"So? Enjoying yourself?" I said.
Tiny eyes looked back at me quizzically from the shadowy depths of the pram. The face around them creased into a frown. Then, without warning, an enormous, sicky burp erupted from the baby.
"Oh, cheers," I said and reached for some toilet roll to mop up. Luke seemed pleased with himself but also slightly annoyed that he had vomit dribbling down his neck. He giggled as I rubbed him down and changed his bib.
"Don't worry," I said, "I'll have you clean in no time."
The effect wasn't as soothing as I'd hoped because I was having to nearly shout over the booming of Come on Eileen from the other end of the function room. Luke ignored me anyway. He was concentrating on the multicoloured lights that were swirling on the ceiling above my head. Nonetheless, I kept talking, as much for my own sake as his.
"Mummy and Daddy finally got married," I said. "That's good, isn't it? And, as weddings go, I think it all went rather smoothly. Apart from the mud and toilet rolls and fairies, obviously, but no great disasters. Your mummy looked lovely, your daddy turned up and I got through my speech without collapsing from nerves. I only even offended one of your grans. I..."
Just as I got the second bib on, Luke was sick again. I reached for some more loo paper. Fortunately, I had a large supply. As you'll recall, Rob's Aunt Maria knitted a vast quantity of toilet roll cosies as wedding favours. On the day, she made a great show of presenting every guest with one personally, along with a selection of hugs and kisses. Everyone had duly accepted theirs with polite words and wide-eyed fear. (They were sparkly and came complete with hideous plastic replicas of Rob and Kate attached to the top.)
Besides all the usual jobs of best man, I was tasked with collecting any favours that got discarded, in the hope of avoiding Maria becoming offended. She's a little eccentric. (Translation: She's crazier than a toddler who's had a double espresso with six sugars and then been let loose in a soft-play.) I mean, her hobby is pretending to be Spanish. Who knows what she might do if she got offended?
Still, no one seemed to realise the risk they were taking - they'd stashed toilet rolls everywhere. Most had been left on tables after the meal but I found several hiding in pot plants, another few tucked behind curtains and an entire stack of them out front next to the smokers. Two had been lobbed into a chandelier where I couldn't reach them. I did my best to gather them all and hide them more convincingly but it took a while...
I finished cleaning Luke again. He was propped up but firmly strapped in. He's about six months now and not quite mobile yet. Any day, he's going to be crawling around. They'll put him down one place and find him in another... with something he shouldn't have and a trail of slime behind him. Their lives will change.
I turned my attention back to the food. Rob and Kate had left me in charge of Luke while they mingled with the guests. The ceilidh band were having a break and some disco music had been put on. I'd taken my chance to station us next to the remains of the buffet.
I took the topmost offering from a small mountain of vol-au-vents. It was stuck. I yanked it hard, discovering it had been skewered on top of a little plastic bride and groom. I could just make out some sparkly wool beneath.
I jammed the vol-au-vent back down again as Aunt Maria appeared.
"Do you wish to dance?" she asked, striking a pose in her black, lacy number and clacking her castanets.
"Er..." I said. Aunt Maria is a certain age. It's an age where certain women get an urge to mother me but it's certainly not an age where low-cut lace is appropriate. "Er... I'm taking care of Luke," I croaked, trying to mellow my look of wide-eyed fear.
Maria was oblivious - she's only met me a few times and it's possible that she may simply believe I have abnormally large eyes and always appear mildly apprehensive. "Such a shame," she said, sweeping a fan around 'alluringly'. "Maybe later?"
"Good! I will return." She swept away, making a bee-line straight for one of the ushers who was loitering at the bar. It was his turn to feel the fear.
I bypassed the vol-au-vents and grabbed an egg sandwich. Luke reached for it and started to cry when it didn't magically fly towards him. "Not for you," I said. "You've got..." I rummaged around in the basket under the pram and pulled out a jar of baby food. "Oh, good. Puréed carrot. The kilt hire people are going to love me."
I gulped down the sandwich, hunted for a spoon and attempted to feed Luke without turning either of us bright orange. I couldn't be bothered to warm the jar up but he didn't seem to mind. He ate some, dribbled some and used the rest to turn us both bright orange. I didn't care. It was better than doing The Time Warp with Aunt Maria.
The day really had gone pretty well. The way I'd seen it, we'd had three possible sources of disaster - Maria, her toilet roll covers and the hotel owner's obsession with fairies. In the end, these had been minor details. The main issue had been the weather. It had bucketed down for days beforehand and the gravel path to the church had turned into a muddy quagmire. Walking along it without becoming filthy was something of a problem, particularly for those guests in high heels.
When Aunt Maria arrived with her flowing skirts, she had insisted on being carried up the path by myself and the ushers, in order to avoid getting mucky.
She had enjoyed it slightly too much.
We consoled ourselves by counting it as practice for when the bride turned up in her wedding dress. Kate was such a mass of hoops and puffs, sequins and sashes, ribbons and rigging, however, that we honestly didn't know what to grab hold of. She had to hoist everything up and try to pick her way round the puddles. Of course, with all the material mushroomed around her, she couldn't actually see her feet, so we had to shout instructions.
"Left a bit. Forward three steps. Right a bit. A bit more... Too far..."
She was already ten minutes late when she arrived. By the time we'd played Herd the Meringue, the organist was starting to get twitchy about his next appointment.
Happily, she didn't step into anything so deep that we had to dive in and rescue her and the service itself went serenely. I remembered the rings, Rob and Kate remembered each others' names, they kissed, people clapped and/or cried, Luke didn't scream the place down and everyone looked happy. As an added bonus, while photos were being taken in the porch, someone hurried down the hill to the local supermarket and borrowed a trolley. Rob got to wheel Kate to the limo, accompanied by thunderous applause. (Only Aunt Maria seemed a trifle disappointed...)
It was raining again by the time we got to the reception, which meant the rest of the photos had to be taken inside. This delighted the manageress, who was dressed in a glittering fairy outfit with gossamer wings. She led us through the creepy mansion of a hotel, waving her wand enthusiastically as she went. They had a special room set aside for such purposes (and children's parties).
The walls were entirely covered in paintings of fairytale woodland. We did our best to arrange people to block out the worst of it but Oberon still made it into more photos than I did. A few of the relatives weren't too impressed but I think the couple themselves found it quite funny. On one occasion, I caught Rob moving his mother-in-law so it looked like she had antlers coming out the top of her head. I averted such incidents as best I could but I may have missed some. I'm fairly sure there's going to be at least one shot where Kate's dad is being cuddled by a naked nymph...
I don't remember the meal because I was worrying about my speech. All that sticks in my mind is that the staff serving the food were wearing wings and tights - even the teenage boys. They didn't really look like they were being paid enough for that. The speech went OK in the end, though. People laughed; Rob was suitably embarrassed; it was short. Job done.
I finally got to have a drink.
Then I set about collecting toilet rolls and stowing them under the buffet table. Eventually people grasped the idea and started handing them to me directly. I got to sit down. Rob caught me relaxing, however, and gave me childcare duties. In some ways it was a shame after all the effort I'd gone through ensuring my own kids weren't invited, but, then again, it provided a good excuse to hide quietly up a corner with the nibbles. I wasn't complaining.
I finished shoveling carrot and looked to see how Maria's chosen usher was faring. Not too well, as it turned out, but at least there weren't many collisions as she flung him around the relatively empty dance floor. At one end, a gaggle of young women were bouncing about energetically, doing an impressive routine. I blinked twice and then concentrated very hard on looking elsewhere, lest I go blind (either from my own thoughts or Rob's mum whacking me over the head if she happened to catch me staring). Beyond the boppers, a ten-year-old boy in a bow-tie was exacting some filial revenge by break-dancing in a conspicuous fashion while his dad looked on in embarrassment. Not far from him, an elderly gentleman in a formal black suit was doing his best to get his groove on. The guy had slightly odd facial hair and a dour expression, and I couldn't help imagining him with a very plain hat and a pitchfork. I had an urge to take a photo and title it Amish man does disco. My mind had raced on from there, past Amish man does Break-dancing, to Amish man does Vegas before I could stop it.
Luckily, at that point, Luke's bottom exploded.
I considered going to find Rob but he was chatting with some distant cousins and I decided, as an extra wedding gift, I'd deal with the nappy myself. I was in a good mood. To say thank you for helping out, Rob and Kate had given me a big box of Mars Mission LEGO.
And, you know, it wasn't like I was short on toilet paper to clean up with. As I lifted Luke out of the pram, I discovered another couple of rolls craftily tucked away under his blanket...
When I returned a few minutes later with a sweeter smelling baby, Rob was sneaking a second-helping from the buffet. He jammed a vol-au-vent down guiltily as I approached, before realising it was me.
"Not sure I've actually had a chance to say congratulations yet," I said, putting Luke in the pram.
"I can cope," he said through a mouthful of chicken goujon. "It's all anyone has said to me for hours."
"Thanks," he said, rolling his eyes. "Just don't ask me where we're going on honeymoon - I can't handle explaining that again."
"No problem," I said, "but I really did mean the congratulations. Seriously. You two look good together. As long as you remember to put some effort in, I'm fully expecting to be back here for another party in twenty-five years."
"Me, too," said Rob, grinning.
"Excellent. But, when the time arrives, you can look after your own grandchildren. Here's your baby back. Sarah's wanting to dance and I'm wanting to investigate the bar."
"Fair enough," said Rob but didn't take Luke. "Just give me a sec. I'll palm him off on the in-laws and buy you a drink as soon as I've used the facilities." He was still grinning and seemed impressively unphased by the mention of grandkids and silver anniversaries.
He's come a long way.
"You'd better," I called after him as he headed off.
A couple of minutes later, he returned, looking sheepish. It appeared I had one last duty to perform.
Wordlessly, I handed him a roll of toilet paper.
Then, keeping a wary ear out for castanets, I played Peek-a-boo with Luke and did my best to finish off the sandwiches...
Yours in a woman's world,
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