Marriage, eh? Everyone’s doing it. Even you, sir – who for all I know may now be swiping listlessly at your screen as you wait impatiently for Pachelbel to convey a bride to your side. And in those rare moments when we’re not getting married we’re having to witness others doing it. Literally every day. Churches are getting so much of this wedding business that nearly all of them now have a community of buildings, streets and people arrayed on all sides around them – just so that these ‘locals’ have a bespoke marriage venue to hand. Weddings, you see, have become so desperately common – and eye-burningly expensive. They say that, if you haven’t saved six figures for your next two, you may as well stay put in your current marriage. And yet everyone is still trying to keep up with the Joneses – which, as a man whose fitful nights are regularly punctuated by horrific flashbacks to the Jones Matrimonial Incident, I can assure you full well is a truly terrifying prospect. So help your wedding guests relish the pure and simple pleasures of this Day-o’-Joy© by following these entry-level rules for a bearable wedding. (Actually I can now hear her father weeping like a misunderstood puffin, so she must almost be at the end of the aisle. Read fast and Godspeed!)

  1. Yes, there’s no getting around the wedding ceremony. But be sure to keep it cringe-free: no songs with the world ‘baby’ – unless immediately followed by ‘Jesus’; no YouTube-will-love-this dances up the aisle; no tying of a shaman-blessed hemp rope around your waists; no flopping of half-asphyxiated doves from your loins; and no turning of the groom’s head until the music stops. ‘Originality’, need I remind you, is sorely over-rated.
  2. When the moment at last comes for the congregation to be asked whether they know of any lawful impediment for the impending marriage, avoid that embarrassed flutter of half-hearted tittering. Instead, commit to one of these three responses: dread silence (why is it so quiet?); thigh-slapping, belly-smacking, pew-upsetting guffaws from all and sundry (what do they know?); a perfectly-timed chorus of ‘Of course we do, you salty wag!’ (fair cop).
  3. Vicar / registrar: yes, you are physically placed at the centre of attention, and yes, we all really need you there – but do remember that there are greater forces in play. So the closer you stick to the essential legal words for the pressing matter before us, and the fewer ‘impressions’ and ‘anecjokes’ you wheel out, the happier all the folk in the flock will be.
  4. The reception, then. For some reason you’ve invited guests to a featureless farmstead in Farflungshire. The 40-minute drive took two-and-a-quarter hours because their SatNavs were unrelenting in the instruction to take the ‘next right’ off the roundabout. They’ll arrive parched and famished, frantically searching through the undergrowth for any free-ranging amuse-bouche. Be sure, then, to fill to the gills that no-man’s land between the ceremony and the wedding break-fast with meaningful sustenance. As a rough benchmark, work with the figure of 22 canapes per head. Then add a ‘0’ and we’re cooking with gas.
  5. Spare your guests the never-ending series of vapid mini-messages. It’s not just the invitation reply (‘looking forward to wedding!’) and the wedding card (‘have a nice wedding!), but the personalised photo on the day (‘you’re having a nice wedding!’) and the guestbook handed round at dinner (‘still a bloody nice wedding!’); and then signing the tiny remaining space on a macaque-shaped cross-section of reclaimed Indian driftwood (‘well, what a nice [indecipherable]ing!’) before ‘chiselling your feelings’ into what looks suspiciously like the Ed Stone (‘NICE’). You’ve invited guests to this oh-so-nice wedding, not scribes. So talk to them!
  6. All weddings – and especially all wedding-goers – really do need that wedding breakfast. So don’t make the simple process of taking a seat for such a bizarrely timed meal a high-stress, low-information Crystal-Maze mission – a chaotic mix of illegible table plans, ineffably stupid table names, impenetrable table decorations and inexplicably misspelt placeholders. Especially if the reward for all this scrambling is a mind-warpingly tedious table companion. (But spare a thought for those who actually get stuck next to Machell.)
  7. You’ve now left the table to their own devices – a sadly ambiguous phrase at the modern wedding – and they’re fast getting into a rather frenetic state of refreshment. Whatever you do, then, don’t give them a three-foot serrated blade and the blank instruction to ‘carve the joint’. It’ll take more than an airy gesture to the St John’s Ambulance crew incongruously patrolling the marquee for this not to end in tears.
  8. Since it’s the unwritten law of wedding-breakfast fare to include a ‘goat’s-cheese element’, either keep it sufficiently minuscule to be hidden under its accompanying (inedible?) leaf-like structure, or allow your guests to collectively trade it for goods and services with that one weird table guest who OMG just adores it.
  9. Since you’re not a pair of complete sadists, you’ll obviously be running a bar throughout the evening. But, since it’s very much not a pub, the people need to know where they stand: is it an open bar? I mean, is it open now? when then? do we pay? is it cash-only? Oh Christ, it better not be cash-only. Circulate this essential information in advance – online and in hard copy.
  10. The speeches – of course – only come after the meal. By this point the crowd is – shall we say? – feral. Look into any guest’s eyes (whichever one is roving less maniacally) and appreciate what they want: a speech of between seven and ten minutes comprising 75% jokes, 20% sincere emotion, and 35% incompetence. This formula is unimprovable.
  11. Never appoint more than one ‘Best Man’. If that perverse mistake has already been made, never, ever allow all four to stand up and speak. I’ve witnessed many a Bestmanathon, and the unseemly Friendolympics make for grim going indeed.
  12. The First Dance must be the perfect fusion of we-actually-got-married affection, start-swaying-before-the-music inebriation and swallow-me-now awkwardness. So make sure that when the music lands you suddenly realise that this is literally the one thing you forgot to plan. Ceci nest pas un pas de deux.
  13. The reception will need a band, and ideally a good one. So good, in fact, that you have them sign a firm and binding agreement that they will only play covers, and not so much as strike a note of their ‘own material’.
  14. No-one should be on that dance-floor on an ‘evening-only’ ticket. No: you’ve had to earn a place there through the achingly slow unfurling of the day’s formal business – and the frankly unsustainable amount of food and drink you were able to forage over a 36-hour afternoon. Ensure that 10% of your total wedding expenditure is hypothecated for staff employed to enforce this rule without exception or mercy.
  15. Scratch beneath the cava-covered confetti and you’ll find that a wedding is a party. ‘Party’ is a precise English term for ‘the improbable fun that emerges from mixing strangers with alcohol’. So then, since the strangers are – willy-nilly – committed to a ten-hour lock-in, make jolly well sure that they don’t sober up and come round to the sheer absurdity of it all. For absurd, my dear lovers, it is.