Forty years ago, I was carrying out the traditional 'decorate your mother in law's house' ritual, on the day before my wedding. Only later did I discover that there is an alternative tradition of a stag night. But to be honest, I would have been too tired after nailing down stair carpet before getting the last bus back to my parents.
Not that we had a lot of preparation for our wedding day. In fact we had a race on to get married before others managed to get things planned for us, like a photographer or a reception. In the end we had both of those and our families even got an invite to the occasion. We would have done it with a couple of witnesses dragged off the street, but succumbed to pressure, that we now realise was for our benefit as much as for others. I even wore a shirt with my clean, new jeans. Christina surpassed this with a Laura Ashley white dress; paid for by her mum although it would be worn only once.
Our other concessions to tradition included buying wedding rings. These we got cheaply and second hand. Later both had to be removed before the green stain they deposited on our fingers led to permanent damage. Maybe that was too cheap, but we never intended to wear them anyway.
So this is by way of explanation for why we are, four decades on, travelling down the country visiting gardens and trying to create an alternative celebration of that event and the 'honeymoon' that followed. More importantly, we are en route to the diamond wedding anniversary of my aunt and uncle, Pola and Phil. They will achieve this remarkable feat in a few days time and we want to be there to help them cross the line together. Well, you can't leave these things to chance and six hundred miles round trip for a party isn't too much to ask. At least they have forgiven us for not asking them to our wedding.
We should have celebrated my mum and dad's sixtieth already, but dad died far too early, even though they were a shoo-in to have got this far. So this is for them too.
Strictly speaking today is not our 'second stag/hen night' because we didn't have a first and because we haven't invited others to come with us. But let's face it, people must be tired of being dragged off to the other side of the world to get drunk and spend the night in a foreign jail, or be thrown off an Easijet flight, spending a fortune and racking up thousands of air-miles to mark some rite of passage. Anyway, we are the best people we know to go on an outing with.
Perhaps we can use this to offset our own carbon emissions on this trip, as we are for once travelling by car and not train. The main reason is the inaccessibility of some of our destinations by train alone, but also, because of the enormous cost of using the UK railways for long journeys. Only this week, inflationary fare increases for commuters were forced on people who have little choice in how they get to work on our privatised rail network. Some users argue that these government created monopolies are run for profit to the detriment and not the service of their passengers. Whatever, we have driven to Market Harborough in our Up! and a boot full of Beano and Dandy Annuals that have yet to find a home ten years after their owner left to go to University. Some of them have been loaded into a truck containing our possessions five times or more and we are keen that they don't make another as we move house again in the near future.