WEDDING IN THE CATHEDRAL by Val Vassay
I’d met and started going out with my Mr Right - real name Jim - while working at the British High Commission, Gaborone, Botswana. Eventually, he popped the all-important question: “Will You Marry Me?” late one night after many hours and much cash spent in the restaurant and casino of the Holiday Inn, Gaborone. I, of course, immediately said “Yes”. The question and answer were never mentioned again for about a week, by which time I’d come to the conclusion that I must have imagined the proposal. But all was not lost. It turned out Jim had remembered asking me but couldn’t remember what the answer was. He’d been living in hope that I would give him a clue. After a clueless week, he asked me again.
We then went on holiday to South West Africa - Namibia as it’s called now - and got engaged in Windhoek, the capital. A few weeks later, I went back to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (the FCO) in London to resign. (This was a year before the rules changed and it was still required of women employees to resign on marriage.) I then went up to Scotland to see my family and tell them the happy news. I stayed in the UK for five weeks then returned to Botswana.
We decided to get married in February 1976. Since we were not religious, we’d get married by the District Commissioner (the DC) in his office - the equivalent of a Registry Office wedding. We’d have a party in Jim’s flat in the evening. The only worry we had about these arrangements was that the Sri Lankan chap who lived in the flat below Jim had arranged to get married by the DC at a certain time on a certain date a few months earlier only to be told, when he and his bride-to-be and the wedding party turned up, that the DC had gone fishing and wouldn’t be back for another two weeks. They were told there was no-one else that could marry them. They had to postpone the wedding.
We went to the DC’s office and arranged the time and date of the ceremony with his secretary.
“Are you sure the DC will be here in Gaborone then?” Jim asked. “He won’t have gone fishing?”
“Oh yes, sir. He’ll be here,” was the reply.
“You’re absolutely sure, are you?” Jim asked again, and told her about his friend.
She looked at Jim as if he were bonkers and reiterated, “The DC will be here, for sure.”
The day before our wedding, Jim rang me at work to tell me he’d phoned the DC’s office to check everything was good for the following day, only to be told that the DC had gone fishing and wouldn’t be back for two weeks. Obviously a man who liked his fishing. Jim rang whichever Government Ministry was in charge of the DC, and complained. After some time they phoned him back and said they’d arranged for Father Boniface, one of the priests at Christ the King Cathedral (in the centre of town) to marry us at eight o’clock the next morning. We were not to worry: they’d organised everything; all we had to do was turn up at the cathedral. Jim stuck a notice on the door of the DC’s office, letting everyone know the change of venue.
That’s better, I thought, when Jim first told me the news. From the DC’s rundown office on the edge of town to the cathedral. Not bad.
Next morning, we arrived for our wedding ten minutes late. Jim and I were always ten minutes late – you could have set your clocks by us. Most of our friends were already standing outside the cathedral, which was locked. There was no sign of any priest-like person. We waited a few minutes, just in case Father Boniface, like Jim and me, was habitually late. Then we went round the corner to the priests’ house and rang the bell. A large European woman in a wrap-around apron opened the door.
“Good morning. Sorry to bother you but we’re supposed to be getting married at eight o’clock this morning by Father Boniface, but he’s not here. Could we speak to him, please?”
“You’re supposed to be getting married this morning?”
“In the cathedral?”
“By Father Boniface?”
“Did you tell Father Boniface about this?”
“We didn’t. We spoke to a man from the Ministry who said they’d arranged it all for us. Surely, the Ministry would’ve told Father Boniface?”
“Well, I don’t think they could have because he’s still in the bath.”
The three of us stood staring at each other until the large lady said, “I’ll go and knock on the bathroom door and tell Father Boniface you’re here and see what he says. Wait here.” We waited.
A few minutes later, she opened the door again.
“Father Boniface says nobody told him about this but if you don’t mind waiting half an hour he’ll get out of the bath and come round and open the cathedral for you.”
“And marry us?” we chanted anxiously.
“Oh yes, and marry you.”
We went back to the cathedral and told our friends the news. Half an hour later, as promised, Father Boniface, a young Motswana with a huge smile, appeared, opened the cathedral, ushered us all inside and we were married within ten minutes. We were so grateful to Father Boniface and took lots of photographs of him and did our best to fill him full of champagne outside the cathedral afterwards. He took everything calmly, beaming throughout.
Thankfully, the party that evening went without a hitch. Married life had begun, for better or worse.