By Avril Stone (In the third person).


The events of Eric and Avril's wedding day could have made a perfect script for a Whitehall farce if it hadn't been happening to them.

The story really starts back in 1961 with Eric in the RAF serving as an air loadmaster with the United Nations in Ghana.

At the end of his year's duty he returned to the UK on a freezing cold November night. He did not come alone! Cedrick the African Grey parrot he had purchased as a six month old chick was his travelling companion. This image of an African Gray is generic, not one of Cedrick himself!

After a very long journey Eric arrived at his parents' home in Ugborough, South Devon, in the early hours of the morning. Not being able to raise anyone in the house by knocking on the front door he resulted to throwing stones at his parents' bedroom window. This brought his mother to the window and when he told her who he was she promptly told him that it couldn't be because her Eric was in Africa! He continued to persuade her that it really was him and he had his parrot Cedrick with him who wasn't used to such cold weather. Eric was immediately told in no uncertain terms that he wasn't bringing that in the house!

However, once over the threshold Cedrick became the apple of Mrs Stone's eye and he remained with her for the rest of his life - 40 years - fooling everyone about his gender until a couple of years before he died, when he laid an egg!!

Also living in the Stone household was Mr Stone's brother - Uncle Albert - a bachelor and ex-Devonshire Regiment soldier who had fought in the Boer War. He took Cedrick under his wing (excuse the pun) and soon made the bird at home in his new country. Albert also taught the bird a few catch phrases, which wasn't difficult as African Greys are very good mimics. Most of these phrases had a blasphemous expletive somewhere in them e.g. "Hello Bugger!"

All went well with Eric's courting of Avril, the landlord's daughter at his favourite watering hole - the New Inn at Muddiford, near Barnstaple, in North Devon. Eventually they were engaged and arranged their wedding for 17th April 1965. The vicar from Marwood Church arranged for the banns to be read for the three weeks preceding the wedding and the vicar from Ugborough Church visited Mrs Stone and filled out the details for Eric's banns to be read at his church for the requisite period of time. All this had to be done without any input from Eric as he was serving with Bomb Disposal in different areas of the UK and of course he had to visit Avril every weekend - so no time to check on Cedrick, his parents or to attend his local church to hear his banns being read.

Keeping the cost of the nuptials to a reasonable level Avril's mother, who was a very clever dressmaker, made all the wedding dresses and the reception was held at home which was no longer the New Inn but a beautiful country cottage surrounded by lawns and gardens in the middle of woods in the adjoining village to Muddiford.

The day before the wedding was one of those spring days with brilliant blue skies, birds singing their hearts out and the daffodils waving in the slight breeze. All the family members and friends who had arrived for the wedding a day early were at the bride's home, mowing the lawns and preparing the garden for the promised outside event we had all hoped for.

Now we come to the day of the wedding. The day dawned to a grey low sky which brought constant drizzle in differing strengths from heavy mist to the kind that gets you soaking wet in minutes. And to make matters worse Avril found that for the first time in her life she had a spot! A big fat blind boil on her chin!

Everyone's spirits were kept up with the mantra that all would be well as the clouds would lift and the sun would come out just in time for the wedding. And cosmetics would disguise the alien that was trying to escape from Avril's chin!

While those of the bridal party were attending to hair and make-up Avril's mother took a phone call from the Vicar of Marwood asking where the bridegroom was as he hadn't yet received the banns from the Vicar of Ugborough. As Eric had stayed at the New Inn for the previous night it was assumed he was probably lubricating his vocal chords in the bar!

The vicar was given the telephone number of the pub.

The rain was now of the soaking wet variety. The photographer phoned to say that as the weather was so bad it wasn't worth coming out to the house before the wedding and as the vicar wouldn't let him take photos in the church he'd monitor the weather conditions and gauge when it would be best to come out to take the photographs.

Taxis came and went, ferrying the guests to and fro from the church which was about three miles away through winding country lanes. All the cars were now gone from the house which just left Avril and her father alone to ponder on the situation. The vicar had phoned back to say that Eric had no idea of the whereabouts of the banns and so assumed that the bridegroom's family, who were traveling together in a coach from South Devon, would be bringing them. And if the Stone family didn't arrive in time for the wedding he would go ahead with the ceremony assuming that the banns were on their way, but delayed.

Avril was beginning to feel nervous and full of trepidation - was this a warning that she was doing the wrong thing?

The taxi collecting the bride and her father just did not arrive and they had no way of contacting the vicar to raise the alarm and warn him of their non-appearance as he was in church awaiting their arrival along with well-wishers from the four villages that make up the parish of Marwood.

Eventually the taxi emerged through the mist and father and daughter hurriedly got into the back seat and set off for the church whilst listening to the excuses why the driver got lost in the mist.

Half way to the church they came to a T-junction where, lo and behold, from the right came a coach - a coach from South Devon - a coach carrying the Stone family!

Knowing that the vicar would refuse to marry them if Eric's family arrived not bearing the banns panic set in and Avril told her father she wasn't going ahead with this wedding anyway and promptly tried to get out of the car!

Taking control of the situation her father locked all the doors in the taxi and made his way across the junction to the now stationary charabanc. Like two gunslingers in a cowboy movie the two fathers met at the doorway of the coach.

Avril's father, "Hello Cecil, where've you been?"

Eric's father Cecil, "We've been lost, been all around Ilfracombe - where's the church?"

Avril's father, "I'm taking it that you have Eric's banns?"

Cecil, "Banns, what banns, I don't know anything about any banns."

Calling back up the coach, he shouts, "Mother, you got the banns?"

Mrs Stone replied, "Banns, what banns? I haven't got any banns!!!"

Hearing this conversation through the open taxi window and knowing the consequences of this statement Avril went into shock and horror and really began to believe that a greater authority from above was warning her off from this impending event. She told her father of her decision when he got back into the taxi but he ignored her and ordered the driver to "Drive on to the church!"

When they arrived the coach was unloading the Stone family who were then rain dodging through the lych gate and down to the church porch. Avril and her father followed on.

On approaching the church porch they could see that the whole Stone entourage was being held at bay by the vicar who stood there with his hand in the air in a policeman-like 'halt' position.

Avril and her father pushed their way forward to hear him say that as they hadn't got Eric's banns he couldn't marry the couple as if he did he would be de-frocked (or unfrocked or mis-frocked or some type of frocked!!).

Avril says that her dream day, the day she had been preparing for, for so long, was in tatters never to be regained. She was beaten and had given up all hope so just stood there in silence. However, one of her sisters--in-law-to-be remonstrated with the cleric and with arms flailing about knocked Avril's veil off the back of her head where it landed on the muddy floor. As she reached down for it she noticed there were blood splatters down the front of her dress. These had come from the palm of her hand where she had been grasping her bouquet so tight the wire had cut into her hand. If this was Victorian melodrama she would have now turned heel and dashed off into the misty moorland not to be seen for many a year but:-

It was now that a knight in shining armour came forward - Peter Hoare, a RAF friend of the family, approached the vicar and said that if the vicar carried on with the service, after the ceremony he (Peter) would drive down to Eric's home village, collect the banns and return with them before midnight. Reluctantly the vicar eventually agreed.

The church was full and no doubt had been kept informed of the ongoing saga so when the Stone family found their seats and Avril had decided that as they were here and everything was kind of sorted she should go ahead with the wedding as she would really be labelled as a 'Drama Queen' if she now did a runner! So with (muddy) veil replaced and handkerchief binding her bouquet Avril and her father eventually made it down the aisle with as much aplomb as they could manage.

It had been agreed with the vicar that as Avril had had her left leg in plaster from her ankle to her hip for the past two months - due to a knee condition - there would be no kneeling for prayers. It should not be implied that he had the assembled parishioners on their knees for 20 minutes deliberately - he may just have forgotten the agreement. However, whilst they were a captive audience the vicar told the congregation in no uncertain terms that the blame for today's fiasco should lie firmly at the door of the bridegroom. Oh boy, that really made the celebrations go with a swing!

Leaving the church the rain was just as bad as an hour earlier so there would be no joyful wedding snaps outside the church with all the relatives and friends to show the future children and grandchildren in years to come, all the bridal party could do was make a run for their cars and make their way back to the bride's home for the reception.

The wedding story gets better from here as the reception was a success with lots of friends enjoying the excellent food the bride's mother had prepared and the barrel of beer that her father had organised.

The photographer from Barnstaple came out to the house at the end of the afternoon and carpets were laid on the lawn to stop people sinking into the ground and with smiles of relief all around the day had a happier ending.

Peter Hoare and his wife Barbara took the newlyweds to Exeter where they were staying the night before flying to Guernsey for their honeymoon the next day. They then went onto Ugborough where they collected the infamous banns and made their return journey to Barnstaple but not without adventure as the brakes on Peter's car failed at the traffic lights in Barnstaple.

To add insult to injury Peter and his wife not only saved the day but missed all the evening's entertainment with their friends and when they arrived at the Vicarage at 10pm the vicar would not answer the door. Peter not one for being ignored, repeatedly hammered on the door until the cleric made an appearance. Being told the banns could have just been put through the letterbox he was given chapter and verse as to the reason why they wouldn't have been just dropped onto the mat - after all Peter had prevented this man from being de-frocked!

Now for the reason why Eric's banns did not travel to the wedding with his family:

When the Vicar of Ugborough had visited Mrs Stone to gather the necessary information for Eric's banns she was so concerned that Cedrick the parrot would wish him farewell in his usual manner that she did not take any notice when he told her to collect the banns from his vicarage on the way to the wedding!

Now the question is who was to blame for this fiasco? Was it Mrs Stone for not listening to the vicar's instructions, Cedrick for his bad language, Uncle Albert for teaching Cedrick to swear, or Eric for bringing the dastardly bird back from Africa!

However, after a very shaky start the next 52 years had to be an improvement!