Painshill Park: The Battle of Portaloo

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The Battle of Portaloo

 

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Sweeping views of Painshill Park

 

I guess we all have strange unfulfilled ambitions in life. A bucket list of things we would love to see or do. Fortunately mine are all quite low key and generally realistic. I’ve just managed to tick one off and it still gave me a little buzz (I think that a large part of that came more from getting Louise to agree to come with me). Since a young boy, fed by trips to the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Tournament, I’ve always had a bit of an interest in militaria, and have always wanted to go to a Napoleonic re-enactment. Up to this weekend I had always missed out. Like illicit rave parties in the late 1980’s they seemed to be something that were just out of reach unless you knew someone who knew someone who had the details. I knew they existed, I just didn’t know where or when. 46 years into my life and looking at potential events for a sunny Bank Holiday I finally found one !!!!

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Painshill Park http://www.painshill.co.uk/ was hosting the Napoleonic Association http://www.napoleonicassociation.org/ only half an hour away from where we live. As with any day trip for us, the next step is negotiating with my lovely wife Louise. Lou’s thought process always takes her to a nightmare ending scenario whenever I suggest anything. This is mainly because, whenever I suggest anything, we end up in a nightmare scenario by the end of it. Lou knows that if something does take my interest I do tend to throw myself into it, but only usually for a short time. As soon as I mentioned the trip I could see in her face a look of horror. Rain filled weekends away, sleeping in a tent cooking on open fires. A house filled with uniforms and large guns. ‘Ok we can go………… as long as you do not bring so much as a Napoleonic button into the house EVER, and we can go and see the Wedding dress exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum’. Despite photographing many weddings, Lou feels that my blank spot is wedding dresses. ‘Name me 3 details of my dress when we got married ?’. Our wedding was only last year. I remembered it was white, but couldn’t get another two, so it seemed a fair deal.

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Painshill is a great place for a day out. Described as ‘England’s most elegant 18th century landscape garden’, there are endless places to explore for an energetic 3 year old. Jack loved it, especially the Crystal Grotto, which he thought was a real adventure. The Napoleonic Association had also put on a great show. Set in two camps, the French and the English, it is a great way to show children a ‘living history’. Trying to explain to Jack that people did actually exist without electricity was a wondrous thing. The guys in the Association have a real dedication to not just re-enacting the battle, but also the whole camp life that existed for soldiers of that era. For me it was photography gold (again Lou is very aware of my ability to link ‘family days out’ with the opportunity to take lots of photographs). There is a real challenge to capture images that give a sense of history, but keeping out any modern reminders. With a car park only a few feet away, and lots of other people wandering around, it does mean grabbing opportunities and angles very quickly. Hence my battle of Portaloo heading, and the first image in this set…….. which I may add, was a shot I actually wanted to get as soon as I saw them there.

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Whilst obviously leaning towards the English camp, our stroll across to the French camp begged a lot of questions. Given a free choice, who does actually choose to be the enemy. Would it be a whole camp full of football referees enjoying a day off ? People getting their kicks out of being booed at, and generally regarded as making the wrong decision by the spectators. Lou instantly warmed to the French camp when she saw the menu they were offering their troops. None of that carrot stew muck the English guys were warming up on, but instead treats such as goats cheese littered the menu. The French were actually a very friendly crowd, and even let Jack try on some of their clothes and play their drums.

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Jack always plays the role of little Emperor at home

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Jack trying out as the little drummer boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, as if it wasn’t bizarre enough walking around a Napoleonic camp on a Bank Holiday Monday, one of the French camp followers came over and said hello. I didn’t recognise her immediately but then realised it was Wes, a colleague from back in my ONS days. It turned out that her and husband Duncan, had been involved in re-enactments for some considerable time. The 45eme http://www.45eme.com nit is obviously well established and very active, just the thing that Louise would REALLY hate for me to get involved in !! Wandering around their camp we were able to get a few more questions answered. How do you know when you are ‘shot’, is the result fixed, do you stay in character in the evenings. All things that suddenly occur to you as you walk around the camps ……. but if you want to know the answers get down to a re-enactment.

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Wes in dress for the day

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The actual skirmish was also quite impressive. It did occur to me as an observer that you can see why the glory of war often overtook the horror. A lot of co-ordinated movement of brightly coloured uniforms, galloping horses and weapons glinting against green fields on a sunny day. It really must have masked what was going on at close quarters during battles. As a sweeping vista it is artistic, combining natures and man’s flare for colour. It ended a French win, but I guess you can’t have everything

 

 

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As we left the park, there was an outbreak of Napoleonic dancing going on. Those staying for the night were getting ready for whatever takes place there in the evening, and more importantly, for next year, when 2015 marks the 200th battle of Waterloo. I’m sure any re-enactor will have been dreaming of that moment for many a year. It had been a day I really enjoyed ……… and that Napoleonic button, well I’ll just keep Louise guessing for a while.

 

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Some of the horses looked a bit ragged

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The Italian Job

Well only half an Italian Job really. The marriage of Enzo (Italian) and Elizabeth (Filipino), was a really enjoyable day. I was working with an Italian photographer Giorgio Guglielmino who more than led on the language front.

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Left over right, over right under right… there’s nothing right about this

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Proud father

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are you talking to me !!!

It’s always great pulling a wedding really close to where you live. The church was at St Mary the virgin Cuddington, The Avenue, Worcester Park. A fantastic church in really nice grounds, and a place that held a lot of emotional history for Elizabeth. I spent the morning with the guys as Enzo got ready. As you can see above, sometimes it is a good idea as a photographer to plead ignorance on tying cravats, just so you can get a few images of the groom battling to do one up, with the assistance of a good friend and a mobile phone.

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Once the Italian side was ready it was a quick trip over to St Mary’s church at Cuddington  http://stmaryscuddington.yolasite.com/. It is a gorgeous church with some amazing stained glass windows.

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Arrival of the bride

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Little Alfie getting his final touches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The service was really uplifting, and great to see two different cultures coming together on such a wonderful day.

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After the service we took some shots in the grounds of the church which had a strong emotional attachment for Elizabeth, and with some cloudy skies threatening it was good to get a few shots in the bag before we moved on to the next venue.

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The reception was being held in Nonsuch Mansion. A strange name for a venue which really does exist. http://www.nonsuchmansion.com/index.htm. It is a venue that I have had a long association with. A couple of friends got married there may years ago, and my in laws live only five minutes walk away, so at least I had runners if there were any batteries or food needed. The mansion has changed hands recently, and the new owners have done an amazing job with it, restoring it back to its former glory, and it is a great place to photograph. The park is also a fantastic place for a wander. I somehow managed to drive across most of it, after taking a wrong turning and pretty much follow the pedestrian path through the path ……. It really was like being in the Italian Job.

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The reception was a grand affair. With sole access to the gardens, it made for a great party and venue. With not too much damage done to the outside games laid on, the whole venue took on a magical quality as night drew in, and even the groom took a turn on the decks. A fab day, couple and venue.

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African Wedding in London

One of the great things of photographing weddings in London is the sheer variety of types of wedding you get to cover. The marriage of Arthur and Aminata brought the colour and flair of Africa to South and North London. It was a crazy day in terms of travelling, with locations ranging across Peckham, the Elephant and Castle and Wood Green.

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Get me to the church on time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The start of the day was what a wedding is usually about …… organised chaos. People in the wrong locations and everything slightly behind. I arrived to photograph the groom, to find that he was actually in a different part of London, and was going to have to go straight to the ceremony. It did mean that I had a lot more photographs of the best man than I usually get.

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Nervous Groom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first venue really took me back to my roots. The service was in the Walworth Methodist Church, a stones throw from where I grew up. The guests were dressed in an amazing array of colours, and it made for quite a spectacle.

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Here comes the bride

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The actual service was made memorable by the priest who did a great speech on how community gossips ‘and you all know who you are’ can bring extra pressure to marriage. There were a few red faces in the congregation. There are quite often little extra points of the service, that are important to capture for the bride and groom, so it does make pre wedding day communication essential.

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Well he seems to know where it goes

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Once the service was over there was just the briefest of time to grab a few group shots. There was only a small area to actually take the photos, and with a large congregation it was a real mission to keep friends and family out of the background. After these, there was a mad rush over to Wood Green and the Grand Palace Banqueting Suite.

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Again there were some great differences between a traditional British wedding reception and an African. Each senior member of the family was introduced and came dancing into the hall to their own theme tune. It was like watching a world class sporting event. Large groups of family members leapt up to join them, it really was quite and impressive sight.

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One of the guests belted out a great song for the couple and the speeches were also quite good fun, with the Priest jokingly complaining about how long his meal had taken to arrive. Amongst some fierce dancing and a whole change of clothes for all of the women half way through the evening, it was an absolute joy to be an observer.

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I left exhausted, but had stayed on well beyond my allocated time. There are some weddings that are just too mesmerising to leave.

 

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Retro mania on the Thames – Mods and Choppers

After what seemed like a Biblical spell of rainfall for the last few months, the sun finally arrived in London. We decided to get straight out in the sunshine and make the most of it before we developed rickets. The choice was the vintage classic car boot sale. A great combination encompassing a wide range of interests and fashions.20140315-_MG_6584

Pssst, Need a ticket.

Pssst, Need a ticket.

Oh Boy

Oh Boy

We got down there relatively early, and just in time to see the bikes arrive. An explosion of noise with Mods and bikers shepherded into different areas of the venue. 30 years ago the two groups arriving in short succession may have caused concern, but instead were met with smiles.  Even more exciting for me was an exhibition of old Choppers. These were the bikes to have in the 70’s and 80’s. We could only afford a Budgie ………. and so this was like bike porn.

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It was great to see so many people dressed up, and more than happy to have their photograph taken, leading to some great portrait opportunities.

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Even the food stands were completed in vintage refinery

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Fortunately, there was even enough on to entertain our son Jack, who managed to try out a few of the modes of transport on offer, and who is fortunately yet to tire of having his picture taken at these types of events.

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Little man, little cars, big wheel

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So look out for the date next year and get along to bag yourself a taste of yesteryear, and some of the more interesting products they had on offer

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Ouch !!!

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TV not quite of the future

 

 

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A belated Happy New Year

A belated seasons greetings to our customers and readers. We hope you had a fantastic festive period. Christmas proved to be a very busy period at Beeches Images towers. It is a popular time for family portraits and we were fortunate enough to be heavily booked with customers wanting to provide their family with photographic gifts.

Mark and Jack

Little Ollie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an eclectic month we also had the pleasure of breaking into the corporate market, photographing the Skrill (formerly Moneybookers) Christmas party. It was a wonderful event, organised by Anett, one of the Croydon belly dancers I had photographed earlier in 2011, and held at the impressive Institute of Contemporary Arts in the Mall. Anett had booked the fantastic Max Pashm Band (http://www.myspace.com/maxpashm), who made the trip up from Brighton and gave the evening a an electro world fusion kick,  and the impressive magician Paul Martin (www.paulmartinmagic.com). I always thought I would be able to work out how magicians performed their tricks, but despite the fact I was standing only a couple of feet from Paul during his act I have absolutely no idea how he did what he did. As an aside Anett’s belly dance troupe now have their website up and running, and are already in great demand. (http://www.hipsinccandygirls.co.uk/).

Paul Martin has his audience under his spell

Max in full flow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closer to home we also provided the pop up studio for a parents Christmas party at Barrow Hedges School. It was my first attempt at shooting tethered (linking the camera directly to a laptop) so that I could produce images for customers on the night. To create a festive Christmas theme I hit Sutton’s Pound Shop. What a treasure trove of hats and gimmicks it proved to be. However, I did feel slightly ripped off when I found a 99p shop a little further down the High Street. It’s quite a coup being in a position to undercut the Pound shop. The large picture frame I bought earlier in the year proved to be a real winner, and the dad’s were more than happy to come and have their photograph taken if it managed to keep them from the dance floor for a little bit longer.It was a bit hectic photographing and printing on the same night, and on a couple of occasions the organised chaos threatened to take on the guise of an episode of ‘The Apprentice’, but it all came good in the end.

A record for people in front of our 7ft by 6ft screen

Framed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also made a return visit to St Martin’s to cover a Christmas event  run by the Sure Start centre. Again we used the pop up studio, and with some of the mothers turning up with their children in ultra cute Christmas outfits.

Different views on Christmas

2011 was a fantastic year for us. Weddings, baptisms, portraits, school shoots and charity events, we were able to cover all of our customers needs. More personally Louise and I got engaged and gave birth to Jack, our first child………. Well okay, to be fair, Louise had more to do with the giving birth side of things, I was there more in a cheerleader type role. We were both looking forward to Christmas this year, and Jack enjoyed opening up his presents a lot more than we ever imagined he would.

Jack enjoying his presents

Yet another present

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking ahead, 2012 is shaping up to provide some interesting challenges. Wearing my previous hat as an economic analyst, it is obvious that there will be a tightening of belts by many and the business climate will be harsh. For Beeches Images this is an extra incentive to be the best in what we do, offering a fantastic service at a keen price…………. So make sure you take full advantage of us.

Anett gets the Skrill Christmas party going

Skrill party decorations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This time of year is also traditionally a time to make new year resolutions. Bizarrely the post production side of photography doesn’t always lend itself well to leaving a lot of time to taking photographs. With Jack growing and developing by the day, I’ve decided to take at least one non-business image every day this year and upload them on Flickr. My other resolution is to finally open the clay hand print set we bought for Jack when he was first born and have never got round to using. I have a fear that his hands will be bigger than mine by the time we finally get round to using it. I’m also going to include a customers tip in each Blog entry. Have a great 2012 and make sure you book us early.

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Pre-School Mayhem

Beeches Images was fortunate enough to be invited to photograph the children attending St Martin’s pre-school in Epsom recently (http://stmartinspreschool.com/), the largest pre-school in Surrey. Whilst my back was aching after spending 3 days shuffling around at near floor level, it was well worth the pain, as we managed to capture some great images. It also made me a lot more aware of how the school system has changed since I went through the ‘best days of our lives’. With our own son Jack now 8 months old, I was astonished to find that Lou and I should already be looking round for pre-schools. St Martin’s has a fantastic reputation locally which means you need to get the child’s name down before they can walk, but after spending some time with Caroline and her team I could see that their reputation was fully merited.

Caroline drumming up support

Dealing with such young children needs a lot of organisation. Obviously a CRB check was necessary even though there were staff around during any photography. In my pre-shoot meetings with Nancy (the pre-school administrator) we had discussed the challenges of photographing in the confined space of their classroom. Nancy didn’t want a set-up that would take up loads of room, or prove dangerous to the children, but obviously still wanted high quality images for the parents. Fortunately we were able to offer Nancy the ideal solution. A combination of a Lastolite hilite which tucks against a wall for white background portrait shots, and a range of zoom lens for more candid classroom shots for those children who didn’t want to have their photograph taken with studio lights.

 

A visitor to the school

We decided to outsource production of images to ensure that parents got the very best  selection of products in time for christmas. The company we used offered a multi-pose proof sheet and a range of packages at affordable prices, which complimented our decision to select four shots of each child.

 

 

 

 

 

Very pleased with the children's response

For those who know me, one of my big weaknesses is forgetting peoples names. I bumped into a neighbour a few weeks after we had Jack, who congratulated me on our new son, but when he asked me his name I suddenly forgot it, and had to admit, that although I knew it began with ‘J’ the actual name had slipped out of my mind. Being faced with 70 new faces was going to be a big challenge. Fortunately Louise came along for the first day to help in matching names and faces, finding the children and hitting me over the head with various toys in order to make the children laugh.

 

 

 

Jack preparing for a cold spell with my cap

Nancy had suggested in our pre-meetings that I may want to set aside 3 days for photographing the children, which at first seemed rather generous. Once our pop-up studio is set up, it usually only takes a couple of seconds to get a couple of good shots, but I am so glad I listened to her. Sitting in front of studio lights can be a daunting prospect for such young children. Fortunately our experience of photographing children did allow us to put most of them at ease, and we managed to tease laughs and smiles out of the vast majority.

Chilling out on the sofa

Caroline ensures the children are always fully engaged. Structured story times, dance, songs, play and even outside visitors were all part of the day. I had always assumed that pre-school staff just watched to make sure the children didn’t injure themselves, but their role is far more intensive than that. There was a constant monitoring, all be it very subtle of how children were performing during the day, and a huge amount of encouragement. The key feature Louise and I took from the day was how the staff use the expression of “good and bad choices” when the children do something right or wrong……… we’ve started using it with each other !!!

 

 

Bulldog spirit

By day three the children had got used to me being around. In some cases that proved to be an asset. A couple of children who had not wanted to have their photograph taken on day one, actually asked if they could come and have some done. It really gives you a glow when you have broken down such a barrier. For the more confident children, it became a game not to  have their photograph taken. Shouts of “Mr photographer” would come from the schools wigwam followed by an explosion of children running out in all directions, hiding behind trees and other barriers to make sure I couldn’t photograph them. The hunt for photographs was often more like a safari than a portrait session. The three days were both fun and exhausting in equal measure.

First attempt on the swings

A big thank you from Beeches Images to the staff, parents and children of St Martin’s pre-school. Obviously I won’t be putting any of the photographs of the shoot on this page unless the parents agree, so I’ve put in a few of our own son Jack……….. in honour of the fact that I now remember his name !!! I’ve got to get back to photo-shopping out splashes of paint and bike grazes for the parents.

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Parallel Universe in Blake Hall, Essex

This weekend saw Beeches Images covering our first wedding since I proposed to Louise in New York. Each wedding we are involved in now takes on an added interest in terms of planning our own. I think every wedding I have attended has thrown up at least one idea or a feature which grabs the attention, but the marriage of Matt and Hayley at Blake Hall in Essex (http://www.blakehall.co.uk/) was almost spooky in reflecting the types of things Louise and I love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I covered the event with Joe Gilbert, an impressive photographer from Gatwick in Sussex (www.joegilbertphotography.co.uk). Regular readers may recall I worked with Joe before at the Priory Barn in Herts. I’m not sure if Joe gets some masochistic enjoyment from the challenges of photographing  in low light, but Blake Hall is also a barn. Joe is a master of off-camera outside flash, so I did look forward to the day with some relish. I was a bit concerned for the couple in terms of the weather. With Autumn in full swing there is amazing scenery to be had………….. outside. With forecasts all week of heavy rain, it didn’t look as if the impressive gardens at Blake Hall would be much use to us. Whilst the barn hosting the service and wedding breakfast was incredibly atmospheric it would not be the same as getting the outside shots.

In fact it proved to be a great day. As soon as I arrived I noticed that the theme was the Rat Pack. Louise absolutely adores that style of music, and the old single records on each table was a lovely touch. I then found out that Hayley’s full name is ‘Hayley Louise Carter’. Louise asked to see an order of service when I got home so that she could see what her own name “Louise Carter” would look like in print. Even odder was that Matt’s surname is  Turnbull, the same as an ex-boyfriend of Louise. Actually maybe I shouldn’t have shown her how the names looked !!! Even the cake was a tower of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, I was tempted to ‘liberate’ one for the drive home, but managed to hold out.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better I found out that the main meal was going to be Pie and Mash, with obligatory liquor. For those uneducated in fine cuisine, Pie and Mash is a London delicacy. Historically there is a great rivalry between South and East London. Millwall and West Ham, the Richardsons and the Krays, and most importantly, who serves the best pie and mash. You can’t reproduce pie and mash, it has to come from a specialist shop. So specialist in fact, that all they usually serve is one type of pie, mash, liquor and eels. The only variation being the number of pies and scoops of mash you want. Fortunately Matt had seen the light, and despite being from East London, had turned to Manze’s, one of South London’s finest Pie and Mash houses. We are fortunate to have a branch just round the corner in Sutton, and as I sat down to my double pie, double mash my day was nearly complete. I almost had to brush aside an emotional tear as I tucked in. I sent Louise a text to tell her about the co-incidences falling all around me, like autumnal leaves, and her reply was a request to get out fast, as she believed I had entered a parallel universe in Essex, and that I may never return.

Of course there were photographs to be taken, and Matt and Hayley didn’t let us down. Matt had ushers, lots of ushers. In fact at one point I thought he had allocated one to each guest. Hayley and the bridesmaids looked amazing, with the dresses carrying through an autumnal theme. Blake Hall has wisely expanded the size of the windows in the barn, so it was surprisingly light compared with other barns I have shot in.

Perhaps most importantly, whilst the clouds didn’t really lift, the rain didn’t come down either. It meant we could have a stroll around the gardens taking full advantage of the backdrops it had to offer. Blake Hall certainly has a lot to offer in that respect, and if you have your wedding planned there you are in for a treat.

I really enjoyed the speeches too. They hit the mark on being not too long and fusing a blend of humour and sentiment, with guest wiping away tears of laughter and emotion in equal measure.

I didn’t stay around for the sparklers, although I’m sure they would have made a great ending to the day, especially with the wedding falling on Bonfire night. I enjoyed an easy drive home round the M25 watching various firework displays and listening to Heart’s club classics, included the track  ‘Flawless’ by the Ones, it pretty much summed up the day.

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