Before we start, I’d best make plain that there’s been no freebies or incentives, nobody has asked for endorsement (nobody even knows I’m writing this celebration of local services) and that the blog remains non-monetised. WoBy exists simply to link local concerns to wider issues – and to celebrate the loveliness of the local. A wedding brings you the chance to support local independent traders, and our wedding (see Part One) was not just in Sussex, but utterly of Sussex. That’s the motivation here.
Most pics come from Erin James Media; some have been compressed / resized by Lee Milner of Milnerpics.
A Sussex Shotgun Wedding
The rhythm was fast as a shotgun wedding and that was part of what made all the prep such fun and not a source of anxiety – even when loads of things didn’t work out exactly as imagined (as, naturally, happened). For a month, we lived fully immersed in ‘wedding’ – and then it all stopped. This felt cosmically appropriate. Have you ever noticed that your life’s big-time, those most significant events, seem to happen at a different speed and in a different time signature from the moments when nothing particular is happening? Birth, death – they don’t trot along at uniform neutral pace, but consist of periods of waiting, moments of exhilarating sprint, a patience-testing slowness, strange moments of apparent stasis, sudden bursts of speed and energy. And all this is wrapped up in an overall total loss of control and a realisation that the universe is so much larger than your own small story. It felt good to do a marriage at this same syncopated tempo.
The rhythm was as fast as a shotgun wedding … felt good
We decided in July to marry, went straight to post the notice, and spent the whole of August pulling together the wedding. Covid meant that things did not all play out seamlessly in Worthing. Notice of intent to marry had to be given at Horsham – the only council Registrars’ office to stay open for the whole area during that lockdown; the wedding proper took place in Ferring, and the legal registration part of the ceremony happened (6 months later, after 4 postponements and with just 4 of us present) in Crawley – once again, the only Registrars’ office open at that moment to handle the area’s needs. Cool. We got to see a bit of Sussex and to have a few legit days out during lockdowns.
The Sussex Celebrant
As a couple with mixed views on questions of religion, tradition, spirituality (and whether our marriage was a contract, sacrament or something else) we knew we needed to go the celebrant route. A celebrant can tailor a ceremony to include and exclude whatever aspects are important to you both. Unfortunately, most celebrants seem to be nice middle aged white ladies. Albeit very lovely women, for sure (we’ve been to many funerals presided over by NMAWLs), we wonder what you do if you want a bit more diversity of choice for your major life event.
We wanted someone who would have a powerful sense of presence and performance to walk us through our wedding day. We toyed with whether it would be possible to be married by one of our fave drag queens, but that gets complicated. Just as we were wearily coming around to the idea of a NMAWL, another website popped up and we found ourselves, thankfully, sorted out. A national award-winning registered celebrant lived, it turned out, locally – and he was a gorgeous, warm, creative-minded gay man. Perfect!
I wanted a handfasting and a sense of the spiritual. We both wanted music. We got that, plus bits we’d not imagined, from Stewart O’Sullivan. He prodded us to write our own vows and practice them in secret, made us give him loads of information to help him craft an individualised ceremony, got the entire family involved in the event, provided us with a couple of delightful rituals of his own, and hand-held us through a very intense set of experiences. Blending some old and well-known traditions with Celtic spirituality and a nod to church roots worked. And at no point did it ever feel (my secret fear) like ‘Sheilaism’ (the term Robert Bellah famously used for describing the contemporary shift from traditional religion and rituals and into an utterly individualistic solipsistic pick-and-mix contemporary state of ‘spiritual but not religious’).
How far we’ve come since our teens, when ‘gay wedding’ was preposterous blasphemy
Stewart also reminded us Boomers how far we’ve come since our teens, when ‘gay wedding’ was preposterous blasphemy. A lovely touch was his offering thanks and recognition as part of the ceremony to our parents (in their 80s) for ‘moving with the times’ and for accepting us just as (bent) as we are, and for being present for us as we wed.
Stewart loved our colour theme and went out to buy a new orange-toned suit just for our wedding. He told us that it had been a hard year, with Covid – so many funerals, no weddings. Most people had opted to postpone their marriages until they could do the full-on big fat wedding thing.
We felt quite happy with the 30 limit. It meant that we could gather the truly nearest and heartfelt dearest in, and afford to spend a bit more per head along the way. Ours was Stewart’s first marriage in a while and he seemed almost as happy and excited as we were to be doing it. We were the last group of 30 in, on the Saturday before the suddenly-announced shutdown. Phew! (Imagine having already selected your 30 closest – and then having to whittle it to 12? I’ll bet there’s been a few new family feuds started up this year over who made the final cut. It’s probably fear of family recrimination as much as desire for a big party that’s prompted so many young folks to postpone their big day).
Video & Photography
I love to support young talent, and I also love to put money into Black business. I’m hoping that Black Pound Day takes off here, as that will make this easier to do. You’ll find an enormous amount of creativity in the BME community. During the ‘quick research’ planning-at-speed phase, we gathered a list of young Black local creatives. We loved Erin James’ honest, unfiltered and spontaneous work and hired her to make images like most of the ones you see here. (For blog tech reasons to do with file and page sizes, clarity and definition has had to be lost a bit, but you can feel Erin’s style even from the compressed images).
In the end, I’ve decided not to embed the wedding video we commissioned, because it was really personal (and because we’re not Millennials, but old Boomers who were socialised into a public: private divide, and who therefore struggle enormously with the concept that we might put it all out there), but I can tell you that we got a gorgeous thing from Zach (Zach Hyland, Insta ZQfilm) via Erin’s studio.
The music was our choice and you’re welcome. Like the experience of love in the third age of life, this version is familiar and startling at once, moving body and soul irresistibly. 1.34 is the clincher moment. When we danced down the aisle after the ceremony, lip-synching to that voice, the moment, my darlings, was sublime. A musicologist or cultural studies theorist could deconstruct the queerness in this very butch band performance. I’ll just leave it there.
Sons of the East – Hold On (We’re Going Home)
Your tailor doesn’t have to be gay, but it makes for more fun and banter at fittings – and a better understanding of the dapper aesthetic.
Igor at Dandylion Style was local when we worked with him, but now he’s working out of Ardingly, a proper country town in Sussex. We got the Scots tweed of our sentimentalised Celtic fantasies, plus elements – moleskin trousers, fancy-backed waistcoats, lovingly-cut jackets – that can be worn over and over. While I’m firmly on the side of those who want to abolish ‘workwear’ and casualise / pluralise away from the business suit, there’s something irresistible, in our off-work moments, about a jacket and tie. Do you want to be a person in a jacket and tie, or do you want to have a person in a jacket and tie? Être ou avoir? Well, M. Lacan, fuck all binaries – it’s both.
Well, M. Lacan, fuck all binaries – it’s both
Caught between queasiness about the extractive – human and environmental – process of gold and a longstanding relationship with it, via Indian connections and socialisation, I did want rings. She suggested finger tattoo rings – I’m (still) not ready to mark my skin, and held on for tradition. Aurum jewellers on Worthing’s (increasingly interesting) Montague Street are willing to work with your old precious metals and recycle them into new pieces for you. (That means old jewellery which has a good proportion of gold in it). Granny’s 18ct wedding ring and a couple of old Indian 22ct gold bangles went into these pieces.
As sometimes happens with craft work, the price for an individualised handmade piece is nowhere near as horrible as your fear. What profit there must be in the machine-made mass-produced jewellery business! Please, don’t ever drop your cash on a high street 9 carat ‘it’s really-not-even-gold’ item: as Gerald Ratner well knew, it’s grand theft.
We went in with vague notions of ‘sturdy’, ‘Celtic’, ‘naturalistic’, ‘a pair but not identical’ (vast wardrobe of checked shirts and combat trousers aside, we’re not clones, babe) and we came out happy, with matching but not identical rings.
A pair – but not clones, babe
What’s your idea of a local? A pub. Friendly. Character-ful. A larger-than-life landlord. Dogs. Quirky decor. We’re lucky that our local, The Brooksteed, fits it all in. It’s even queer-friendly and loves the gays; when we popped in once in our drag alter-egos (Harry Beau and Estuarine Eddie) we were warmly welcomed. We’ve had pub nights which included Miss Disney, drag, bake-off and other innovative events. The pub has a large and active choir (which will be putting on ‘The Sound of Music’ for Christmas 2021 – get out your old curtains, turn them into a frock, and come down on Dec 11th to see the largest cast of improbable nuns since Benedetta).
We bloody love the pub, but I promise it says less about the amount of beer we have drunk over time and more about the talents and open-heartedness of landlord John Azzopardi that our wedding cake was a gift offered by him. We asked for orange autumnal colour and as healthy as he could bake it. (Just because it’s a wedding, sweethearts, it doesn’t mean we’d be wanting to shove refined flour and sugar down anybody’s throats). A spelt and honey carrot cake emerged and just look at it! Cutting into this was a very erotic experience. Eating it was a mouthgasm. You won’t get to taste it, which is a veritable tragedy for you. Just ask our guests.
Cutting into this was a very erotic experience
Eating it was a mouthgasm
A Sussex Venue
This part is a true Worthing tale in every aspect.
Incomers from the rat-race who came looking for something better in the Sussex countryside, Aly and Paul Englefield left the film and television industry in 2010 to start an artisanal business, becoming part of the boom in Sussex wines.
Highdown Vineyard operated as a working Vineyard for many years, as well as an occasional restaurant and venue for hire. Very Sussex, very Worthing.
The demise and future of this gorgeous venue is an equally typical story of contemporary Sussex. As the owners retire, they’re selling their business – not as a going concern, to the dismay of many, but as a site for property development, in south-east England’s mass house-building boom. Paul and Aly explain that the site is no longer viable as a working vineyard and that they have made the “difficult decision” to sell the land to a property developer, with a view to building 121 new homes. The easing of restrictions on changes of site use and UK government targets of 300,000 new homes a year mean that the planning permission that the developers seek will probably be granted.
Our wedding, where guests drank Rambling Rose Sparkling and South Downs White, has an extra poignant touch now, knowing that it took place in the very last season of the venue and its gorgeous vineyard.
What’s More Fun Than A Wedding disco?
What’s more fun than a wedding disco? Well, yeah, just about anything, of course. White Brit culture across all social classes is, sadly, overwhelmingly more about drinking than dancing, while wedding DJs have to try to connect with all age groups – something they tend to do, puzzlingly, by dredging up the worst ear-worms from the top 20 s/hit parades from the last 60 years.
What’s more fun than a wedding disco? Well, yeah, just about anything, of course
The Covid strict sit-down and no-dancing rule, plus the 30 guest limit, set a strict format: 5 seated tables for waiter served food. The loss of a wedding disco was probably a total blessing, because we all knew it probably would have consisted of about 6 of us mad keen dancers up there, with everyone else just getting pissed and watching the dancers or talking. At least, that’s been my experience at most other weddings in my own community and honestly, it never seems to me like much fun for anyone. The dancers are like rabbits in headlights, uncomfortably spotlighted on a near-empty floor and often increasingly self-conscious or even resentful at having to provide a spectacle for those too timid to move. The onlookers slowly slump down in their seats as conversation at the table gets exhausted and there’s nothing to do except watch the dancer and drink – on a day when the drinking already began way too early. (Conscious drinking and sober-curious lifestyles are still, I’m afraid, not much of a thing around here yet).
The meal format, then, screamed cabaret. Yay! A fun scrabble to find performers from among local favourites and a chance for a properly fab and engaging afternoon.
There’s old school classic drag (try Worthing’s Alexandra pub), there’s postmodern contemporary drag (like Benjamin Butch) and then there’s drag royalty.
You’ll already know for sure about drag queens, you might know about drag kings (here’s a famous Worthing king, George Faithless, and here’s pics from what used to be our local annual drag king competition); but did you ever meet a drag Prince?
Alfie Ordinary is a performer who is Sussex born and raised, who studied locally, at Chichester, and who now lives and works around Brighton – and internationally. We’d seen Alfie – not an old school Queen, but a new style Prince – perform a few times. When I found I could book him as a wedding M.C., I double jizzed my pants. What fun that was going to be! Alfie hosted like the pro that they undoubtedly are, hit exactly the right spot of innuendo and charm, and led our guests in a singalong of karma chameleon. It wasn’t quite the hard-edgy kind of banter or artsy alternative performance that you’d see Alfie do live in Brighton or on YouTube, but it was perfectly nuanced for the audience.
And, yes, some gender fucking took place, which is always a *very good thing*. One male guest asked me with concern whether Alfie was male or female, because they really could not tell. Another spoke – perhaps a little bit too enthusiastically? – about how gorgeous Alfie was. Some of the more glamorous female guests studied Alfie’s makeup with slightly envious scrutiny, perhaps wondering if there were shading and gorgeousness-enhancing tips there for them to copy; or perhaps wondering whether the production of femininity is always high artifice. (Spoiler alert: yes, it is – but that’s for another post when I’ll give you my infamous riff off Joan Riviere).
Dance Us To The End of Love
As a bodywork nut more generally, there’s one art form that I’ve long been keen on, going for many years to the large Brighton festival celebrating it.
This form is hard to name, because both form and name are controversial and are under discussion – even under sentence. So let’s be aware that I’m using all terms here under erasure (in the Derridean phrase).
If I say ‘belly dance’ or ‘oriental dance’, I already hate those terms and prefer not to use them. If I say ‘raqs sharqi’ then I’m aware that, actually, that is a culturally embedded and specific form from Egypt and that the term is not to be used in a decontextualised way as a generic.
If I name what we watched with the more precise term of ‘ATS’, then immediately we plunge into some deep reflection and discussions that have been taking place within the dance community around an increasingly urgent need to abandon that name – ATS – with its inauthentic and culturally appropriative claims to ‘tribal’. ATS has now been rebranded as ‘Fat Chance Style’ – from the original San Fran ‘Fat Chance’ troupe who birthed this particular fusion style.
Donna Mejia’s 2020 open letter to her dance community stakes out the histories and issues well, with a call to abandon cultural appropriative practices or wilful ignorance and to adopt the name ‘transnational fusion dance’.
Everyone engaged in and around this dance form is working very hard right now to pick through issues of race, culture and gender. Here’s a workshop from Bellydancers of Color Magic. And of course, not everyone is parsing out the issues in the same way.
A current University of Brighton resident researcher and performer, Edina Husanovic works explicitly around enquiring into orientalism, gendering, longings and dislocations – and the uses of the trope of the ‘feminine exotic’ by artists and the producers who sell tickets. Here’s a performance from Edina and also some background to her dis-orienting project, which saw her dance the route of the Orient Express and engage in multimedia performance practice which has been monickered as ‘political belly dance’.
Edina is happy for now to stick with the name ‘belly dance’ – I’m still struggling around that.
White people have pilates – why do they all need to do yoga?Something from a student in the MA classroom that nudged me think a bit more about appropriation
Down the years, I have had plenty of sit-downs and conversations with myself about my own love of this form. I guess that, like yoga or meditation, I’m still unsure about whether I will always think it’s ok to be engaged with such forms (I remember an Asian student pointing out that, ‘White people have Pilates, let them do that – why do they all need to do yoga?’). At the same time, as an anthropologist, I also know that ‘culture’ travels, lives and changes, and is always – but always already – hybrid. I could have gone hokesy-rootsy and had Scottish dancing at the wedding, but honestly, my relationship with those roots is less informed and less textured than my relationship with the Middle-Eastern and Indian routes I have studied and lived as an adult social anthropologist. And ‘
belly dance’ is also at once a gloriously queer format, and so very much a part of wedding cultures in the MENAT region. In the end, I shut down the hyper-critical voice and allowed in a bit of nuance to my thinking through about this. So I guess my current take on this is that, if we pay careful attention to terminology, practice, and context-specific uses of power and money, and if we do our research carefully and engage mindfully – which includes sharing money and power, of giving due respect – then sometimes, some instances might be ok.
Charlotte Wassell dances, coaches and performs solo and in various troupes and I’ve been entranced many times by her artistry and impressed by her careful engagement with the political issues at stake. Her recent blog posts set out some of the work she has been doing around this and the international connections she makes. Charlotte brought her transcultural fusion dance to our guests … and it was sublime. A part of the performer fee was donated by Charlotte to an Egyptian LGBTQ NGO.
The pre-wedding week, right before total lockdown, was full of shifts, confusion, hesitance about whether we would be able to go ahead with our planned cabaret set. There was a lack of clarity from the government guidelines about performer safety and we had several thoughtful discussions in the days before the wedding about stage size and distance from the audience. Charlotte decided that she felt safe to come and dance, but that she would wear a mask. After seeing the setup, the masks were removed for the second dance.
I’m not sure if anybody who doesn’t dance themselves, or isn’t a gym bunny, realises the muscle power and the control of the body that it takes to produce these movements. While popular reactions focus on the belly or hips and the deep core strength at work in this dance (for sure, impressive), take a look at the arms and appreciate the power that’s also at work there. This all-round strength is why Charlotte also coaches fitness.
Circus, Edgy Eroticism and Crochet
If belly dancers at a wedding are utterly commonplace (albeit more so around MENAT region than in Sussex), burlesque is more usually associated with the pre- wedding informal moment. But yeah, queers have no sense of propriety and they’re all about sex, as everybody knows, so of course there was burlesque at the reception.
Photo: Erin James media
Chi Chi Revolver did her famous LED tease for our guests and what else can I say or do but show you what a high spot this was? This honestly is one of those moments where you had to be there.
I’d wanted to see ChiChi for so long, having missed her Revolver Revue at (the sadly temporarily defunct arts centre) St Paul’s Worthing.
About three galaxies away from the narcissistic and tragic feminine abject
As with the performance from Charlotte’s troupe, ChiChi’s ultra feminine self-presentation has not a whiff of the fragile feminine about it. This is Woman as artifice, as powerful, as playful but utterly in possession of herself – and of you. Here, the hula hoop play makes apparent the strength and muscle control at work, and showcases the performer’s extreme fitness, while the LED lights, the loud music and the nipple tassles contribute a destabilising and disorienting mood. What are we meant to feel here, exactly? We’re excited by the rush of movement and the female gorgeousness, terrified by the ferocity of the strip (are we ready for her? Are we man enough for her?), amused by her playfulness and tease – and about three galaxies away from the narcissistic and tragic feminine abject.
Take a moment to appreciate the artistry of ChiChi and promise yourself that if she ever does a gig around your way, you’ll treat yourself and go see her live. She’s back in Worthing in October. We’ve got our tickets already.
Over lockdown, I saw that ChiChi began making and selling cute crochet work, including these fabulous mini-me dolls for a gay wedding.
I’ve been reading lately into academic research into creativity and learning about how, against what we are often told, it’s not that certain exceptional people are multi-modal creatives (Chris Brown, for example) but, rather, that creativity itself is a multi-modal phenomenon. While some creative people are one-trick ponies, many more source their creativity in broader aspects of self such as a talent for what psychologists name ‘divergent thinking’. We’re lucky in Worthing that we seem to attract plenty of divergent thinkers who bring their curiosity and creativity to us, enlivening the town and the events that happen here.
Flowers and Greenery, Table Centrepieces and Venue Decorations
Doing this blog, I stumble around Worthing in my usual nerdy introvert observer mode, with occasional outbursts of sociability and outreach, when I’ll approach strangers in cafes or insert myself into a situation and ask if I can be part of it and write about it. During one of those moments, I met Rosie-Sue Jenkins of Moonwillow Floral – an alternative event florist with an interesting story.
I was thrilled to be able to hire her to do some floral work for us and grateful that she took us on. She took our favourite citrus colours, worked that into our autumn theme, along with lots of greenery, including rosemary and bay leaves. A few of us also had lovely corsages (or buttonholes – I forgot the difference yet again, although Rosie-Sue has explained it a zillion times).
A nice touch was that she roped in one of our kids and one of our friends to help her with the prep work, setting them to task in her workshop alongside her, using wire, semi-precious beads, log slices and gauze. From this secret activity, we were left at the end with 8 beautifully decorated kilner jars (which had served as table centrepieces) to gift to our parents and siblings. Knowing exactly who had helped decorate the jars made these all the more special.
As expected, her final work was gorgeous and unconventional. Everyone took a turn for a photo under the arch, with its amazing toffee coloured roses and autumn richness.
Rosie-Sue initially studied in 3 arenas – interior decor, pastry chefing and floristry – before settling on learning floral work under the famed Constance Spry. Like Chichi, like John Azzopardi, then, another Worthing example of of multi-modal creativity. This is apparent in the way Rosie-Sue understands and relates to an event space and to the objects in it, the clients, the moment – taking a fundamentally holistic approach to her work. Sue visited us several times and brought elements of our home decor, our story and our values into the floral design. An unanticipated beautiful touch was that, thanks to her knowledge of flowers and how they age, guests who took home one of our kilner table pieces now have a beautiful dried flower arrangement – without having done anything much at all. We also have two wall plaques made from dried petals and grasses used on the day.
The Take Away
No, not that kind. We’re not at work here, using that kind of language and I’ll save the reflections and discussions about marriage equality, sex-gender, class privilege and stuff for another day. No, I mean a literal take away.
As Stewart the Celebrant crisply noted when we told him about our choice here, “Good. Well, nobody really needs another bonbonniere on the side, do they?” God no – even one would be too much, thanks. And all those folksy cute eco things made of log slices and cinnamon sticks – well, they’re still bloody ornaments, aren’t they? Clutter. Dust-attractors. No thanks. Rather than a keepsake, I always prefer a, ‘For fuck’s sake, don’t keep it, use it’, kind of thing.
Nobody really needs another bonbonniere on the side
As lovers of craft beer (in moderate amounts and drunk mindfully – here’s the post about that), we hit on the idea of asking one of our connections for help.
We’d ordered and drunk local wine at the wedding because it would have been disappointing (and weird) for guests to attend a wedding in a vineyard and do otherwise. Even we beer-drinkers felt that nuptial tradition and the menu demanded wine, not beer, as proper accompaniment to the wedding breakfast. (I say breakfast, but you know … who eats roast dinner as breakfast? Or has breakfast at 3pm? The name references another odd piece of English wedding tradition, derived from the days when a wedding happened right after morning mass – with obligatory fasting). Sparkling Sussex wine was the only thing we wanted for the toasts, and Sussex Rambling Rose wine, made right there at the venue, felt absolutely right for the meal. But we did see a chance to allow beer in at a certain moment and went for it.
Worthing local Jim was an amateur home brewer when we first met him, but by 2018, he’d begun to take his signature pudding stouts onto the market, as Sussex Small Batch. Among the brews, we’ve seen Small Batch make beers that nod to Terry’s Chocolate Orange, to Reese’s Pieces, to Banoffee Pie, to Tiramisu.
In our childhood days of 1960s innocence, before we learned about the health risks of sugar and when we still had all our teeth, both of us had been fond of bars which blended chewy caramel and nuts with chocolate. The tins of stout which we bought from Small Batch to give as going-home gifts to our guests had been brewed with a certain hazelnut, chocolate, caramel flavour in mind. Named Topical Stout, it was grown up Topic Bar!
Keep an open mind. Allow the unexpected into your life.
John Azzopardi from the Brooksteed helped us sort this one out and arranged for special commemorative labels to be made for the tins, artwork by Sussex artist Will Blood, words on the tin by WoBy:
Beer. Golden stuff that comes in a bottle. Brown stuff that flows from a tap. Yes, it often looks like that. But in today’s world, beer can be many more things. Small Batch is a Sussex brewery which is making a name for its extraordinary pudding style stouts. Stout with pudding? Stout instead of pudding? You choose: – drink it now, with our gorgeous wedding carrot cake, or take it home to enjoy. And if it reminds you of a certain well-known and much-loved chocolate bar – that’s deliberate, and it took a lot of work.
A Wedding. A young man and young woman come together to set up home and raise kids. Yes, it often looks like that, But in today’s world, a wedding can be many more things. Two middle-aged people who find themselves knocked sideways by a passion and a romance that is teenage in intensity. Two women (or two men, two non-binary or transfolk) who make the public commitment to stick together and blend their lives.
Keep an open mind. Allow the unexpected into your life. You just might find something amazing, like Katie & Caroline did. Cheers, everyone!
I can’t think of a better end note than this.
5 thoughts on “Queer Love in the Time of Covid (Part 2 of 2)”
Your wedding looks amazing with some really quirky, unsual and beautiful touches. I can’t believe it only took you a month to organise. Congratulations both.
Wow that was a lot to organise during lockdown!! Little wonder your crafting slid a little! 🙂 Looks a great celebration! You also introduced me to a new word and one that I felt needed to have been invented: Sheilaism haha, so, thank you for that! 😉
What an amazing wedding! Many thanks for sharing with us 🙂