Getting married was perhaps the most complicated long-term thing we have ever done. We started planning it over a year in advance and had a great, big file of documents, bills, action-lists and addresses by the time we finished. That is the practical side, but that has nothing to do with getting married.
Why did we do it? I (Tim) was never in any doubt that we would get married, it was as if we had an appointment already planned and all I needed to do was remind Marjolein to be ready on the day… That is odd, because neither of us had ever had the slightest inclination to marry any of our previous girl/boy friends and none of our parents pushed or even encouraged us to get married. The real reason was that when you are so enormously in love and so very certain that you are going to spend the rest of your lives together, getting married is the biggest, most public way of declaring your enduring love for each other. Romance is strong stuff, be warned.
Arranging to get married was pretty complicated. When we went to the commune (Amstelveen) and told them that a British citizen, born in Germany, living in Belgium, wanted to get married to a Dutch lady in a different commune (Amsterdam, Bos en Lommer, where we found a nice church…) they got out a whole new reel of red tape. We fell foul of all kinds of regulations designed to prevent “fake” marriages and they ended up inventing a new regulation to make it all possible.
Then there was the wedding dress. I did not want to see it before the wedding because I am an old-fashioned romantic. So, about a month before the wedding Marjolein said, “Tim, you know that it’s a very simple dress don’t you?” So I said that that was a very good thing as we both liked simple wedding dresses and had both hated the very frilly “lamp-shade/Empress” ones. Good.
A week later she said “Tim, it really is a very simple dress…” So I said that that was fine and that I still liked simple dresses.
A week later… and the week after that… I finally said that I would be very happy if she turned up in a bin-bag with holes for the arms and head. That seemed to settle the problem.
The day before the wedding we slept apart (I really am an old-fashioned person). I got up in the morning, very nervous and Willy Wuyts, my best man, bustled around me, straitening my lapels and brushing off tiny specs of dust. We drove to Amstelveen with lots of time to spare with me checking how much time we had to spare about every 15 seconds. When we arrived we discovered that the whole town was closed of for a flower parade and that the photographer and everyone we had invited would not be able to get to the house. We picked up the bouquet and the buttonholes at the florist and walked down the main road watched by a crowd that obviously thought we were part of the parade.
When I finally got to the house and was let in, Marjolein was waiting on the stairs in her dress and veil. She looked so wonderful that my jaw dropped and my knees buckled. I had brought a single bright orange Gerbera (giant daisy-like flower) along with the bouquet as a joke: I was going to offer her the Gerbera and keep the bouquet behind my back. When I saw her I just stood and stared like an idiot with both hands in front of me and she neatly bagged the bouquet. It was a nice, simple dress. I like simple.
There is one big disadvantage of being entirely dressed and (Marjolein) made up: you cannot hug (creases) and you cannot kiss (red lipstick gets everywhere). So we stood there like friendly, but distant relatives feeling our feet gradually lift of the ground and our rational minds nip off for an extended holiday. There is nothing I have ever done (including parachute jumping) that is quite such a rush as getting married.
The day went past at a million miles an hour as a magnificent blur. It was like being tremendously drunk and acutely aware and awake at the same time. People started arriving and Mr Spakowski, the photographer, dragged us off. He was an amazing Polish maniac to whom we had given full rein with one proviso: no swans/bridges/chocolate-box stuff. He obliged by taking most of the photographs in black-and-white in an industrial harbour full of concrete silos and railway trucks. We ran, jumped, twirled and skittered along rusting rails for him and the pictures are wonderful.
The gods must have been pleased; when we got to the Church the September sun came out in full glory and light came sleeting in through the windows. We walked through the door together to see the stalls packed with friends and family and everyone spontaneously rose to their feet as if we were royalty. It was a magical moment and words cannot describe it. The ceremony was a mixture of high romance and Dutch pragmatism: “will you abide by the provisions of the law regarding marriage?” When the “ambtenaar” asked during his speech “Why are they getting married” my mother-in-law chimed guilelessly in with “yes, why?” Naturally the everybody fell about laughing and I had to crush Marjolein’s hand to prevent her literally falling about (Marjolein’s laugh is an athletic experience) and turning into an eye shadow Panda. During the ceremony our friend Judy, who sings in the chorus of the Antwerp opera, sang “Ring auf meiner finger” and “One Hand, one heart” so beautifully that it was a good thing that I don’t wear eye shadow. Children ran around, babies cried, video cameras beeped and whirred until finally we said “yes, I do” and the gavel came down and we were man and wife. I could not help it, I felt triumphant, jumped, and shouted “YES!” We were married.