There were 25 people on the flight out of London City airport, neither of us have flown on such a sparsely populated flight, so we did just what you would expect us to do.... slept the whole way bunched up next to each other.
It seems that these days every airport we travel to has a new and shinny airport express, Arlanda airport is no exception and as we brought our "really expensive" return tickets (we didn't work out the exchange rate until returning home, not as bad as we first thought) for their super express to Stockholm I noted that these trains all seem to charge at One unit of currency per mile traveled (the original, the Heathrow express is still the most expensive train journey in the world at £1.30 per mile traveled). The general feeling that we were not getting things right was further impressed on us as we recognised most of the scenery on the way back out of Stockholm to Uppsala, then Tash spotted some planes landing and taking off and our embarrassment was complete.
Smarting at this turn of events I made Tash walk the bags (they have wheels, what is the problem!) through the town to the hotel, this was done in full non-communicative, me 15 strides in front of Tash, turning around every so often to huff "oh just come on will you" style.
After we booked in to the hotel and the first thing I noticed, apart from the layout, really wide doors and corridors, was that the floor covering continued up the walls a tad (this for easy cleaning) and that there was a raised plastic power conduit down one wall, how odd I said, this looks like it used to be a hospital, it was an easy thing to spot, it is not like we haven't seen the inside of a few. The toilet was an odd capsule arrangement, so we made up after the earlier fracas trying to work out how to arrange ourselves in there.
That evening we left 'Hotel ER' and made our way into town to a nouveau Swedish restaurant for a pre-wedding meet and greet with Ben, Johanna, Felix and every one else who had flown in. It was a really nice evening, Tash got to have meatballs and so was most pleased, during the night we discovered that most of Ben's academic friends, all very pleasant intelligent, witty, Bush apologists, were also staying in our curious medical auberge , one of them confirmed my hospital hypothesis "it says so in the room handbook" I was informed.
The next day at 3pm were all bundled on to a coach and then driven out of the town, deep into the Swedish landscape, eventually stopping at a beautiful church right next to, as Magnus one of the evenings toastmasters pointed out, some Neolithic burial mounds. Tash was impressed, but being a fellow northern European I could afford to be nonchalant, "oh yeah, we have a few of these as well" I commented, we agreed that they were good to impress visitors from the "new countries" with, but when you grow up next to them, well, old hat really. Much the same happens in Italy, just more so.
The church, from an English (quaint churches stripped of decoration and painted white after the English civil war ) and Australian (brick, new, square, dull) perspective was fantastically beautiful, simplistic but honestly decorated. We all sat in pews with a little door and when Ben and Johanna entered together they looked wonderful, he in a well fitted suit ("I took a page from GQ to a Bolivian tailor and said could you make me something similar and he said no, but I can make you that!") and Johanna in a beautiful green dress. Marriage is an important institution, it reminds you of your place both in the wider world and own personal relationship, watching other people getting married, shows you how they feel about this, Ben beamed all the way through the ceremony like I have nether seen a person smile before. It was a very beautiful place to be.
In a rather fitting move for a ceremony containing so many academics, free thinkers and intellectuals, the reception was in the Uppsala science park, I only saw one rocket and even that was rather discreet, so hats off again to good Swedish design.
At Swedish weddings you don't sit next to your partner, you are mixed up on other tables, boy-girl fashion. ummm some good feelings about that, some bad. Tash did all right with her table and mine quickly became know as "the drinking table", it wasn't the most successful social mix, but we quickly found a way to balance out our differences, through the medium of expensively purchased alcohol. The other difference is that they use a toastmaster (plural in our case) to arrange the speeches, dance and songs for the evening. It is a bit of a free format event in that respect. Afterwards we discussed this arrangement and decided that it is a very very good idea and made it the best wedding we have been too, better than our own even, because the entire event led you to become part of the day, particularly as the evening went on (a couply truth game, a drinking song, some more songs) and the speeches flowed, mostly from Johanna's friends.
The equilibrium was finally restored by Tash who stood up and told the world of our part in this marriage (London was a convenient stop off point between New York and Sweden). This was then followed by a storming performance by Edwin, Ben's slightly manic and very funny friend. The heavily taxed alcohol flowed, the speeches became more relaxed and the issue of Felix, their son and a contributory reason for this day was broached in several ways, most beautifully articulated in Rachel's speech "have you not heard of contraception!".
As it is with Ben, at one point in the evening, he was ushered up to the stage, given a guitar and was made to sing, forgetting the words to the songs he performed in the band with Ed and Tom and favoring a rendition of Whitney Houston's "I will always love you" - Now I was telling Pier of this the following weekend in Italy (he also serenaded his new wife at the their wedding reception <internal link>, Laura the twin of Francesca, who's wedding we were back in Verona for, see next post) and we both found ourselves exclaiming 'Bastard, is there nothing he is not good at!" (academic, master linguist, runner, international traveler, clever wit, musician, Elvis Costello stalker), "probably isn't going to be much use in a bar fight though", I suggested, rather pointlessly.
Edwin's girlfriend Lisa, a slightly frenetic young lady, but perfectly pleasant, she sat next to me at the evening do, distinguished herself at the open air brunch the next day by, in discussing alcohol purchasing in the mid west, innocently spat out the comment "..and so we would go to the paki shops to buy beer" - now, I have problems with some of the words and attitudes that I saw growing up in the 1970's. Outside of the UK, I have since learned, these words do not carry the same weight, so as she made this comment, both Tash and my faces visibly changed, I could tell by the look of mild horror appearing on Ed's face as he was piecing together her faux pas from the opposite side of the fence. I told her that using "paki" wasn't an acceptable thing for us, considering the outcome of the conversation, I may have been a slightly patronising in my delivery. Ed, thinking quickly, explained to Lisa why we were so offended, "oh great so I will be known as that American racist" she commented, not not really. Those of you who are not native English speakers, in fact those of you reading in the US or Australia too, will appreciate how much variation there can be in the English language, so I learnt something, Packie, in the mid west is short for packaged alcohol, read why here and is in no way a racial slur..........Phew!
There was just enough time on the Monday to do some washing and relax, Tash managed to give her sister a good idea of what our life in London is like by taking her around the sights in the morning, spending an hour or two in St Bart's waiting for a heart echo and finally going shopping, before coming home on the back of the Vespa.