And the Bride Wore


Weddings are big business in Japan.   Often a bride will have a traditional ceremony with kimono;  a ‘white’ wedding – we saw one taking place in a shopping mall complete with tolling bell – and in addition the bride will at some point don a coloured ‘wedding’ dress.

We observed two weddings passing through shrines.   The groom wears a short black kimono, and black and silver wide legged trousers, and carries a fan.   The bride has a white and red kimono and a white and unflattering headdress which looks like a collapsed wimple.   In one case the bride’s dress was pinned to the floor for the photographs.   They did not seem to object to the tourist throngs jostling for photographs, though the bride did seem gratified when passersby smiled and said ‘Lovely’ as she passed.   The female wedding guests could be extremely elegant in their kimonos.

Elisabeth decided to take the opportunity to commence her wedding dress search while I was with her so she booked an appointment with one of the leading wedding dress stores, and we duly arrived by taxi and were met by our vendeuse.  The building was designed in the shape of a wedding cake and there was a pillar outside topped by Cinderella in her pumpkin coach.     We were taken to one of the upper floors and presented with books of their designs, which were mostly of the Dior New Look style – boned bodice and bouffant skirt (which is not really what Elisabeth is looking for.)   If we were slightly disappointed that their designs were (to us) a trifle clichéd, they seemed slightly dismayed by her height.   “She very tall girl” the vendeuse said to me, as though it were my fault.

We chose a few of their plainer dresses and the vendeuse and I were seated while Elisabeth with two dressers disappeared behind curtains.   She reported that firstly she was laced into a corset affair so tightly she could hardly breathe, and this was not apparently because she was a giant geijin (foreigner) but is standard practice.

The curtains were swept apart .   It is slightly startling to see your daughter transformed into  ‘The Bride’.   The staff all clap and exclaim in Japanese how marvellous she looks.   Fond mother that I am, of course I think Elisabeth would look good in an old sack, and she does look very nice, but it is not exactly what she had in mind.   Two other creations are tried on.     We suggest some minor alternations and eventually ‘the designer’ descends from on high.     The other staff are extremely deferential to her.  I got the feeling that we weren’t sufficiently acknowledging of the honour done to us.     We describe what Elisabeth wants and under my direction fabric is draped for the desired effect.    The designer agrees that it can be done.

They then experiment with various accessories, jewellery, flowers, veil…    Elisabeth declines the veil.    They produce a headdress of flowers.   By this time, with her high heels and her head-dress, she is about as tall as a guardsman in his bearskin hat, and  amid the exclamations of delight, the vendeuse says to me with sudden doubt, ‘How tall future husband?’   She looks relieved when I say, Very tall.

Eventually comes the calculation.   Hundreds of thousands of yen.    Elisabeth says she will let them know.  In the taxi home, she says to me, how much do you think?    I take the price I think it would be worth, and double it.     The actual price is three times my doubled estimate.    It was of beautiful silk and lace and lovely in every way, but not really ideal for Elisabeth and her circumstances.   We thought not.

While we were there they offered me a catalogue of extremely elaborate Mother of the Bride outfits.    I was surprised that many of them were in black, and the vendeuse did not appear to know that you would not normally wear black as the mother of the bride.    She enquired about the men, and I said (speaking of the Scots men), they will be wearing kilts.      Scottish kilts, I added, for clarification and her face brightened.    With  hats? She asked.     Hats, I thought – why does she think hats?    Is her vision of a man in a kilt a soldier of a Scots regiment with his uniformed headgear?     Is she visualising the bonnet with the feather?    Some period movie?  No hats, I say firmly.    She looks disappointed.

While we are there on the same floor is another bride-to-be having the final fitting of her wedding dress – one of the boned bodice, bouffant skirted affairs.    She looks very pretty in it.    But we are astonished to see that she is accompanied by  her fiancé, who is consulted on various points.

It was a most interesting  experience, but I look forward to helping Elisabeth (if she wishes) to choose her dress in England!


A Prince of Papers

  A Prince of Papers

In what I fervently hope is our last bout of redecorating for some time, and at least this one is voluntary, we are decorating our bedroom.

There are the usual difficulties.     Although John is always surprised how, when he says, perhaps we should redecorate the …    I can draw up a detailed plan in about 5 minutes (whereas women sit in other people’s sitting rooms and think, nice curtains, but I wouldn’t have put them with that sofa…), he tends, once he has accepted the plan, to be a trifle inflexible.     Quite often the initial idea doesn’t work entirely as you anticipated, and you need to adjust your thinking.      I find I sketch my initial ideas out to John – and in fairness to him, I just indicate with a few airy gestures, maybe a very primitive sketch – what I think I want. And he then has to source it / build it / make it happen/ hire the builders / fund it –  so he no doubt could do a humorous sketch about the difficulties of working with me.   Anyway, my rough starting point is then translated by him into tablets of stone, whereas to me it’s just a little stream of ideas beginning to flow through the landscape.

I also find you and your husband set aside a morning to shop for curtains, carpet etc.    You want to look and think – when, eventually the right thing appears, there’s no mistake.   It gets up and bows to you, and says, At last, Madam, you’ve come for me.     If we get to this point, we don’t have difficulty jointly deciding.     I suspect it says to him, You can relax now, Sir.  Madam will be pleased with me.    And don’t worry about the wallet.    I’m definitely worth it, and besides you can go now and do something more to your liking…      But sometimes it’s not there – not in that shop, in that town, on that day.    John, on the other hand, has defined that morning as one he’s going to spend ‘buying curtains’.     You can see his point that there are hundreds to choose from…      So he thinks, if only you look through the hundreds again, and starts saying, What’s wrong with this one, and Won’t this do, and eventually begins muttering about …   complete waste of a morning…    looking for things that aren’t there    … unbelievably picky…    Once it gets to this stage, there’s no recovery – you just have to go home (or maybe to lunch.)

And yet, for curtains or a carpet, you’re spending hundreds of pounds, you’re going to look at it every day for years.   What does it matter if you look for a week?

I have made a few mistakes in the purchases for the redecoration of our bedroom (which is unusual for me though I says it as shouldn’t).   I had planned to make the scheme round the Japanese prints the children gave me for my birthday (Koson Ohara) , but that is so pale it would result in a very light coloured room, with pink as its predominant shade, and that is not really suitable for a room being shared with a man.   I kept feeling dissatisfied that everything we are buying is boring and dull.    So to John Lewis, and out steps a Japanese type paper, taps John on the shoulder.    It’s gold (I know it sounds horrid) with a Japanese blossom on a twig in a deep orange-red (I think it may be quince.)    Velly solly to disturb, Sir, but have you considered me?   John looks at it slightly askance, but the paper nods his head solemnly – petals blow off and land at their feet.    No plobrem with Madam, Sir.   I am what she really really wants but is afraid to say.     John looks at the price of Quinces and winces.    The paper shrugs.     I am not cheap – but you only need one wall of me. 

John  says to me, How about this one, Annie?     I look at it;  rich and dark and opulent and oriental.   I’ll have it, I say.  John looks rather surprised.    The paper smirks at John.    We buy matching paper, a bedcover, 2 pillow covers in short order;  then lining and wadding for Rory and Sarah’s curtains and we’re all done.  Today I cut their curtains, throw and cushions and with judicious piecing it can all be done I think.   Although it requires a first in Mathematics to figure out the piecing, at least it’s not in velvet.   And Alexandra’s dress that I was complaining of last week is nearly done and looks very nice.

I have made a pair of full length curtains for our bedroom today, while John has started papering.   I hope it will be OK – it is quite dark and exotic looking.    Quince assures us whenever we waver that he is a Prince of Papers and it will all be fine.       Will it be velly solly made bad choice, or velly clever Sir?    Watch this space…


On being a country lass… (sort of)   


Recently watching an old fashioned harvest scene on Larkrise to Candleford made me remember that during my childhood in rural Angus (Scotland) in the 1950s, I witnessed what must have been one of the last manually gathered harvests taking place there.

My family owned a cottage in a rural village.    Our very large garden – really a small holding – had an orchard, and over the stone wall that guarded this, I used to lean and observe the cereal crop growing in the field of next door’s farm (whose son, the same age as myself – about 8 – I had already agreed to marry.    I can still remember his name and see his face from over 50 years ago.)

As I recall, there were three types of cereal grown there in the fertile Valley of Strathmore.    There was ‘corn’, which in Scotland means oats, with its feathery light head of seeds.   There was wheat, golden and stubby with its fat blunt ears.    But the most beautiful was barley, with a slight greenish tinge, and its soft, whiskery, drooping head.    I would lean on my wall beside the sycamore tree that I had planted, and watch every day, as that field went from ploughed, brown, striped, sexy earth, to straight green shoots straining heavenwards.    I watched it at all times of day, and I particularly loved it on moonlit nights, when visiting our outdoor toilet, I would pause and see how in the ever present Scottish wind it moved and swayed like a vast green ocean.     There comes a point when the upright stalks of barley bend towards the earth, as if bowing to the sun, and the field turns almost white, and then the harvest is ready to be gathered.   I observed all these changes, but I did not know what they meant.

I therefore had a strongly proprietorial interest in ‘my’ field of barley, so one day, idly leaning on my wall, I was horrified to discover that the gate had been flung open and hordes of people, so it seemed to me, were marching in, intent on despoiling my barley.

I think, examining my memories, it was a time between a fully manual harvest and a fully mechanised one.    There was a tractor with some kind of cutting mechanism – they were not scything by hand – but there was also a horse and cart, men, women, dogs…   From being a quiet and private field, it had become a place of frantic human activity.

All day long they toiled away, laying my lovely field bare.   The ‘stooks’ were bound with twisted straw in an expert and speedy operation, and stacked in ‘tents’ of eight sheafs.    At lunch, women and girls came down from the farm with food, and they had a short rest from their labours.   More work in the afternoon, and suddenly they were all gone, disappeared down the country lane, with the horse and cart bringing up the rear.   The field lay silent once again, but shorn of its crop, just pale stubble like corduroy, spotted with the little tents of barley.

Eugene, my brother, and I ventured in to the field.   You could crawl inside one of the barley tents, but the stubble was prickly and uncomfortable.   The farmer’s son laughed at my sense of loss and said the harvest was the whole point;  and though this was true, I forsook my promises and thought perhaps I would not marry him after all.

Decades later, visiting my parents in the wilds of Banffshire, I saw a gargantuan machine come trundling down the lane and enter a field, solitary apart from the driver behind his glass.    In a few hours the crop was demolished,  separated, the straw wrapped in plastic bales, and he was lumbering off to his next field.    Efficient, I suppose, but somehow a desolation in the sterility of operation.

I, of course, though I occasionally do an ‘I’m a country girl’ act, am just a pretender.   I never did anything agricultural at all, except observe.   I was quite taken aback once, watching a potato harvest being picked, to be asked by the farmer if I wanted a job.   He was quite disgruntled when I declined.   

But a little knowledge can be put to good use.   Laboriously touring some local farm on a school outing with Elisabeth, whose attitude to anything rural was total lack of interest,  I could see the farmer had dismissed me as yet another ignorant townie.    So as he leaned on his fence, admiring his prize animal, I paused beside him.     “A fine bull that one.” I offered.   The farmer – whose assessment of the extent of female ignorance resembled that of an Israeli visitor with his immortal phrase ‘The wimmins they know nothing’  – was quite impressed that I could tell a bull from a cow.    ‘Is it a Hereford?’ I asked.   The farmer almost fell off his fence.    “Why no, ma’am.   It’s a South Devon.”    (They are both brown, though the Hereford usually has white markings.)     “Ah.”    We both admired the animal.    Then I asked, “And why is this your breed of choice?   Is it because of its mild temperament?     Where I come from, the Aberdeen Angus is a fearsome animal.”    The farmer viewed me with faint alarm (I think he had sudden thoughts of cattle inspectors, roving lady reporters from Cattle Breeders Weekly, or other nightmare scenarios too agricultural for me to contemplate), but he duly gave his reasons why he had a South Devon and not for example, the rarely seen Sussex.    As we walked on, he asked me, cautiously, “How come you knows about cattle?”

“Oh,” I said airily, “I’m a country girl” before sauntering off to catch up with Elisabeth and before he could discover that although ‘the wimmins’ did not quite know ‘nothing’, in fact they did not really know a great deal.

PS     I consulted a friend and Sussex farmer, to see if my agricultural recollections were accurate, and he confirmed them all, except that the black Aberdeen Angus breed is not regarded as aggressive, just ‘flighty’.    Since I recall making detours to avoid a particularly animal, he must simply have been exceptionally grumphy or perhaps he didn’t like being looked at by little girls.     The Sussex breed of cattle was an ‘oxen’ type used for pulling ploughs and has not been seen much since mechanisation, but is apparently the ancestor of some Australian cattle breeds.   What do you mean, you’re only interested in cattle breeds up to a point?    It’s a fascinating subject….   there are many other breeds of cattle we could consider….

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