The week before the royal wedding (of Kate and Wills), middle class Upwards moaned about wedding "hysteria" and people "fawning" on the royals, and ostentatiously stayed out of the country or spent the day gardening. Jen Teale and Eileen Weybridge held a wedding party and watched it on the telly, wearing hats. Sharon Definitely camped out for two days outside the Abbey and wore a fake tiara and waved a banner reading MARRY ME HARRY! Howard said "We do pageantry awfully well." The Stow-Crats were invited to the abbey - Caroline loved Mrs Middleton's edge-to-edge coat. Rowena Upward adored Beatrice and Eugenie's over-the-top outfits. So what do they do when it's their turn to "tie the knot"?
Wayne Teale invites his girlfriend out to dinner to a restaurant on the North Circular. He kicks off "We've been together for five years now..." and she thinks he's going to dump her. Instead he drops a diamond ring into a glass of champagne and asks her to marry him.
How different for Thalia Upward. Her boyfriend ("partner") doesn't propose. They have "discusssions" about commitment that are a bit like university seminars. Upwards can’t use clichés, which makes middle class courtship even more agonizing. What they're really afraid of is being conformist and conventional and joining an institution, without realising that they are rolling happily along the tramlines laid down by their class and education. Every generation thinks they’re the first to get married because they want to, not because society wants them to. And every age thinks it's the first to allow women to be single ("Of course Bridget Jones worried about being a spinster, but we know better.").
Upward-Weybridges have to be seen to disapprove of girls who get pregnant at 14 or married at 21. Girls must get married later so they can pass exams and get a career and contribute to the economy. Besides, getting married young is common. Sharon Definitely marries someone well-off, has a baby and gets a divorce (and alimony) within a couple of years.
“The female mind, though cruelly practical in daily life, cannot bear to hear ideals belittled in conversation.” E.M. Forster, Howard’s End. Upwards, especially females, love spouting ideals, while quietly getting on with the practical details of life. They may be as keen as any Teale on getting married and having children before time runs out, but they have to disguise it with a lot of stuff about living for the moment. (“I’m not ready to settle down, I’m having too much FUN!”)
Upwards and Definitelies think vaguely that cohabiting gives you legal rights (over your children, to your partner’s pension, to half the house if you split up or he dies). It hasn’t since 1753. Stow Crat marriages were traditionally about land transfer, so it’s got to be legal. They don’t hire a castle for the reception - they use their own.
The very Bohemian Nightshades tie the knot on a beach, reciting vows they’ve made up themselves (it mustn’t resemble anybody else’s wedding plus there’s no need to hire a marquee). Sam is horrified by the amount people spend. Brides become a footballer’s wife for a day, not a princess. Caroline is shocked that brides wear strapless dresses in the afternoon (decolletage is for evening). The Nouveau Richards hire a castle in Scotland and make all the men wear kilts.
Christine Teale goes into training for weeks before the wedding, getting a St. Tropez tan, botoxing her forehead and losing two stone. Teales “tie the knot”, “exchange vows” and have “nuptials”.
Many put off getting married because they think spending £30,000 is the only way they can do it. Then they hold the ceremony in a quainte olde Anglican country church because it will look good in the photos. But the olde church and hastily researched wedding music (there are several CDs, like Music for a Church Wedding) tell the world, not that the couple are making a commitment in front of all their friends and family (which is the reason they’d give), but that they’re assuming their correct position and level in society. The real ceremony is the rest of the day, with the humiliating speeches, embarrassing dancing and exhausting partying into the night (not to mention the previous stag/hen week in Sweden/Prague/Goa). A friend sings a pop song as the couple go into the painfully rehearsed First Dance. Or else the happy couple and bridesmaids perform a galumphing choreographed routine they’ve been rehearsing for weeks.
The bar is constantly being raised. And the congregation, or audience, treats the wedding as a performance. Bride and groom laugh as they make their vows, everybody constantly talks, laughs and claps, and when the bride and groom kiss everybody goes “Ooooooh!”. The vicar/priest even says “Let’s give them a big hand!” after he/she has pronounced them man and wife. And of course the whole thing is video’d so that you can play it to your friends (or even watch it yourself, over and over again).
Teales are better at bereavement because they‘re not afraid of clichés. Definitelies send sympathy cards and play pop songs at the funeral. You have to choose “your song” before you go. Funerals are becoming more like TV shows, with people giving “eulogies” that are peppered with laugh lines. In the East End you can still sometimes see a traditional hearse drawn by black horses – parked outside a council estate. Upwards used to moan that the Victorians were so much better at death – because Freud had told them it was damaging to repress your feelings. But once they’d paid tribute to Freud they carried on with the stiff upper lip. They prefer “celebrations of someone’s life” because there won’t be any embarrassing crying. They still haven’t recovered from the “outpouring of grief” (read “normal mourning”) at Diana’s funeral. They convinced themselves that all the emotion was manufactured by the media. But what really made them cross was being forced to face the fact that they share these islands with millions of people who aren’t Upwards.