A wedding, some roundabouts and concrete cows

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post, as things have just been so busy! A few months ago, just before I finished my full-time job, I wrote about my friend’s hen night in Sheffield. It feels like a very long time ago now, but the wedding was in July and my friend has now gone to Canada, to start her brand-new married life!

It was written in the Concrete Cows…

The morning after the Levellers gig last month in Graves Park, I and a few friends headed down to Milton Keynes for the Sangeet, which is an Indian “hen night”, where the bride gets covered in turmeric (we missed this bit as we’d been sent to Tesco for an errand!) and saucy songs are sung about in-laws and married life. Two aunties provided the singing – it was a special honour that they performed at the sangeet. They performed in a marquee in the back garden and people sat on cushions on the floor to listen to the singing. The bride-to-be looked beautiful in her Indian clothes and it was great to meet some of her extended family. A girl got up and did some amazing dancing and we stuffed ourselves with Indian food. It was so hot, it felt like we really were in India.

The next day, the group of us from Sheffield walked around Willen Lake and visited the Peace Pagoda and Buddhist Temple. which has been there since the late seventies. The pagoda was built as a symbol of peace so that people remembered the horrifying effects of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We took our shoes off and looked around the temple, where there was a very moving display about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and how the damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant is causing health problems amongst the survivors, as well as having to rebuild the entire infrastructure of their society. Notices around the temple read “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō”, a Buddhist chant I learned last year at Shambala festival, when I decided to get up early for a Buddhist meditation class and had a wonderful spiritual experience. The chant means “I take refuge in (devote or submit myself to) the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Flower Sutra”: the Lotus Flower Sutra meaning, very basically, that everyone can seek and find enlightenment. Buddhists believe that repeating the chant can bring enlightenment. Visiting the temple certainly left me very quiet and thoughtful. Here’s an interesting BBC link about Nichiren Buddhism – did you know that Tina Turner is a Buddhist? Anyway, before I got too serious about things, we paddled around Willen Lake on a pedalo!

We only had a week to prepare ourselves for the big day. Lots of friends, including old Uni friends, had decided to go the whole hog and wear Indian clothes. Months ago, in the depths of winter, I’d had a fantastic afternoon with friends, trying on countless Shalwar Kameez until we found the ones we wanted, at surprisingly reasonable prices, considering all the gold braid and embroidery. As well as making sure I’d packed all the right clothes, I also had to fetch several boxes of ale from a local Sheffield brewery and hope that they stayed cool enough in the searing heat! The Friday evening when we drove down was absolutely roasting and my poor “other half” was melting. We popped in to see the bride and her family – she had the intricate henna designs on her hands and feet now, and bangles on both arms, almost up the elbow. It was quite strange to see one of my closest friends for the last eighteen years – more often seen wearing a Dinosaur Junior t-shirt and Doc Martens – start to be transformed into an elegant Indian bride.

At the hotel, we met up with lots of other friends. We were all excited about the wedding day, but also feeling a little sad that soon our friend would be on another continent – a long, expensive flight away. At least we’ve got modern technology to help us out, with Skype and email.

One of the main subjects of conversation was how weird Milton Keynes is. It’s a new town, mostly constructed in the 60s and 70s and all the roads are on a square grid system. It feels a bit American. There isn’t a proper town centre but a huge shopping mall – centered on Midsummer Boulevard. Jaspal told me years ago that the town planners centred the town on a ley line so that the shopping centre aligned with the sunrise on the summer solstice. It’s all true – have a read of this fascinating website I found, also mentioning the “Wych Tree” near the Peace Pagoda: http://mysteriousmiltonkeynes.com/

It was a little cooler on the wedding day, a relief for all of us, but especially the bride and groom, who were wearing heavy, elaborate costumes, We made our way to the Gurudwara in Milton Keynes, which is a modern, purpose-built Sikh temple. We waited outside, admiring each other’s outfits, until the groom arrived in a horse-drawn carriage, surrounded by Bhangra-dancing relatives and a car blasting out music. The groom, had traditional garlands in front of his face and had very oriental-looking shoes with curly toes! We took our shoes off to enter the Gurudwara and we were served Indian tea, samosas and sweets.

Upstairs, in the main room, men and women sat on separate sides. My other half was nervous but he seemed happy enough with friends’ husbands, sitting against the wall at the back of the room. The women’s outfits were very colourful but the men were mostly wearing dull-coloured suits. Everyone had to cover their head in the Gurudwara, but for women, a loose scarf was enough. The ceremony started, with singing and tabla playing, but it was ages before the bride appeared. She’d been inside the building for hours, for final preparations and she looked very nervous as she came through the double-doors wearing her heavy red-and-gold wedding costume.

The wedding ceremony very beautiful and solemn and a lady from the Gurudwara gave a translation in English to explain the proceedings.  This article explains it in more detail. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/ritesrituals/weddings.shtml Have you read it? Good – it does a much better job at explaining it than I ever could! By the way, the holy Karah Pasad pudding we were given at the end tasted a bit like hot Weetabix. Straight after the wedding was another meal, downstairs at the Gurudwara!

After a few of us had scrambled to the wedding reception venue, to sort out the seating plan, we headed to the bride’s parents’ house again for the Doli. The banter for the groom to get his shoes back and be allowed in to see his bride was very funny, but the ceremony was very emotional – it’s supposed to be – with relatives crying as the couple were seen off in the wedding car (it was a vintage Bentley!)

After a quick rest, we went to the wedding reception. We were on more familiar ground here, with friends and relations sitting together on beautifully decorated tables, a DJ and more amazing Indian food. One of our friends from Sheffield, Tanya, played the dohl as the bride and groom walked into the reception. My friend had changed into a beautiful purple outfit and her new husband was in a smart suit. The groom’s friends had made a slideshow, with photos of the bride and groom growing up – they had even used some of the photos that friends had collected for the hen-night. We all had a brilliant time dancing but the food and the heat meant that we were exhausted by the time we returned to the hotel – none of us were up for partying long into the night like old times!

On Sunday afternoon, a big group of friends met up at Willen Lake. It was an emotional time, as most people wouldn’t see our newly married friends for months. At least I had WOMAD festival, the week afterwards. Before WOMAD though, they were off to Rome. They were determined to pack as much in as possible!

And so were we. After another stop-off at the bride’s parents, we decided to search for the legendary Milton Keynes Concrete Cows, a sculpture created in the 1970s by a Canadian-born artist, Liz Leyh. So the Canadian connection was there from the very beginning in Milton Keynes, written into their destiny.  It took some detective work to track down the cows, and the ones we found are replicas of the originals. But it was the perfect setting – a field in the evening sun, and cows that almost looked real from a distance.

We left Milton Keynes with an odd mixture of feelings: happiness, indigestion, our senses whirling from all the colourful sights we’d seen, sadness that our friend would soon be a long way away from us, but relief to be back up north amongst some hills!

Things this blog is about…