Scotland Street Volume 16, Chapter 9: Wedding plans

Big Lou’s wedding had been a moving affair, attended by just over eighty friends and family members. She would have been content with a registry office ceremony – “At our time of life, wouldn’t it be more appropriate?” – but had gone along with Fat Bob’s desire to be married with all possible formality.

44 Scotland Street
44 Scotland Street

This had come as a surprise to Lou, who had had no idea that Bob was fond of Old St Paul’s, an Episcopal church known for its traditional liturgical tastes and its liberal use of incense, incantation, and holy water. By special arrangement with the clergy of that church, Big Lou and Fat Bob were to be married by a friend whom Bob had known for years, the Reverend Andrew Mactaggart, whose current parish was in Fife.

They had gone to speak to Andrew some weeks before the wedding and had discussed the service with him.

“The Scottish Prayer Book, 1929 version?” Andrew had asked. “The traditional wedding service, Bob?”

Bob nodded. “Aye, Andrew,” he said. “You ken weel what I like. None of this computer-speak, if you dinnae mind!”

Andrew understood. “It’s hard to improve on that gorgeous Cranmerian language,” he said. “Think of the way the marriage service begins: Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God and in the presence of this congregation …”

Fat Bob nodded. “Aye, you hear that, Lou? Those words have real weight to them. Beautiful. Solemn.”

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Big Lou was happy enough. “I’ve no objection,” she said.

“And then it goes on to speak of that first miracle wrought in Cana of Galilee,” Andrew continued. “Again, the wording is very poetic.”

“You cannae go wrang wi’ a bit of poetry,” said Fat Bob.

Andrew agreed. “I recall what W.H. Auden said about the new wording,” he said. “When they introduced the functional English of the new service, they threw away centuries of linguistic richness. Centuries. He thought that a tragedy.”

“I agree,” said Fat Bob. “This Auden guy is spot on there, Andy.”

“And readings?” asked Andrew.

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Fat Bob hesitated. “Kahil Gibran?”

Andrew smiled. “Many people like Gibran. He has his moments, of course, and he touches upon the great things of life. Love. Friendship. Family. I wouldn’t rule him out.”

Fat Bob looked thoughtful. “But I’m not sure what you think, Lou? Do you like Gibran? The Prophet?”

Big Lou hesitated. “We didn’t read him much up in Arbroath.”

Fat Bob nodded. “Aye, well, how about something you like?”

“I like that passage about charity,” said Big Lou. She turned to Andrew. “You know the one? About charity being greater than faith and hope? You know that one, Andy?”

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‘I should hope I do,” replied Andrew. “It’s from Corinthians.” He quoted the words.

“That’s it,” said Bob. “And the greatest of these is charity. And if I have not charity …”

“I am become as sounding brass,” Andrew completed.

Fat Bob nodded. “True,” he said.

“I think it is,” said Andrew, adding, “Of course, charity has a special meaning in that context. The modern word is a bit different. Charity at that time meant love of humanity. That’s something very special.”

“Good,” said Fat Bob. “Let’s have that.”

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Andrew looked enquiringly at Big Lou. “Happy enough, Lou?”

“I am,” she said.

“Well, then,” Andrew continued. “And the hymns? Have you given thought to the hymns?”

To be a pilgrim,” said Fat Bob. “And mebbe For those in peril on the sea.”

Andrew frowned. “The first of those may be appropriate,” he said. “You are, after all, embarking on a journey together. I’m not sure about For those in peril.” He paused. “I’m not sure what the appropriate hymn would be for one like you, Bob – a professional strongman.”

Fight the good fight?” suggested Lou, grinning.

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Andrew smiled. “You may laugh,” he said, “but I was at a wedding once where they sung that. The guests had great difficulty in keeping a straight face. Mind you, I believe there is indeed a patron saint of weightlifters – St Hyacinth, a Polish saint of the twelfth century. He was enormously strong. As was St Christopher, I imagine, who carried travellers with ease. He was said, incidentally, to have been seven and a half feet tall.”

Fat Bob returned to Those in Peril. “I like it,” he said. “And I thought we should think about folk who aren’t in our fortunate position – storm-tossed folk.”

“Perhaps,” said Andrew. He glanced at Lou. “All right, Lou?”

Big Lou nodded. “I think you should give folk a tune they know,” she said. "It’s no good asking them to sing something obscure.”

“Precisely,” said Fat Bob. “I’m sure you agree with that, Andy.”

And so it was that the shape of their wedding service was agreed. Now invitations could be sent out, inviting friends to attend the marriage, according to the rite of the Scottish Episcopal Church, with a reception afterwards at the Mansfield Traquair Centre in Broughton Place. These invitations were then dispatched to eighty-two people, of whom eighty-one accepted, the only person not responding positively being recently deceased as a result of a salmonella infection contracted in an Airbnb in Turkey. For the rest, people responded with enthusiasm, expressing delight that two people had found each other fairly far along the pathway of life.

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“Marry late and you make no mistake,” a friend of Big Lou’s had said. “Look at Lou and what’s his name, Desperate Dan, or whatever …”

“Fat Bob.”

‘That’s the man.”

“Yes, Fat Bob. Well look at them. Both of them are getting a bit long in the tooth, and yet they are getting married with all the bells and whistles.”

“Yes.”

“She’s had bad luck,” said the friend. “A succession of useless men – one after the other. The Jacobite. The Elvis impersonator. The chef. None of them much good.”

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“No.”

“And now Fat Bob, who seems decent enough.”

“Big Lou deserves happiness.”

“Don’t we all? Have you ever met anybody who didn’t deserve to be happy?”

This required some thought. Then came the response. “One or two, I suppose. Would you like me to name them?”

Names were given, and each was followed by a grin and a guilty nod of agreement.

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“You see?” said the friend. “There are limits to charity, once one gets going.”

© Alexander McCall Smith, 2022. Love in a Time of Bertie (Scotland Street Volume 15) is in bookshops now. The Enigma of Garlic will be published in November by Polygon, price £17.99