“Hey,” a teenage girl said as she stopped directly in front of me. “I thought I might get a big smile after all this time.”
“Avril,” I gasped. “You look beautiful.” Gone were the shoulder-length waves. Avril was sporting the Purdy look, made fashionable by Joanna Lumley, the young lady in The New Avengers. “I love the hairstyle.”
She put down her suitcase, and our lips met when we embraced. I don’t know how long we stood there among the hustle and bustle, but neither of us cared. We’d been apart for a year, and now we were together again, and we were getting married. We broke the embrace, and gazed into each other’s eyes, before we kissed again, for longer.
“We’ll have a break here for a short while,” I said. “I want you to myself before I take you near my family.”
“I don’t care what you say, they can’t be that bad.”
“We’ll have a coffee,” I said and lifted her suitcase. We strolled to the café I’d left a short while before.
As we chatted, we gazed into each other’s eyes and held hands. We were together.
Before we got out of the taxi at my parent’s house, I reassured Avril.
“Don’t worry if you don’t hear my voice for a while, I’ll be there somewhere in the background.”
“They won’t make that much of a fuss,” Avril said, not realizing how wrong she was.
I caught the taxi driver nodding and smiling. He knew I was right, and he’d only been listening to Avril’s soft Londonderry accent for a short while. I gave him a handsome tip.
“Good luck, mate,” he said and winked.
I took my girl indoors and made the introductions to my parents and to Patrick, Theresa, and their twins. Avril was fielding questions from the moment she took a seat and accepted a cup of tea. Occasionally, she glanced at me, and I smiled, knowingly. I wanted her to enjoy the fuss because she was worth every minute.
After dinner, I declined an invitation to go out with my dad, and Patrick to leave the women for a while. They really didn’t get it, I thought. The girl who held my future in her hands had come back into my life after a year-long separation, and I was going nowhere.
It took a couple of hours before the chatter reduced to something normal, and I was impressed to see the television was left switched off.
Not being one to miss an opportunity, Patrick said, “What happens if you get this interview with the Glasgow Sheriff, and he says no to the license?”
“We’ll cross that bridge if it comes to it,” I said, and smiled as I shook my head at Avril. “Don’t listen to him.”
“You have to plan for things going wrong,” Patrick said.
I shook my head again and was a whisker away from saying, ‘Like the unplanned birth of your twins.’ I didn’t want Avril to witness the animosity of which our family was capable.
It was our good fortune that Anne was away gaining her work experience, and David was in a cell somewhere, because it left two spare beds, and no messing about with somebody having to use the sofa. And so it was, I shared a bedroom with Avril for the first time, but not a bed.
Saturday 19th March 1977
“Are you going into the city by taxi?” my mother asked.
“No,” I said. “We have all day, and I’d rather we took our time and enjoyed every day.”
After breakfast, I took Avril to the bus stop where I’d caught the bus for work every morning before I left home. Forty-five minutes later, we were in Glasgow city centre. A priority for us was choosing our rings and having checked out all the leading jewellery shops, I knew where to suggest. We walked along Buchanan Street towards Argyle Street.
“Here, on our left, is one of the entrances to the Argyll Arcade,” I said. “This is the greatest concentration of jewellery shops in Scotland.”
“I’m looking forward to this,” Avril said. She made a beeline for the nearest window of gleaming gold and gemstones.
“Take your time,” I said. “I don’t care if it takes us all day, as long as you find a ring you like. We can go through here to the other end and come back. If needed, we’ll go out to other shops.”
“I don’t think we’ll have to go out of here.” She laughed and turned to feast her eyes once again on the first window.
Two hours later, we had chosen our rings, and I paid deposits on them. I told the assistant we’d be back on Monday when the banks were open. We went for lunch, and I took Avril for a brief tour of my hometown, or at least the city centre aspect. I made sure to show her the two important buildings I’d checked out myself a couple of days before. We strolled to George Square, the perceived centre of the city.
“This is the Glasgow City Chambers, and inside the imposing façade, is the Glasgow Sheriff’s office. We have a provisional appointment for Monday, and we have to be here in person to make sure it’s confirmed.”
“They don’t confirm the interview unless you come here?”
“No, there are a few strange regulations. It took a couple of letters to get as far as I have.” I pointed to the left. “If we take a walk up here and leave George Square behind, I’ll show you Martha Street, where the Registrar’s Office is situated.”
We had plenty of time and ambled around the busy city streets to let Avril see Glasgow as a shopping city. To most people, it wouldn’t sound special, but we’d never been anywhere without the protection of an armed companion, or me carrying a gun.
Sunday 20th March 1977
If this was a remarkable day, it was only because I succeeded in taking my parents into the city with Avril and me for a meal. Eating out for my folks was something which happened if they were attending a wedding or a funeral, and I couldn’t remember many. My dad was happy, having a beer with his meal, or more accurately, three beers with his meal. I had one and took my time.
Both of my parents were quieter than normal, and it took a while before I worked out the reason. It was a mixture of being on best behaviour in the company of my special girl, and because they were out of their comfort zone.
I was asked a myriad of questions about how married life would be for my new bride and me, and I answered some questions from a theoretical knowledge, never having lived outside of the accommodation block, anywhere.
All things considered, it was a pleasant outing, and I appreciated it would probably never happen again. I was grateful it went well.
Monday 21st March 1977
A wedding day is a special occasion, and ours would be for many reasons if it happened. I suggested to Avril we could dress casually for the early part of the day. We set off by bus to the city at nine o’clock, and by ten, we were seated in a small, dark-panelled waiting room. The Glasgow Sheriff had cleared us for our interview, and when the assistant came to tell us, he gave me a small pad and a pen.
He said, “I believe you young people are applying for a Special License, Mr. Faulkner?”
“Yes, that’s correct; for today.”
The man inhaled sharply through his clenched teeth. “It’s going to be close, but if you do a good job of your reasons, you’ll be fine.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Make sure your case is strong, and whatever you do, stick to your guns.” He winked.
Avril said, “He didn’t want us to be too confident of a good result, did he?”
“Don’t worry,” I said, and placed a hand briefly on her thigh. “We’ll make this work.” I wrote out reasoning, based on our personal situations, and our enforced separation. I went over the statement three times with Avril before the assistant showed up again.
“Here we are,” I said, and handed over my written request.
“Neat handwriting if I may say so, Mr. Faulkner.” He read the statement and smiled. “Well done. I’ll be right back.” He was nodding as he left us with the declaration.
We had a fifteen-minute wait before the man returned. “The Sheriff will interview you together, at eleven o’clock. If you’d like to go for a cup of tea and return, please don’t be late; he doesn’t amend appointments.”
“We’ll wait, thank you,” I said.
The location of our honeymoon was a secret from Avril thus far, but I could tell she needed something to believe in while we waited. I told her a little of where we were going, and her questions kept us occupied for some of the time.
At one minute before eleven, we were shown into the Sheriff’s office and asked to sit. The room was austere, to say the least, and the desk was imposing. I wondered if the handful of large books on the desk were the ones which were needed most often, or they were simply too heavy to go on a shelf.
The Sheriff welcomed us and talked about the sanctity of marriage, irrespective of the ceremony used to bind the couple. He mentioned our ages and emphasised how serious our intentions would have to be. He clasped his fingers and sat back.
“Convince me I should grant you a Special License, Mr. Faulkner.”
I glanced at Avril, before turning to address the man.
“I’d first like to thank you for seeing us, Sir,” I said. “Avril lives in Northern Ireland, which for security reasons, precludes me from visiting her regularly, or planning to wed there. I’m presently serving in HM Forces in a unit in West Berlin. It would be difficult to organise a marriage there, apart from having her invited as a guest to the divided city.”
The Sheriff unclasped his fingers and glanced at both of us before lifting his pen from the marble and brass stand. “Would you remind me of your ages, please, Mr. Faulkner?”
“I’m twenty four, and Avril is nineteen, Sir.”
He smiled, nodded, and looked from one to the other of us before making notes. He glanced down at a sheet of paper on his desk and asked us both a series of questions about how long we’d known each other, how long we’d been apart, and what we would do if we were unsuccessful.
I’d briefed Avril on the response we should give if asked something like this. We both said we’d start the process again because we had no desire to marry in a church ceremony.
For the longest two minutes of my life up to this point, the man gazed at Avril, and then me. He lifted his pen and wrote something before placing the pen on the stand.
“I hope you’ll be blissfully happy together,” he said, as he stood and outstretched his hand. As we took turns to shake his hand, he smiled. “I believe there are three gaps in the Registrar’s appointments for today.” He winked. “ Get yourselves up there, and secure one.”
I took the signed sheet and muttered my thanks. I was too overcome to say more and nodded before we rushed out, thanking the assistant as we left.
Fifteen minutes later, we were in Martha Street, being asked if we’d like to marry at two-thirty, or three-fifteen.
We went to a bank where I used a personal cheque to draw out a large sum of cash. From there, we took a brisk walk to the Argyll Arcade and paid for our rings, having tried them on one more time to be certain they were okay. It was a two-minute wait before I hailed a passing taxi.
“Hi, mate,” I said. “I’ll make it worth your while if you can get us out to Drumchapel, wait while we get changed, and then bring us back to the city to Martha Street.”
“Okay, son,” he said over his shoulder. “Are you two getting married?”
“At three-fifteen if everything falls into place.”
“Sit back and relax, folks.” The black Hackney cab pulled away from the kerb and drove along Buchanan Street to leave the city centre.
A few minutes before three, I paid the cab driver twice the fare, and he wished us a happy life before he spun the wheel and left us.
Thirty minutes later, having had our vows witnessed by two complete strangers who were attending a different marriage ceremony after ours, we stepped outside, man and wife.
“Easy,” I said, and we both laughed as we embraced, right there on the pavement outside the Registry Office.
We returned to my parent’s house for the closest thing we’d have to a reception dinner. My sister, Anne made an effort to get back for the weekend to see us, although I suspected it was purely to meet my bride, or because she expected a big celebration.
My mother laid on a decent buffet, and there was enough booze to keep the party going on into the wee small hours. Apart from those members of my family who were able to be there, we had the company of a couple of neighbours who knew me.
I gave Avril the nod to go and pack her case, while I stayed with the crowd. When my wife returned, I went into the bedroom and packed my bag, and we were ready to go at a few minutes’ notice.
We both had a drink to toast our own good health along with everybody else, but otherwise, we abstained. I was the only person in the room who was aware how badly the night would go if I let my inner demons have their way.
It was a couple of hours later, at six o’clock, when we got into a taxi and headed to the local railway station. Had we gone as far as the city, our train would have come past Drumchapel on the journey to our destination.
Our trip on the almost empty electric train took half an hour. As we sped towards the not so distant mountains and lochs we had been admiring the view. When the train came to a stop, we wondered at the small and quaint station.
The walk to the hotel took fifteen minutes, and it wouldn’t have mattered if it had taken an hour, we wouldn’t have noticed. I’d cycled to Balloch many times, and when I told Avril about it earlier, she’d said it sounded ideal.
The hotel was neither huge nor busy, which we were grateful for. We stole glances at each other as we unpacked, and though I wanted to consummate our marriage, I was acutely aware of the nature of my young bride.
“Come here, Mrs. Faulkner,” I said, and held her tight. I whispered. “Would you like to go downstairs to call your mum and dad. I know you’ll want to let them know all went well.”
“Yes, please,” she said, lifting her head from my shoulder. “Will you say hello?”
“Of course I will, I’m their new son-in-law, and proud to be.”
We kissed, and I nodded towards the door. “After we’ve made the call, we could relax in the lounge for a short while before we continue with this dream?”
“That sounds perfect.”
We made our call to Avril’s relieved, and delighted parents. Her dad insisted on having the hotel number so they could call us back. I was happy enough because otherwise, it would have cost a fortune in coins, and we’d be hearing constant blips.
After the call, we sat in the plush lounge and had two drinks before we went upstairs. The mutual pleasure of our first night together was indescribable, and so it should remain.
We used our days of peace and quiet to make up for all the time we had lost. We had an idyllic setting to spend our honeymoon, with Loch Lomond a short walk from the hotel, a railway station nearby, and a small local bus station with trips to an abundance of excellent Highland locations.
Each day saw us happy beyond our wildest dreams. On alternate days we took trips to a variety of places which took our fancy, seeing demonstrations of Highland crafts or going on a tour of a castle. On one occasion we took a trip on a steamer around Loch Lomond, which was a true eye-opener. I’d never realised the expanse of the loch. We visited so many places where we agreed we wanted to return some day away in the future.
On a couple of occasions, we stayed locally and walked for many miles along the trails in the area, some in the forest, and others alongside the loch. For others, it may not have been exciting, but for us, it was a time to be grateful for finally being together.
Saturday 2nd April
The Glasgow-bound train eased out of Balloch’s little station, and as we watched the beautiful, tranquil sight of Loch Lomond, it’s surrounding hills and trees disappear into the distance we vowed we would return.
“How about our Silver Wedding Anniversary?” I said.
“It’s a date, Mr. Faulkner,” Avril said. “I’ll be writing it in my diary; 2002.”
During our honeymoon, we’d taken little notice of the wider world, so it came as a surprise to find out that there was industrial action taking place at airports all over the UK.