Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A Hamburg Hen Weekend

Weddings are an expensive business, not just for the couple getting married but for guests too.  A new outfit, travel to the wedding venue, a taxi back when you are too drunk to drive, overnight accommodation, a wedding card, a gift, confetti, childcare arrangements.  Add a hen or stag party into the mix and wedding guests spend hundreds of pounds helping the bride and groom celebrate.  Factor into the Excel spreadsheet a year when you have two or three weddings to attend and your mood can change from one of elation for the forthcoming nuptials to despair at the thought of the impending bankruptcy trial!
I thought it was too much to ask of friends that they come to my wedding AND cough up more money to celebrate my last few weeks of singledom.   To be honest, I wasn’t in a celebratory mood.  I was about to take redundancy from work and I felt burnt out, I was feeling stressed about wedding finances, I felt down about Dad suffering from dementia, Mum and I were upsetting each other trying to find solutions to make the wedding day possible for Dad, I was anxious about my family meeting my birth mother at the wedding and all this was putting a strain on me and James.  
It was Sharon who persuaded me to have a hen weekend.  As she said, once women get to a certain stage in their lives there are few opportunities to take a short break from children, partners, elderly parents, work, housework and all the other things that demand our attention.   A hen weekend, she said, would be that rare thing – a valid excuse for a couple of days away, a chance for my female friends to get to know each other before the wedding  and an opportunity for our other halves to see how hard we work keeping hearth and home together!   
I picked a weekend in Hamburg, Germany, home of my friend and witness at my wedding, Michelle.  She and I chose a date, researched flights and hotels, planned a leisurely, fun and sophisticated programme for the weekend and I emailed the girls.  Sharon was right…. The bargaining with husbands and partners began, the RSVP’s came back thick and fast and before I could say “Ich Bin ein Hamburger” a group of 12 hens and their Head Hen were on their way from Heathrow, Stansted, Manchester and Dublin for a weekend of Hamburg Henage.  We converged at Michelle’s house on the Friday evening.

 6.00 am Heathrow
That’s when everything changed for me.  It was impossible not to feel a sense of real pleasure, excitement and enjoyment about my forthcoming wedding when all these lovely faces were reflecting it back to me.  How was it that they were all so thrilled I’d met James, so happy that I’d found love and were, to a hen, all looking forward to my wedding day when I saw my wedding day as a day that needed to be ‘got through’ - an endurance test rather than a day for joyous celebration. 

Michelle not only opened up her home to all my hens and welcomed us with champagne, cupcakes, and the warmest welcome imaginable but she spent the entire weekend working hard to make sure that everyone had a wonderful weekend to remember.  She was tour guide, restaurant booker, translator, designer of matching hen t-shirts, instigator of naughtiness and all round good (hens) egg. 

We went to my favourite German restaurant and feasted on schnitzel and potatoes, we did an open top bus tour of the city, we had kaffee and kuchen in my favourite Viennese café, we had champagne in my favourite champagne bar, we went shopping, we had German sausages, we dined overlooking the harbour, we went on a boat trip, we had lunch at a floating restaurant … we talked, we laughed, we danced, we reasoned through my wedding worries and one by one they began to evaporate.  

Bridesmaid Jess

What if my Dad shouts out throughout my wedding vows?  No problem – my hens will join in.  What if I hear Dad shouting , confused and upset and I lose it as I start walking down the aisle?  No problem – my hens will all be crying too!  What if things are awkward between my family and my birth mother?  No problem – my hens are all dying to meet her so she’ll be made welcome and there will be no time for awkwardness.  What if Dad becomes distressed during the speeches and has to be wheeled out by his carer?  No problem – we’ll all just pause and continue the speeches when we can.  It didn’t matter what anxiety ridden scenario I threw at them, my hens had loving and supportive solutions.    

Lauretta, Becky and Head Hen
Before dinner on the Saturday evening, we had alfresco harbour-side cocktails and my hens surprised me with a folder they had made for me.  One by one they read from it, sharing the story of how we had met, anecdotes from our friendship and what our friendship meant to them.  Some stories were hilarious and humiliating and reduced me to tears of laughter, others just reduced me to tears.  I felt like George Bailey at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  If I hadn’t been talked into it by Sharon I would have missed out on my own “It’s A Wonderful Weekend”. 

Back row (L to R): Pauline, Becky, Caroline, Lauretta, Sharon
Front row (L to R): Jess, Anni, Michelle, Caron, Head Hen, Jane, Tess, Katy

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