” is all she says, she looks unimpressed on the video, the more important point being of course that she’d got all dressed up for a wedding and she didn’t even know who was getting married, in common with 90% of the rest of the people who turned up to our wedding.

And afterwards there I am outside of the church for the photographs and because the photographer’s assistant is busy trying to work out which end the video camera films out of then I’m the one who gets the job of shepherding all of the hundreds of relations back and forth to and from the church steps for the official wedding photos, its vital that they all get their chance to have their photo taken with the bride so that we don’t create another 150 year long family feud and eventually the photographer is right out of film and we have a couple of hundred photos in the bag.

And two weeks later he sends them all to us and we spend forever looking through them all until finally, hours later I note “Where am I then ?”.

Its true, I’m not on any of our wedding photographs, every other fooker who was there, thats everyone who lived within a five mile radius, they’re all on our wedding photographs, but me, the groom, I’m not, not even one photo.

You know the photograph that every married couple has framed on their mantlepiece, the one from their wedding day, the one of the bride and groom standing on the church steps ?

Ours is the one with Suzanne and her dad.

Visitors look at it, look at me and look back at the photo, and then they say nothing, sit there puzzled, and dare not mention the photo again.

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2 thoughts on “A tangled web of a family

  1. “Malcolm one of Suzannes many uncles, except that he isn’t her uncle he is her cousin by virtue of the fact that when he was born in the 1940s his mother was not married and to save face in the already huge family, Malcolm was raised by his Grandmother as if he were hers and as if his own mother were in fact his sister”

    Aye, I’ve an aunt on my mam’s side who’s actually my cousin. That was in Holmfirth, mind.

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