" Four men in a Boat" story continued… by " Shipmate"

26 CHAPTER TWENTY SIX (The Wedding)                                

The yacht, along with a vintage taxi, a mini-bus and shares in a Thames sailing barge was officially owned by the corporate entertainment company.  In addition, the use of a luxury box at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club was available to the three Shareholders, as were the entertainment facilities onboard the Paddle Steamer moored near Parliament, courtesy of Sir Edward Brown.

The joint owners of the company took turns in keeping proper accounts and producing an appropriate balance sheet.

Sometimes the shareholders used the facilities together and at other times they simply booked them for their sole use. 

At the end of March, St Francis College, a private girls school in Letchworth Garden City, held it’s annual fund raising event in their spacious sports grounds.  Parents were solicited to make a financial or physical contribution, so John, one of the shareholders, conceived the idea of using the vintage taxi for rides at forty pence a time with the proceeds going to the school.  At around three o’clock when the heavens opened up, nearly two hundred pounds had been raised.

Passers by would have been shocked to see three nuns and a hirsute man sheltering beneath an ancient open vehicle, taking turns to consume a bottle of Champagne, intended for the raffle, and using a single crystal glass goblet between them. 

When the rain ceased there was still half a bottle left and all four decided that it was divine intervention that led to the change in the weather.  The nuns saw it that their libations had been strictly limited whereas the delighted parent felt gratified to be left with the remainder of the refreshment.

The vintage taxi ended up in Johns drive, as he had to prepare himself for the forty or so, mile journey to return it to its home garage.

  The vehicle was an extremely attractive and rare example, but was somewhat unsuited to long journeys especially for the driver who was threatened with carbon dioxide poisoning from the exhaust fumes.  Top speed was only around forty miles per hour, though at this speed it was hard to control the violent wobbling of the front wheels that became transmitted through the steering wheel. 

 The passenger’s seat was protected by a large shade, not unlike that of an infant’s carriage, which could be folded back concertina wise, in good weather.

Finished in Royal blue with a deep shine it looked very handsome with its jet-black wheels and canopy.  The shiny chrome horn and large polished headlights ensured it lived up to its former purpose – a hansom cab.

A week or so after the fund raising there was a knock at the door causing the dogs to go berserk.  Locking them away, John answered to find a young man confronting him.

“Is that your taxi in the drive?’

The visitor was smart, tall and slim.  His shoes were of the latest fashion, as was his suit and his hair, though long, it seemed to have a sort of sheen, as though it had been spayed to keep it into place.  Briefly, he could have been described as ‘Jack the lad.’

Having received an affirmative, the visitor asked,

“ Any chance of hiring it?”

“Afraid not,” said John, “It’s private and not for hire.”

Obviously disappointed, the young chap returned to his Audi sports car and disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

Over the next few weeks, John received another three visits, all in the early evening and all with the same result.

On his fifth visit it was different for two reasons.  It turned out the taxi was wanted only as a wedding vehicle and the young man said he would be happy if John drove.  In return he would donate a hundred pounds to the Church restoration fund, which had been an ongoing cause in the village.  They shook hands and he gave John the bride’s local address and a time and date some six weeks hence.  As he left, the prospective groom pledged John to secrecy since he said he wanted it to be a surprise for his fiancée.  Surprise it certainly turned out to be.

There was something on John’s mind as he dug his vegetable garden and for the life of him he couldn’t bring it to mind.  It was the Church clock striking ten that sent a shiver down his spine as he remembered the significance of the date.

Fortunately, he was able to buy five meters of white ribbon at the local shop and get back to quickly change before picking up the bride.

As he drove flat out to the center of the village he realized he didn’t have the address but he counted on some sort of activity to guide him.  He was in luck.  As he rounded the corner by the Five Bells public house, some customers came out sporting carnations in their buttonholes.

“Where’s the bride?”  He politely enquired.

“Post Office,” came the reply. 

It is always nice to know someone when in an unaccustomed situation and John was pleased that the Postmaster and he were both acquainted having, sometime earlier been on the Parish Council together.

He pulled up at the Post Office and his fellow Councilor came out accompanied by his daughter in a long white wedding dress and carrying a beautiful bouquet.

“Hello John, didn’t know anything about this,” Dennis said, indicating the cab.

“Grooms surprise Dennis.  Hop in.  Don’t want to be late!”

They took off in the direction of the Registry Office some ten miles distant without another word as the driver already knew where to go.

Negotiating the lanes was hard work, as the driver was half asphyxiated and without power steering.

After a while, John peered into his rear view mirror to ensure his passengers were okay, To his surprise the bride was a bit dumpy and somehow wasn’t the type he had envisaged for ‘Jack’ as he thought of the groom.

“The wedding is at Ampthill registry office Dennis?” he shouted over the wind and engine noise.

“Yes,” said Dennis.

“Reception at the grooms parents place after?”

“No,” said Dennis, “It’s at the village hall.”

Another terrible chill came over John as he did a ‘U’ turn and drove as fast as he could back the way they had come trying not to notice the wobble caused by the slightly buckled wheel.

The Gods had sent a helping hand as, upon arriving back at the Post Office, some late arrivals had just turned up and were able to transport the confused bride and her father.

The taxi sped off back to Johns house where he finally located the details of his earlier arrangements on a scrap of paper under his grandmothers clock above the mantelpiece.

As luck would have it the address was for the same road but at the opposite end and trying to appear calm, John knocked on the door.

A well-dressed young lady answered it and John relayed his treaty about the secret, to the young lady who was obvious the ‘lady in waiting.’

“We’ve also got a secret,” she said,  “The bride, unbeknown to the groom, is dressed in a wedding dress.”

A short while later a beautiful petite bride climbed into the back seat.  She pulled aside her veil allowing her long fair hair to cascade over her shoulders.  She implored John to find somewhere they could remain hidden from the groom while they waited at the Registry Office.

Feeling like Sir Galahad, John replied,

“Your wish is my command,” 

 Finding first gear at last, the cab moved forward and they set off towards their destination without further delay.

They barely had five minutes to spare as they drew to a halt right outside the magnificent building in its park setting, which partly functioned as the registry office.

John found a small empty room containing records and a desk and chairs and left the bride and her ‘lady in waiting’ in order to park the car in the adjacent car park.

As he returned to the taxi, the earlier ceremony had just finished and the attendees were coming out.  A man approached him and with a humorous demeanor, introduced himself as the best man at the postmaster’s daughter’s wedding. 

“A funny and memorable event,” he said forgivingly, “would it be possible to get some photo’s of the married couple ostensibly getting out of the taxi on arrival, for the album?”

John readily agreed.  He couldn’t help comparing the homely Postmasters daughter with his real passenger, especially as he recalled her shapely legs and the blue garter that was revealed as she disembarked when they arrived. 

A crowd gathered to watch and the top hatted Groom helped his ample bride alight.  Cameras flashed as they caught the moment on film, however, the pride John felt was soon to be dashed by the arrival of ‘Jack the Lad’ in his brightly polished Audi sports car.

“Where’s Madeleine?” he demanded.

John was momentarily at a loss.  He didn’t want to break his trust with the girls.

Before awaiting a response the lad jumped back into his sports car and roared off with John in lame pursuit.  He couldn’t help picturing the scene, as Madeleine’s fiancée must have viewed it.  The wrong bride had been collected!

The chase was hopeless.  The gap widened as they travelled the long straight road through the park.

For the second time that day, it seemed, God came to the rescue.

The traffic lights at the park exit were red.  The steaming cab slowly ground to a halt behind the growling sports car whose occupant failed to hear the pathetic ‘burp’ caused by the rubber bulb being squeezed as John tried in vane to sound the horn.

John approached ‘Jack the lad’ and told him that his fiancée was waiting in the registry office.

Completing his five-point turn he followed in pursuit of the sports car as it sped back to the Office.

The journey to the parent’s house was a much happier affair.  The newly weds kissed and cuddled in the back and John felt a certain satisfaction that they were undoubtedly suited to one and other.

Jack, as John now thought of him, apologized for his earlier mistrust and insisted that John join them for the toasts.

Nothing else can happen, thought John, as they arrived.

The detached house was ablaze with lights to welcome the couple and everyone was given champagne to toast the newly weds before the meal.

The elderly grandfather either wasn’t used to the excitement or the champagne and asked John who was standing next to him if he would mind helping him to the toilet.  Unfortunately, the downstairs loo had been designated a ‘ladies’ so the old chap explained that he would need to use the ‘chair lift’ that had been installed to assist him after he lost a leg to a shark while swimming off of Bondi beach. 

John escorted the old gent to the front passage and ensured he was properly seated on the chair lift at the bottom of the stairs.

What happened next was possibly due to a missing notice regarding safety straps.

The Grandfather was oblivious and John was unaware of said notice, so when John pressed the ‘up’ button the ascent commenced without any safety straps in place.  A faulty relay didn’t help and rather than the gentle rise usually experienced, the chair shot up rather rapidly.  Had there not been a corner, the Grandfather may have stayed on but in the event, his decent turned out to be a lot quicker than he went up. 

John helped him onto his foot and finding that he wasn’t too much worse for wear, assisted him to the downstairs bathroom.

The exasperated driver decided it was time to return home and on leaving, could hear a stern maiden aunt complaining that there was a man in the ladies.

Anxious to get home, John started the taxi and grinned to himself as he remembered the bizarre events of the day culminating in the rapid rise and fall of the groom’s benign grandfather.  He drove the taxi at top speed that was actually forty-two miles an hour that wouldn’t have normally concerned the police patrol car.

However, at this speed there was a tendency for voluminous fumes to be emitted and the wobble became more pronounced.  To make matters worse because of wind and engine noise, John failed to respond to the police siren.

Eventually he was pulled over and confronted by a zealous ill humoured policeman.

“License.”

The driver confidently produced both the license and the insurance.

“Neither of these documents entitles you to drive a Hackney carriage”, the policeman asserted and added,

“Have you been drinking?”

John’s confidence was rapidly diminishing.

“I’ve just come from a wedding,” he explained.

“Did you use that?” said the Police Officer pointing to the taxi.

“Yes, for the bride and groom.  I’ve just been to the reception.”

The now belligerent policeman unbuttoned his top pocket, took out a small notebook and began to write.

After about five minutes he turned to John and said,

“Five counts of breaking the law.”

He consulted his notes.

“One.  Exceeding the speed limit.

Two.  Driving an unsafe vehicle.

Three.  Driving for hire or reward while improperly licensed and insured.

Four.  Emitting polluting fumes.

Five.  Driving with alcohol on the breath.”

He replaced his pencil in the spine of his notebook.

“Have you anything to say?”

John decided to defend himself and angrily replied.

“Yes.  Let’s start with the first last.  I had one small glass of champagne to toast the bride and groom.  Give me a test if you don’t believe me.

Classic vehicles are exempt from modern emission guides.

There was no reward, just a donation to the Church restoration fund.

The wobble had only just started.

The brakes and horn are up to the standard they were manufactured to suit the car.  Speed dials in 1917 were not very sophisticated and I doubt that any Judge would look kindly on a law enforcement officer taking up the Courts time with such a trivial and relatively minor infringement.”

A long silence ensued finally being broken by the policeman who said,

“I’ll let you off with a warning this time.  Off you go and keep your speed down.”

Its odd when one is attempting to be casual and nonchalant, how everything goes wrong. 

 The washer lever was pressed, rather than the indicators as they were on different sides to John’s car.  The policeman just about managed to hold his temper in check, as the washer water dripped from his helmet.

 John found reverse instead of first gear and when he eventually started forward a loud bang accompanied by a cloud of soot came out of the exhaust.

He was acutely conscious of speeding, and now held up the traffic that became formed into a long, slow moving, line. 

Arriving home exhausted he pulled into his drive and regrettably forgot about the brakes, subsequently causing a significant amount of damage to the rear end of his wife’s car, which was parked in the driveway.  Two weddings and a disaster, he thought.

John opened the back door and headed for the kitchen.

He was somewhat mollified at the sight of his lovely wife stirring a saucepan on the stove. 

“Hello darling ‘” his wife greeted him.

“Have you had a nice day?” 

With a brief nod John poured two large glasses of sherry and downed his in one.

The warming liquid relaxed him slowly and he felt his stress gradually subsiding.

“I’ve made a special meal tonight and lit a nice fire dear,” she said, sipping her drink.

“The children have gone out so I think we can have a lovely evening watching a video.  While you were out, I went into town and your mission gave me a good idea.  The video I got is on the sideboard, but it must be returned in three days.”

He picked it up and turning it over, read the title.

‘Four weddings and a funeral.’

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