It was a perfect day in early summer, a couple of years ago now. I was at work in the lovely old castle here in Arbon. The tower dates from the 1200s, and the rest has been added over the centuries, so as you can imagine it’s a historical treasure. As well as our school, the castle houses a museum, a restaurant, and the beautiful Landenberg room which can be hired for concerts, graduation events etc. Much of the building is made of wood, so the smoke alarm system is out-of-this-world, and when it goes off, it rings automatically in the fire station across town too.
We used to have quite a few false alarms, because the school pottery oven did tend to overheat, so when the bell rang it was always a scramble to check the oven and then cancel the alarm before the fire brigade actually set out.
But one day it wasn’t a false alarm. There were no actual flames, but the amount of smoke pouring into the pottery room was alarming. That day we didn’t cancel the alarm. I was giving a private lesson, so my student and I shifted down to the restaurant in the castle garden, under the tower, and watched as fire engines blue-lighted into the courtyard.
Also in the building that day was a wedding party…
This all came to mind when I was planning my short story for Winter Tales, the anthology in aid of The Teenage Cancer Trust and The Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Here are the first couple of paragraphs of my contribution:
All I could do was stare at the ventilation grid on the ceiling. In the background I could hear the distant beat of music and voices from the party – my wedding reception – upstairs. All these people had come to help us celebrate, and now the entire thing was going to be ruined. My hands were shaking so much that my mobile slipped through my fingers and I only just caught it before it hit the floor. Another glance at the ceiling had me panicking – I flipped on my phone, punched out 999, and ran.
Rewind two months:
‘No honeymoon! Oh Jeff!’
I had to laugh at the expression on Mum’s face.
‘We’ll have a holiday in summer,’ I told her. ‘We want to visit Suze’s family, but it seems daft to go all the way to Toronto in December. We’ve booked a nice cheap trip in June.’
My mother cast her eyes heavenwards. ‘How very romantic.’
‘Suze is as romantic as I am,’ I said, grinning at the thought of my down-to-earth, humorous girlfriend planning anything even remotely related to romance. ‘But here’s some good news for you. We’ve booked Erbury Castle for the wedding. There’s a little chapel for the ceremony, and the party’ll be in the reception room on the first floor. Nothing fancy – just family and a few friends.’
‘Hm,’ said Mum. ‘I’ll have a word with Suze. Leave it to me.’
I wasn’t quite sure what I was leaving to her, but it was easiest just to agree. All Suze and I wanted was something very laid-back here in Bedford, then a nice little party in Toronto for the family there. Suze’s father’s health prevented him travelling to England so this seemed the best way to please everyone.
What we hadn’t reckoned on was my mother hankering after top hats, bridal gowns and bridesmaids. But her way of thinking was that as mother of one child (me) she wasn’t going to get another chance to organise her offspring’s wedding, and she was determined to rise to the occasion…
The tale of Jeff and Suze’s winter wedding has quite a few similarities to that perfect summer day in Arbon Castle…
Order your copy of Winter Tales and support two excellent causes!