Everyone should feel like a princess on their wedding day; it’s practically the law. As I gaze down at myself in my sparkling dress, a dress that would make Mary Berry’s meringues weep with jealousy at how light and fluffy it is, that is exactly how I feel: like a princess.
My dad’s just about holding it together as we glide into the room to the bridal march. He’s choked up and I think there might even be a tiny glint of a tear in his eye. Walking down the aisle I see all of my friends and close family beaming at me. I know what they’re thinking, that I’m wearing the most beautiful dress they’ve ever seen. All except my aunt Dorian. Her face is full of thunder as I’ve quite possibly upstaged my precious cousin Dawn’s wedding.
And then I notice my handsome groom, my most favourite person in the whole wide world. He’s standing there in his bespoke suit looking sexy as hell. To think in mere minutes I’m going to be Mrs Mark Robinson.
There’s my mum sat in the front row looking like the cat that got the cream. I can almost imagine what she’ll be writing in this year’s Christmas-card round robin. All her friend’s kids will be shown the photos of me and Mark looking absolutely stunning, at the most wonderful wedding in the world.
The room in the castle looks even more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. The candles flickering in the alcoves give off a dusky glow, and the simple vases of long-stem white roses adorning the end of the rows are like the icing on the cake.
Approaching the end of the aisle, I come to a halt up against Mark. He leans over to me and whispers that I look beautiful, just like Prince William did to Kate. I smile back and gaze into his eyes, which are easier to see than usual because my to-die-for Jimmy Choos make me only an inch or two shorter than him.
I hand my bouquet back to my friend Lou, my maid of honour, who’s dressed in a simple purple empire-line dress, which I love almost as much as my dress. My sister is standing next to her with my little niece clinging on to her leg and looking angelic and lovely.
This is the happiest day of my life. I. Am. A. Princess.
It is at that blissfully perfect moment that the computer makes the worst sound imaginable. The synthetic crowd cheer snaps me out of my daydream and back in to my pokey little bedroom. The strategic lighting of the candles is replaced by the dim light of an energy-saving lamp, and instead of Jimmy Choos and a Vera Wang wedding dress, I’m in Marks-and-Spencer pyjamas and a pair of cartoon-character slippers.
The words on the screen are there in dayglo pink and yellow: Bingo. I was just about to call Bingo. I only had one number to go. This was the game. The game I was going to win. The one which would have allowed me to actually buy the Jimmy Choos. The one that would get me one step closer to the wedding of my dreams. The wedding in the castle where I’m the most beautiful bride that anyone has ever seen.
And now ‘LuckyLes11’ has won my £500. Goodbye Jimmy Choos.
There’s a feeling of nausea that creeps over my body when I lose a game of bingo. But the feeling is so much worse when you’re so close to winning that you are practically spending the money.
Not that I do this often, you understand. Just every now and then. It just happens to be now as Mark is late home from work and, whilst I was flicking through the latest copy of Bridal Dreams, I saw they had the top ten must-have wedding shoes. I fell in love with pair number two and at £550 I thought a cheeky little go of 90-ball bingo might just get me them, you know, if it was meant to be.
Turns out it wasn’t. I bet LuckyLess11 has fat ankles and wouldn’t look good in the Choos anyway. Not that I’m bitter.
‘Shit.’ That’s the sound of the front door slamming. Mark is home.
I log out of FizzleBingo quicker than you can say goodbye Jimmy Choos and switch off my private browsing. By the time Mark makes it over the threshold and I hear him kicking his shoes off, I’m idly surfing for books on Amazon. God, I’m quick, or well practised. Either way I still feel like I’ve just cheated on my boyfriend.
Oh yes, that’s right, my boyfriend. You were expecting me to say my fiancé, right? Seeing as I’ve planned the most wonderful wedding in the world and that I was trying to win myself the money for the perfect shoes.
The truth is we aren’t engaged. But that’s not to say we’re not getting married, as we are. We just haven’t got engaged yet, but we will. We have a wedding fund and everything. Mark, my hopefully soon-to-be-fiancé, is very sensible like that.
He just had a whole lot of stages we had to go through in his life plan before we get to the engagement stage. First, we had to rent a flat together to find out if we were compatible living together. When we had lived with each other in a flat the size of a shoebox for two years in Clapham and didn’t kill each other, we went on to stage two: buying a house. So here I am sat in said house, a cosy little terraced house in Farnborough, where we grew up. We’d picked our home town because it was cheaper than London, yet commutable. Only after three months of sardine like journeys, both of us had taken local jobs. And whilst our house may not be the nicest in the world it has the all important two bedrooms (which helps for stage six: have a baby).
I’m jumping ahead of the stages again; Mark is always accusing me of doing that. So stage three relates to Mark and his training as an accountant. He had to pass lots of accountancy exams to be a fully fledged accountant, which he did a few months ago. Congratulations Mark! We had an amazingly lovely party with all our friends to celebrate. Although there was a teeny tiny bit of me that had hoped he’d mark the occasion with an engagement ring. Mark didn’t see it that way, to paraphrase what he said to console my 3 a.m. drunken tears but we’ve the got the rest of our lives – what’s the rush?
But that’s where we are. Stage three, waiting for stage four: get engaged ready for stage five. Stage five is, of course, when we get married and I become Mrs Robinson. I can’t ever say that without The Lemonheads’ song going round and round in my head. I’m hoping it wears off by the time we actually do get married or else I’m going to be driven slightly mad when I become her.
And then there’s the terribly sensible wedding fund. Which, the last time I looked, had a balance of around five thousand pounds. We’ve been direct debiting to it every month and over the last couple of years we’ve been putting our bonuses in it, too. Plus there’s my bingo money. I make sure that my winnings go in there, as well. So I’m sure by now it is almost up to twenty thousand pounds which is nearly my budget for my dream wedding.
So whenever stage four happens, I’ll be ready to put operation ‘Become Mrs Robinson’ into full swing. Hence all the bridal magazine preparation. Not to mention my active membership on Confetti, my wedding planning board on Pintrest and my mood boards in the cupboard. As Mark always says, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
‘What are you doing up here?’ he asks, walking into the bedroom. I can see him clocking the fact I’m in my PJs at seven o’clock.
‘I came up to get the laptop and the bed looked so warm and snuggly I couldn’t resist it.’
Mark is giving me that look again. He’s been doing that a lot lately. I can’t work out what it means but he turns his head to the side and sort of hesitates before he changes the subject. I bet if I were his wife I’d be able to read him and know exactly what that meant. Maybe we’re not ready for stage four yet after all.
‘Have you started dinner yet?’
‘Yes,’ I say. It wasn’t a complete lie. I had taken the chicken out of the freezer when I came home an hour ago. I just hadn’t put it in the microwave to defrost. It did, however, signal my intention to cook chicken though; that had to count surely?
‘Really? As I saw frozen chicken sitting on the worktop and it is still as solid as an ice block.’ says Mark.
Bollocks, I really should learn to intercept him at the door.
‘Oh, is it?’ I falter with surprise. ‘I thought that the lights might have been bright enough to defrost it.’
We have ridiculously bright lights in our kitchen. If I’ve got a hangover, or it is before sunrise in the winter, then I use the torch on my phone to navigate my way round the kitchen.
‘I’m not changing the lights, Pen.’
Mark likes the lights; he says he likes to see what he’s eating.
‘Right, well I’d better get out of bed and defrost the chicken in the microwave.’
‘Or we could go out for dinner?’
‘On a Monday?’
‘What’s wrong with going out on a Monday?’
‘Nothing.’ I’m scratching my head a little. There is nothing fundamentally wrong, I guess, with going out for dinner on a Monday. I’m sure people do it all the time, business people with an expense account, people celebrating a birthday on a Monday. But we’ve never eaten out on a Monday unless we’re on holiday.
‘So we’ll go out,’ says Mark.
‘How about we order takeaway and eat in bed?’
I should probably stress at this point I detest eating in bed. But there are some things you should know: a) it’s January, b) our little Victorian terrace does not have good central heating, and c) our bed is the most comfiest bed on the planet. Pretty much nothing could drag me from my bed at this point.
‘In bed? Are you feeling alright? No, I fancy going out. We haven’t been out in ages. And now I’m not revising for my exams I fancy being spontaneous. You know going out on a school night feels slightly naughty.’
‘I could think of other things to do to you if you want to feel naughty.’ I’ll do anything he wants at this point if I can stay in the bed. Well, almost anything – I’m no fan of Fifty Shades of Grey.
‘Penelope, get out of bed and put on a dress. We’re going out.’
Uh-oh. He’s played the Penelope card, I must be in trouble. Pulling the covers back slowly I dangle one leg out, and then another. Before I know it Mark is pulling me out of bed.
It is so cold. I can’t run back to the bed as Mark has deposited me at my wardrobe and he’s blocking my path back.
‘So what should I wear? Where are we going to go?’ I fancy pizza, maybe Pizza Express or Ask.
‘I’ve made us reservations at Chez Vivant.’
‘Chez Vivant? How an earth did you get us reservations there?’
My voice has gone up an octave. Chez Vivant, for those not in the know, is the restaurant around the district where I live. It is the kind of place that the fancy people, who fly in and out of Farnborough in their private jets, eat at before they jet off to their exotic destinations. It has a waiting list as long as your arm and they have a number of Michelin stars. Mark and I have never graced the place with our presence before.
It is the place I’d always imagined that Mark would take me to pop the question. Suddenly The Lemonheads’ song is playing up tempo in my head. I’ve started to have palpitations and I’m sure that I’m breaking out into a cold sweat. This is what I’ve been waiting for, Stage four. Stage four!
‘I’ve just been assigned their account and in return for sorting out their rather bungled tax return from their previous accountants they’ve offered you and me a complimentary meal there.’
The Lemonheads on loop comes to a dramatic halt. Suddenly it makes sense. Mark wasn’t about to shell out part of the mortgage on our house to pop the question. He was clearly treating me to a freebie from work.
‘Great,’ I say. I needed to keep the disappointment out of my voice. I was still getting to go to Chez Vivant. I could still make all my friends weep with jealousy. And a few months ago Posh and Becks were spotted there, so at the very least I could hope to see a z-list celebrity like someone from TOWIE.
‘Table’s booked for eight, so if you want to shower we should get a wriggle on.’
‘Ok,’ I say. Eight o’clock? We had an hour. An hour before we had to leave! Clearly Mark didn’t understand that a place like Chez Vivant was the sort of place you booked in to have your hair done before you went. An hour was an impossibility.
Exactly one hour later I am ready to go. It just showed that my teachers at school were right: I would be able to succeed in life if I actually put my mind to it.
For once my frizzy hair had allowed itself to be blow-dried straight within an inch of it’s life and so far, thanks to a whole can of hairspray, it was staying up in a chignon. The type of chignon that it hasn’t been in since I was a bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding four years ago.
My sister, by the way, had a massively fancy-pants wedding (hence the posh chignon) and as she had almost a billion bridesmaids, I got to watch the hairdresser contort lots hair into wonderful knots of elegance. Which I have almost managed to replicate.
I’m also dressed in a hideously expensive, I’ll-wear-it-one-day, I really will, Mark, dress. And here, look, I am wearing it. It has only taken three years, and I don’t know if you’d call that value for money, but it is amazing.
Looking in the mirror I look pretty damn good. Please don’t think I’m vain, it is just that it is a far cry from my everyday attire of jeans and cardigans. And I’m wearing a proper cheese-wire thong and a sexy lace strapless bra. Of course both are killing me, but the overall effect is worth it.
It’s just a shame that the shoes I’m slipping on are from Next and not Jimmy Choos that I could have owned if it weren’t for LuckyLes1. I close my eyes. I’m not allowing myself to think about that now. Besides, even if I had won, it wasn’t like there was a Jimmy Choo shop in Farnborough that I could have raced to tonight to get them.
‘You ready?’ asks Mark as he pokes his head around the bedroom door. ‘Wow, you scrub up good.’
‘Hey.’ I hit him playfully on the arm. Or at least I thought it was playfully, it might have been a little hard.
'You look gorgeous. Now come on, or else I will be throwing you on the bed and we’ll not get out.’
Now he tells me. If I’d known all it would have taken was for me to put this dress on to get him to stay in bed, then I would have worn it an hour earlier. What am I saying? I keep forgetting we’re going to Chez Vivant. I’m sure their heating works.
I guess I have technically been to Chez Vivant once before, if being in their car park counts. I didn’t quite make it over the threshold. Me and Lou came down one night to have drinks before going into town, but we bottled it when we saw the wine list and the cheapest glass was a tenner.
Inside it was exactly like you’d imagine it to be. Huge glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There were thick, red, heavy velvet curtains hanging around the outside of the room. There was even a projector playing a black-and-white movie on the ceiling. It just oozed expense.
‘We’ve got a reservation, under Robinson,’ Mark says to the maître d'.
I can’t believe how he sounds so grown up and confident in this place. There’s something about walking in here that has made me suddenly feel like I’m a child at an adult’s party. I’m hit with narcissistic thoughts that everyone in the whole restaurant is looking at me and they know we’re getting our food for free and that we can’t normally afford to eat here.
So much for my celebrity spotting whilst I’m here. I’m terrified to even look at anyone for fear they’ll be pricing up my outfit and thinking that my dress is far too many seasons ago to wear.
‘Here you are,’ says the maître d'. He points over to a curtain in the corner and I’m wondering just where he’s taking us. He pulls the curtains open to reveal a velvet covered booth. Maybe they keep the curtains closed when it’s not in use to make the restaurant seem fuller. I shimmy into the booth. It is almost as comfortable as my bed; maybe it was worth getting out of it after all. As Mark slides in opposite me, the maître d' shuts the curtains around the booth.
Oh my god, they really are embarrassed to have us here.
‘Are we like the poor relations?’ I ask. I thought it was best to make a joke out of it before Mark got embarrassed.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, he shut the curtains.’
‘Pen, that’s to give us privacy. These booths are for their guests who want their dining to be a bit more discrete.’
‘Oh, right,’ I say, nodding. ‘I knew that.’
I did not know that. We’re going to now spend the entire night starving as now we’ll never get the attention of the waiter.
Mark presses what looks like a doorbell and seconds later a waiter appears behind our curtain.
‘We’ll have a bottle of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape to start with,’ says Mark.
Having the wine list in front of me at that particular moment makes me gawp at the price. Thank God this is a freebie.
‘An excellent choice, sir. I’ll bring it straight away.’
Minutes later the waiter is as good as his word and he’s poured me the best wine I’d ever tasted. Oh, how the other half live.
‘Here’s to the start of an excellent night,’ says Mark, as he raises his glass.
I chink my glass, making sure we have strong eye contact, the more intense the eye contact the more intense the sex, or so my friend Lou always says. I could get used to this.
By the time my trio of desserts arrives I am full. But there’s no way I am going to leave here without three courses. Especially when someone other than me or Mark is paying. Why is it that food always tastes better when someone else picks up the bill?
Mark presses the little buzzer.
‘I can’t eat another thing, Mark,’ I say, groaning under the weight of my belly.
‘We’ll have a bottle of the Möet,’ says Mark to the waiter.
Möet? There is no way that they are going to give us Möet on a free meal. They’re not that bloody stupid, are they? Or else my boyfriend Mark is the best accountant in the whole world.
‘What did you do that for?’ I hiss over the table.
'Because, Penelope, we are celebrating.’
‘We are?’ I ask. ‘What are we celebrating?’
Maybe we’re celebrating the fact that he has been crowned world’s best accountant.
‘This,’ says Mark.
Oh. My. God. There it is, in his hands. Stage four. Aka an engagement ring. A small, perfectly formed, princess-cut diamond that seems to tick all the four c’s (colour, cut, clarity and carat) and it is by far the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.
‘So will you marry me, Penelope?’
Thank God for the curtains, is all I can say. As the next thing I know I’ve thrown myself at Mark like a desperate woman that thought this day would never come.
‘Of course I bloody will.’
I stop snogging the face off Mark and wipe my mouth, embarrassed, as the waiter is standing next to us popping open our champagne.
‘Here’s to you, the future Mrs Robinson,’ says Mark, as he raises his glass.
I chink his glass, and this time there is no Lemonheads, only the wedding march ringing in my ears.
‘We’ll have to get out the bank statement for the wedding fund to see just how spectacular our wedding can be,’ says Mark.
Uh-oh. My cheeks suddenly feel heavy as I push every muscle I can to hold my fake smile in place. Mark can’t see the bank statement, as then he’d see all my bingo win payments going in.
‘How about I plan the wedding, honey? I can make it my present to you? Then all you have to do is turn up. It will be like that TV programme, Don’t Tell the Bride, only I won’t tell the groom.’
‘Sounds even better. To us.’
‘To us,’ I echo. Oh, bloody hell. There suddenly seems a lot already that I can’t tell the groom.
Don't Tell the Groom - out on Amazon Kindle 8th January 2013
Don't Tell the Groom
Released on Amazon Kindle