The door slammed…

The door slammed and the taxi eased into the stream of Heathrow traffic.

“Where to Guv?”  the driver demanded.

“Westminster Abbey, we need to go to the Dean’s office”

“Been to London before?” he asked, taking in the Australian accent.

“No” replied the tall red head.

“Yes” butted in his blonde partner knowing exactly what would happen if the driver took advantage of their having no idea of directions. It was bad enough that they were jet lagged and high on adrenalin. The flight had been shortened by an hour due to an engine shutdown and aborted landing in Munich. For the past two hours she’d been haunted by memories of the 1958 Munich air crash when she’d lost seven of her adored Manchester United football team. She was in no mood for a tour of London’s sights.

The taxi sped up as they hit the Great West Road heading into The City.

“Bet we do a Cook’s tour past Buckingham Palace” she whispered.

They wound their way through Kew and Hammersmith and past Hyde Park. Suddenly Knightsbridge ended, a couple more right turns and there was The Palace.

“Knew it!” but then it was only another two streets and Westminster Abbey, tall and imposing, brooding and ancient, was ahead.

She’d been here before, almost nine years before, on 29th January 1965 to be exact, when she’d spent hours travelling south on the train and then queued for over an hour in bitter wind, sleet  and rain, slowly wending her way from Lambeth Bridge to Westminster Hall to file silently past the catafalque of Sir Winston Churchill. It was an image etched into her memory. The coffin was on a bier seven feet high, covered in black velvet with silver trim; the carpet was garnet coloured; the Union flag draped the casket with his Knight of the Garter insignia and medals atop a black velvet cushion. Five soldiers stood as a Guard of Honour, heads bowed and hands on sword pommels. The changing of the guard was done every 15 minutes with such precision yet with no audible commands. It had been an incredibly moving experience, seeing so many people quietly expressing so much emotion, so much love, especially the older people who had lived through the war. As Head Girl she was representing her Yorkshire school, along with the Head Boy and Principal and on their way back to King’s Cross railway station they had made a quick visit to the Abbey.

This visit to Westminster was also full of emotion, but it was of happiness not mourning. Her companion now was her Australian fiancé and they had to go to the Abbey to collect their Special Marriage Licence. They were not going to have enough time in England for the three Sundays needed for the Banns to be called, so they’d had to apply to the Archbishop of Canterbury for a Special Licence.

She chuckled as she thought of the Application Form. “Father’s names” had proved to be no problem, but “Father’s occupations” would have raised a few eyebrows in the lofty realms of the Church of England hierarchy. Her Dad had sold his business to run a delightful English country pub. His Dad had retired from work and was painting wild Australian landscapes, so we had the “daughter of an innkeeper” marrying “the son of an artist”. The fact that the two young people both had university degrees and professional positions was deemed irrelevant.

The Letter of Recommendation from the local Parish Priest had also caused some mirth. It had been written by the husband of a fellow teacher. He was one of the most likeable and down-to-earth Anglican Ministers they’d ever met, a former boiler-maker who had gone into the Ministry in his thirties. He had a dry, wicked humour and had rung one night asking if they wanted the Letter of Recommendation to be written on his Parish letterhead. “I think it might be better not to” he’d advised with a chuckle, “As my parish is officially the Kenmore Psychiatric Hospital and the Goulburn Gaol.”

The taxi disgorged their entire luggage onto the pavement outside the North door of the Abbey. A long suit-bag hid the woollen wedding dress which she’d refused to pack in her suitcase knowing that if she did it would end up in South America. The Qantas stewards had hung it in their own wardrobe and made sure each change-over crew took care of it.

She tried to juggle her hand luggage, the dress and a suitcase.

“I can take that” her fiancé unprized her fingers.

“But you’ve only just come out of hospital, the surgeon said no lifting.”

“Honestly I’ll be fine and anyway the op was four days ago now.”

One of the Westminster guides took pity on them and helped them to the office where the precious document waited. It was bigger than they’d anticipated, over fifteen inches square. It allowed for the “Solemnization of a true, pure and lawful Marriage … between the hours of eight in the forenoon and six in the afternoon in the Church at Thornton-le-Dale, Pickering in the County of Yorks.” The large embossed “Seal of the Office of Faculties at Westminster” was attached.

Tucking the impressive document into their luggage the young couple headed outside to find a taxi to take them to Kings Cross station. Now that the legendary green steam engine 4472 was no longer on the Flying Scotsman route, the London to Edinburgh run had lost some of its intrigue and romance. But the modern diesel engine would get them to York in under four hours and the rhythmic “digedy dee, digedy daa.” was still the heartbeat of ‘hurrying home.’

The young couple hugged each other and breathed a huge sigh of relief as they relaxed into their seats, the emergency hospital trip in the last few days, the drama on the flight all behind them as they headed north to York, to her family, to their wedding and to their future together.


Writing Exercise for U3A   Feb 2006

by Caroline Gaden  ©

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