Day 11: Nupitals #KentuckyTour2014

moundale manor, winchester, weddingAfter breakfast with Dad, Joe and Luke at Shakespeare and Co to discuss last minute details, we join the rest of the Groomsmen on board the shuttles to take us up to Moundale Manor.

Moundale Manor is a 38-room private house in Winchester and only minutes from the church. Similar to Bullock-Bodley House, Moundale is a classic example of antebellum architecture, typical of neoclassical and Greek revival mansions of the Southern states. In essence, most likely a former slave plantation.

It’s here where we’ll get changed into our tuxedos, play killer on the pool table, play air hockey in the games room, watch Man Utd/Norwich in the home cinema while sinking a few beers on reclining sofas and wait for the call. It’s the sort of place you’d dreamed of having when you’re young, where the Sports Bar of the 90’s failed to replicate.

The place is so big, that up on the second floor Ellen and her bridesmaid are also getting ready. It takes a good 10 minutes to find one of the many bathrooms.

Hot sunny day, men walking around on fresh cut grass in suits, coaches to and from venues. It was all very FA Cup Final day like. After a few photos, it’s time to board the coaches for the short trip to the First Christian Church for the ceremony. It’s a church that’s been in the Collis family for generations, attended by Ellen’s Dad and his brothers.

The guests started to fill the church as we arrived, with Angie, the wedding coordinator, given us the final reminders of where to stand and where to hide.

The ceremony went without a hitch (sadly I’m not the first person in the world to crack a wedding related pun here). Tears, cheers and many happy years.

Luke wore that crown, and not a single person lined up at the alter felt the need to chuckle.

We congregated outside, lining the steps from the church to the street. Then the two stars of the show came down the steps, through the cheering crowds and into the waiting white Bentley, where they’d meet everyone back at Moundale Manor for cocktail hour.

It was here at Cocktail hour that I met Bill, Ellen’s uncle. He’s a former eye surgeon and has recently published his memoirs called Me, Myself and Eyes. I instantly had a hundred questions lined up for him, as you normally do when you meet somebody so interesting. Dad had met him last year at Luke and Ellen’s engagement party, and so I had been looking forward to hearing some of his many anecdotes since.

Then it was back on the coaches, and onto the Winchester Opera House for the reception.

On every table, at every seat, lay a personalised note for the guest. Ellen and Luke wrote one for every single person. 160 guests. I genuinely wondered at what point they realized the scale of the operation, yet conscious they’d gone way too far to back track.

But as Liza pointed out in her Maid of Honour speech, the pair of them, Luke and Ellen, genuinely value everyone in their lives. And so it’d never be a case of “actually, this is ridiculous, told you this would take too long”.

winchester, opera, moundale manorMine was written by Ellen, as was most peoples (Luke’s ones will no doubt surface in several years as collectors items) and have to say was very touching. I’ve welled up a number of times over the last few days, in particular around the speeches; mother of the bride, mother of the groom and the bride herself giving particular touching speeches. Though I must admit, I do wonder where the emotional energy gets transferred to if not in the form of salty tears. And are there any side affects? Bags under the eyes? Brain tumor?

Then Joe’s speech; a brief history of the pre and post-Manhattan Luke Oliver.

Anecdotes from being forced to play Sunday League football by Dad, to Saturday afternoons shopping for World War 2 rifles at Islington war market (aged17), to working at the local fruit and veg shop to ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

I think it came in at around 17 minutes. He’d read it out to me earlier that morning at Moundale Manor shortly before getting ready.

The first dance was followed by a good healthy stint of Greek dancing led by Mrs C and her gang. I really enjoyed the Greek dancing, a perfect way to trick everyone onto the dance floor.

The live band played a great set, the Greek music fed into Irish ballads. It really was a great night.

We all piled back on the Hilton-bound coaches. Luke’s London mates were leading a sing song at the back. Never in my life have I more wished I knew the full lyrics to Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Still I manage to slide in on the parts I did know, and sip my drink during the parts I didn’t.

Once we’re back at the Hilton we, if somehow by default, head to the main centre of Lexington, an area that had hosted almost every after party of the last few days. Between running back and forth to the hotel to coordinate groups, I find myself on my jacks, still wearing the full-piece tuxedo and being subjected to taunts about attending ‘prom’ from various pissed college kids. Half thinking I might get my head kicked in, the other half assessing how much I probably deserved it for looking like this whilst on my own, I continued my search for everybody on the next street. Spirits are soon lifted when I meet Kateri and Casey, who’ve come to round everyone up.

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Day 8: Back to Lexington #KentuckyTour2014

lexington, winchester, hellenic, bluegrassRight, enough pissing around; let’s get up to Lexington for what promises to be the wedding of the decade.

But in all seriousness, the State of Kentucky has impressed me massively. Prior to this trip, telling people my plan to spend two weeks in Kentucky was often met with looks of disbelief, eyes searching for an explanation and/or a punchline. Me too, I was quick to justify it with “my Brothers wedding, he’s getting married to a girl from there” before making sure that they understood “they both live Manhattan, New York”.

But I’ll say now, and I’m rarely wrong about these things, add this State to that US roadtrip you’ve got penciled in.

So we jumped on the motorway and set off, cruising past the signs to the birthplace of Colonel Sanders. And no, we didn’t stop.

We gathered our thoughts at a Cracker Barrel on the outskirts of Lexington, before making the final leg of the journey to our hotel, the Hilton. But first we popped into the nearby town of Winchester where the actual wedding was taking place. Winchester is where Ellen’s Dad grew up, and was also the location of her Grandparent’s restaurant that was famous for its Irish stew for over 60 years. It’s still fondly remembered by locals, with the site recently being honored by the Hellenic Ideals Program of the Bluegrass. Now here stands a metal plaque to mark the spot where “4 Greek Immigrants served the public from 1909 to 1973”.

The first person I bumped into at the hotel was Johnny and his girlfriend, one of Luke’s oldest mates. The last time I saw him was at Kilburn tube station? Or was it the Claddagh Ring in Hendon last Christmas? Eitherway, this is Kentucky and the rest of the London gang come pushing through the doors to check-in; Andy, Lou, Gary, Orla, Patti, Lawrence, Martin, Jimbo (another expat living in the US), James K, Sheryl, Conor and Tara.

Then Mum followed by auntie Maureen and Michelle; a Nolan Sisters tribute act if ever I’ve seen one. The two aunties flew over with uncle Patrick and auntie Paula this morning.

Mum has been in Lexington since Sunday, staying with Mrs C and helping with the preparations aswell as heading out to the Woodland Reserve distillery with Joe and Kate. Her roles have ranged from the essential (driving to the civic center to get wedding licenses) to the essentially thoughtful (helping the A-team put together the wedding buckets).

Wedding buckets? Civic Centre? Two terms that may suggest traditionalism is on its way out. But no, wedding buckets were the carefully put together welcoming gifts that everyone received when they checked in at the hotel. A large KFC bucket, filled with goodies including a can of Ale-8-One (bottled in nearby Winchester since 1926 and the only soft drink invented in Kentucky still in existence), local guidebook, local history book, an apple bearing the “I love NY” logo sticker and a pack of Walkers crisps. Also the wedding itinerary that included an illustration by their friend Jason, featuring Luke and Ellen outside their New York flat flanked by landmarks from both New York, London and Kentucky. In addition to the big names, it also included several personal sites of specific interest including the place they met and The George pub in Kingsbury.

Later the family headed out to the suburbs of Lexington, to Mrs C’s house for the first night of the wedding. A perfect first night over nibbles and beers in Mrs C’s lovely house, getting to know the family more and more on a minute-by-minute basis.

Ellen is one of three triplets. On one of the walls was a framed newspaper cutout from The Lexington Leader (dated 4th Sept 1981) with the headline “Triplet threat… Parents think thrice about it” accompanied by an image of the three children, which went some way of describing their uniqueness. Ellen, Liza and Foster were local heroes according to 1980s folklore.

I’d met Liza way back in 2009 when I was last in New York but she’s since moved down to Washington DC where she manages a designer shop. She’s got one of the biggest roles of the weekend as the Bride of Honour.

I’d never met Foster, her brother, but heard nothing but great things. I’d tried to glean as much from Facebook as I could pre-Kentucky, but was none the wiser. Would he index highly as the All-American hero, or higher as a Pee Wee Herman? Truth is, he was neither, but simply an original nice guy.

After having a read of the article, Luke took Joe and me down to the basement, where the rest of Triplet Mania memorabilia from the 80’s could be found.

“Wow, it’s the actual triple seated baby carrier from the actual front page photo!”

It was this same night we met Angie and Paul, Ellen’s Auntie and her boyfriend from Columbus, Ohio. It’s fair to say you don’t meet truly good people everyday. But today we’ve met a batch of them. I’d thought today’s quota had already been exceeded by Foster and the waitress at breakfast who let me pocket an extra bottle of syrup. But then these guys too!

We headed to a bar called Cheapside in town to meet up with the rest of our family, Luke’s London friends, Luke’s New York friends and any other person who’d just arrived in Lexington for the wedding.