The main reason I write my blog is not just for the joy of writing - which I do find quite joyous, incidentally - but for the ability to look back and recall the moments in my life that have made me so happy, and sometimes, so sad. And there have been quite a few of the latter over the last eighteen months. But for sheer bellybustingly, absolutely brilliant happiness, last weekend will definitely take some beating.
I can't give a blow-by-blow account of the whole weekend, nor can I view it from anyone else's perspective but my own or even attempt to be in the least bit objective. But I can tell you, and record it here so that I can look back on it in the months and years to come, some of the fabulous, incredibly special moments that made my daughter's wedding one of - if not The - happiest time in my life.
I now realise that watching your daughter get married is one of those things that you can't fully appreciate until it happens to you. And to have all my family all in the same place and all the people that I love most in the whole world right there, celebrating so something entirely wonderful - well, there are simply not enough superlatives in my vocabulary.
The months of preparation, spreadsheeting, collecting and delivering started to come to fruition on the Friday when we (the bride and I) arrived at Denton Hall. We had a meeting with the Box Tree team and the Denton team and I made a conscious decision not to interfere, intervene or interrupt - tough call for me! Afterwards, having more or less succeeded in not 'inter-ing', my daughter told me off for pulling faces - sometimes you just can't win.
After the rehearsal (oh my goodness, this is all getting a bit real now) during which the intrepid granny gave number 3 a tongue-lashing for slouching, not bowing at the altar and general lack of respectful behaviour in church, (see later...) we headed out for pizza/pasta 'en famille' as we would be for the very last time. Just us Barrs... and the intrepid granny. Then the three girls and I went back to Denton for our last night sleepover. All together in two double beds with chat and hugs, I loved it so much I suggested we should do this every Friday night. You can imagine the dull thud with which that landed but I didn't care.
The next day after an entire morning of titivating - hair, make up, getting the dresses on etc we were ready to walk the few yards to church. By now, the forecast had proved itself somewhat inaccurate - it was actually worse than predicted - horizontal rain and wind blowing across the valley with a venom. It didn't matter one bit. My lovely son (wearing an over-large suit because his father had insisted that his own waist and his son's were a similar size - duh!) walked me to church and down the aisle past the people who love the bride and groom and our families. We were in the choir stalls because although the mother of the bride i.e. me, has no official role in the service, number 3 was reading the lesson and it was perfect to be right next to my beloved when he gave his daughter away.
The whole wedding party looked breath-taking. My genetic masterplan for engineering beautiful daughters by marrying a man with a nose small enough to counteract my rather large conk seems to have paid off. And my friend Big T did point out that I had produced a neapolitan ice cream of daughters, blond, strawberry and chocolate - hair colour that is. My beloved sang his entirely own words to the hymns because he couldn't read the service sheet and number 3 absolutely rocked the lesson, proving that a tongue-lashing from the intrepid granny is sometimes well placed. He even bowed to the altar on the way to the lectern and on the way back, though on the return trip he bowed to the photographer instead as Giles was just moving out of the way at the time.
Despite having to dispense with the biodegradable confetti-throwing outside the church - weather getting worse now - we walked back to Denton Hall with only one or two umbrellas blown inside out and a few folks that sent for their cars to collect them.
The photographs by the fabulous Giles Rocholl (utterly brilliant and massively recommended) went past in a blur of relatives, groomsmen, hens, dog, and so on whilst the groomsmen - easy to spot in their blue suits - hoovered the canapés before they made it down to the far end of the room. The waiting staff were encouraged to avoid them but I suspect it was like trying to touch down the ball against a New Zealand ruck. And then through to the wedding breakfast in what must be the most glamorous cafeteria in Yorkshire!
And the speeches... In typical fashion, no father of the bride speechwriting had occurred in our house until Thursday evening when number 1 took control of the situation and made it all happen. I don't know why I worry (well, I do actually) because he absolutely pulled it off and I'm going to paste the speech at the end in case I ever lose the copy I have here. Lots of family jokes and bits that made me want to cry. He nailed it. (This is my blog so I am allowed to express my views without apology!)
The groom did a similarly good job with more references to number 2's achilles heel - cycling and balance in general - and the best men managed not to embarrass the groom too much though I suspect they could have done. And then the formal part was over and dancing and drinking were the order of the day.
Having cut the cake with Dad's sword which I think my new son in law enjoyed brandishing, even momentarily, the first dance started with the bride and groom making us all dewy-eyed before the family made their pitch invasion. In fact, this is one of my absolute stand-out moments. When you've watched years of bickering (and worse), practical joking, competitive behaviour and all the other things that go into siblings growing up together, there is something entirely magic about them all dancing, enjoying the special moment of us being all together and celebrating. I may go dewy-eyed again...
I woke up the next morning thinking I had probably been the most rubbish hostess. If that's the case, then please accept my apologies but I was having the best time and somehow all my hostess duties seemed to go out of my head with the joy of the day and the celebration. It was simply the best.
So thank you to everyone who came along and helped us celebrate. To Ian and Jean (the new in-laws) who know how to rock the dance floor and have produced the most delightful son-in-law. To everyone who helped to make it happen at the church, at Denton and from the Box Tree. And finally a few special thank you's from me. Firstly to the singing, dancing doctors who got me over the line healthwise, especially when events the previous week might have derailed me. To Jo at Lights4Fun and Sarah at Parlane for making us all very twinkly. To David Robinson at The Story of O for persuading my hair to be viable and styled for the day (which took us nearly all year to achieve from nothing in January!), to Elaine Thomas for painting all our nails and making me feel confident about my appearance over the last twelve months, Jessica Robinson for designing and making my hat which I only decided to have at the very last minute and especially to Jillian Welch. Jillian made my ensemble from an idea and a sketch and made the process of having an outfit made an absolute joy from start to finish.
And do you know what the best thing is? We'll be doing it all again in April and I can't wait!!
Father of the Bride Speech
2 Don't add any extra words - trust me you don't need them
3 Take your time - enjoy all the laughter you're going to get!
In the words of 'My Best Friend's Wedding', one of Antonia's favourite films, "If you love someone you say it, you say it right then, out loud. Otherwise the moment just passes you by." (Turn to Antonia and say/mouth I love you.)
I thought I would get thought out of the way in case I'm in trouble with my daughter by the end of this.
Well we are here to celebrate the marriage of two accountants. So it is probably no surprise that this entire wedding has been planned around a spreadsheet. In fact, on July 12th 2014 at 14.55 the same afternoon that Jonathan had proposed, I received the following text:
"Popping the ring on Antonia has unleashed a beast. She is marching around with the iPad making lists and lists in relation to the wedding! Relentless!"
For those of you who haven't met me I am Robert, the proud father of Antonia or what she would refer to as 'the missing cell'. I hope that is only because this is the only unplanned part of their fabulous wedding, clearly the part she has had no control over. So, though Antonia has the plan, I say I am the unplanned. Chaos may yet reign.
In the words of pppppppppppp porky pig....
You may hear a few references to Antonia's favourite film, Mrs Doubtfire. So to Antonia, all I can say is "Brace yourself Effie!"
But first I must manage to do some parts of my duty as father of the bride, which is to say a big thank you from Caroline and me, Ian and Jean, Jonathan and Antonia to all of you for making the huge effort to come here to Yorkshire, God's Own Country, in the depths of winter. To celebrate their happiness and ours. To celebrate their joining today in holy matrimony in the presence of the holy spigot... I mean spirit.
Most of you here today have only known Antonia as a grown up. But for some of us, you might think that has been the case since she was born. Because she was born with a tooth.
But from the very moment she was born, we have always known what an extraordinary woman she was going to develop into. And today she has undoubtedly taken my breath away with her stunning and commanding beauty.
It has been said that she takes after her Great Grandmother - Millicent - who was often likened to Attila the Hun and even Genghis Khan. Some of you who have known Antonia more recently may recognise this version. However, it was not always thus; in fact, when she was very young her first nickname was 'The Baddie'.
At the age of two, she brought Harrods to a standstill having covered her entire face and head in chocolate whilst we were sitting quietly oblivious to the effect she was having as we enjoyed our afternoon tea. She also used to frequently climb into the coal bucket when we were watching television.
When she was four, she progressed to the name 'The Wizza' - because she insisted on putting her clothes on back to front and we had to swizzle them round. A duty I am very happy to pass on to Jonathan now, for when Antonia had had too much to drink. Removing clothes has been known to become extraordinarily difficult as well as finding house keys and so on...
So the Wizza... although hugely intelligent, The Whizza is quite capable of putting her foot in it. When aged 9 years old and at a scholarship interview for Harrogate Ladies' College, the headmistress asked Antonia where she saw her future career prospects, to which she replied: "As the manager of Formula 1." This interest in racing progressed into annual visits to Silverstone for Antonia and me where she demonstrated a far superior knowledge of Grand Prix than the other 15 boys and fathers on the same trip - a quality of which I was immensely proud. Whilst this is a more subdued hobby these days (except for her rather eccentric driving) she did ring me a few years ago very upset having discovered that Ferrari didn't make cars for anybody under the height of 5'4".
Going back to pppppppppppp porky pig, as a young girl, Antonia's most cherished and loved soft toy was a wee pink beastie called Pig Pog. The only kind of love and devotion I can compare her love of Pig Pog to is the love she has for Jonathan and his gorgeous dog Milton. For a while I thought it could have been mainly for his dog but I am sure today that it is Jonathan who comes first and Milton is, perhaps (only for today) taking the back seat. Usually Milton likes to drive!
Another reason Antonia is said to have taken after her great grandmother is because of her red hair. In primary school, she was always getting into trouble - matching her earlier reputation as The Baddie. She conveniently passed off any blame as being entirely attributable to her red hair claiming it made her far more noticeable when fleeing the scene of the crime.
Whilst this disclaimer is no longer used, you will still find that nothing is ever her fault. As Jonathan and all of her siblings will testify.
Dressing up was a big part of Antonia's middle years. At Warwick University, there are over 1,000 photographs of Antonia dressed in different outfits including many different hats. Whilst unfortunately her flourishing career doesn't give her much dressing up time these days, when not in London she is usually at Eggborough Power Station where she has a special children's sized hard hat and overalls to wear at work.
Although Caroline might not have red hair, there is a fearsome likeness between mother and daughter. And so as I turn to Jonathan to wish him my very best, I could pass on 30 years of experience. Perhaps today that might be unfair. And possibly even inappropriate.
Some of you might know that one of the more infamous skill gaps in Antonia's life is cycling. Something she neglected to mention when she first met Jonathan. However, on her first proper introduction to Ian and Jean, whilst on holiday, she revealed this terrible vulnerability in a classic moment of attempting to steer round a corner (without stabilisers) and crashing headlong into the fence in front of her.
Antonia insisted it was a "run-by fruiting' that distracted her and caused it. But none of us believed her.
As a father, I can only hope in passing the reins of care to Jonathan, that he might be able to help Antonia to avoid such accidents in the future.
But seriously, it has been an immense pleasure watching Antonia grow up and seeing her achieve, time and time again, what for most of us would simply be unachievable. She has set goals that most of us would not even dream of accomplishing and whooped them with ease on every occasion. Prize after prize and top marks in everything she has set out to tackle. This makes me unspeakably proud and hugely delighted to have had the privilege of being her father and to have seen her go on to achieve the highest levels in her profession. I now pass the responsibility for her lifelong care into Jonathan's capable hands. Somehow I think they will take care of each other in equal measure just as they have evolved in their relationship so far - bottle for bottle, glass for glass, dog walk for dog walk. But Jonathan, any time you feel like you might be suffering, let me know and I look forward to meeting you at The Old Bell to map out our future strategy as we are now not just in-laws but officially partners-in-crime.
Please raise a toast for ... Jonathan and Antonia.