In 2002, my then-fiance and I were living in a little town called Thames. Yup, named after the river in London. It’s got a population of about 7,000 people. Very quiet. Our son was very small, less than a year old. We were renting an old house with a huge backyard that had a river running along the back of it. It was peaceful and lovely.
We were planning our wedding. I started attending the local Anglican church which was just gorgeous. Both the people and the building. The people were so lovely. They didn’t judge us for having a baby out of wedlock. They told me to just put him on the ground and let him crawl around during the service. I was terrified he would pull the cloths off the altar or something, and they just laughed and said ‘Don’t worry, someone will stop him. You just relax.’ It was a far cry from the judgement I would later face from so-called friends at church in Auckland.
The building was gorgeous too. It had these soaring ceilings, with kauri (a native timber) all over the place. It was both impressive and yet had the warm tones to make it feel welcoming. The website describes it as a ’19th century wooden gothic building’. I just liked it.
I found a beautiful wedding dress in a shop in Thames. Literally the only dress shop in Thames. It was perfect for me, which is amazing, considering I was short and curvy. The shop owner said she’d dreamed about the dress and had to make it. It cost $500 which is ridiculously cheap for a wedding dress, let alone a one-of-a-kind wedding dress.
The dress was almost medieval in style, and the church was gothic (not that I would have used that word, but you know) and Thames was a cute little old-fashioned town that was struggling to keep up with the modern world. So we planned a medieval style wedding. We’d have a horse and cart take me to the church, get married in the church, then have the reception on our huge back lawn, sitting on hay bales, eating spit roast.
Then one night our neighbours came round (we didn’t really know them) and said “They’re predicting heavy rain and flooding, so you should move your car away from the river at the back of the property and up on to the road.” So we did, and then we went to bed. We were woken up by a thunderous knocking on the front door and found the property flooded. We had to go out the back, and wade through the water, baby in arms. If we hadn’t moved the car earlier, we’d have lost it. We spent that night in a local retirement home, then the following night in a hotel, before we were allowed to return home.
The river had washed away literally half the property. The house was fine, but the shed (full of firewood and our lawnmower) was gone, and the backyard was half the size. It had literally been washed away.
The whole town was suffering from the floods, and shortly after, my fiance was made redundant from his job. I wasn’t working, so that was our only source of income. No one in Thames was hiring, so we packed up and moved to Auckland. We would live with his parents for the next three years, the three of us in one small bedroom, and a total of five adults and a baby in a tiny three bedroom house.
Our wedding plans were totally destroyed. We had the dress….and that was it. So I sat down with my mum and my mother-in-law-to-be and we got creative.
We planned a garden wedding at my in-laws’ house. We stuck with the medieval theme, but used bench seats and trestle tables instead of hay bales. We had a spit roast. We created these cool medieval-style banners with the family coats of arms on for decoration. We were given goblets to use at the head table, and a quill to sign the marriage certificate with. The groom wanted to wear a suit of armour, but it was the middle of summer and too stinking hot. As it was, it was a gloriously sunny day, and he was relieved he didn’t wear a suit of armour!