It’s our first viewing post-lockdown. And probably our last viewing pre-second-lockdown when Boris sends us home again after spending weeks ignoring the facts and prioritising Tory alcohol tax profits over national health.
It’s such a weird experience; wearing a mask to meet someone in a mask to imagine your special day where hopefully no one will be wearing a mask and you’ll be able to kiss the groom without some jobs-worth COVID-warrior telling you off for getting within 2 metres of each other. Thankfully, at the time of the kiss we’ll at least be considered one household by law. Disclaimer: at work, I am that COVID-warrior, so it is a matter of the pot calling the kettle boring and obsessed with Risk Assessments.
So let’s talk venues. Anyone who has read any of my previous blog posts will know that we had a very specific visual in mind: industrial warehouse as a blank canvas for lots of quirk. So far we’ve viewed Hinterlands and Camp and Furnace, and had great experiences and impressions of both. We almost settled on Camp and Furnace until they cancelled on us for 2021. We did enquire about availability for 2022 but the lovely lady we dealt with originally no longer works there post-COVID and the new point of contact EITHER lost his eyes or fingers and thereby the ability to reply to emails, OR just completed blanked us. Either way, their loss. Certainly not our loss.
So yes, we don’t have a venue or many more warehouse options available. We also haven’t spent much time thinking about the wedding throughout the last 5 months. It feels like some sense of normality is returning (though undoubtedly about to be taken away again on Tuesday as Merseyside’s restrictions tighten), and so we have allowed ourselves to pick up where we left off after our Camp and Furnace plans went up in smoke.
Last week, over an excessive quantity of pub garden drinks (San Miguel shandies for me and Guinness for Liam), we went back to the drawing board. We began with the guest list. Not the original guest list. A new guest list, based on a post-COVID world. The mission: cut it from 120 day guests to under 100. 100 is still hopeful; if there isn’t a vaccine and if BoJo keeps letting everyone get pissed then grounding us for it we may end up slashing those numbers down further, but let’s imagine a world where COVID and the Tories don’t rule supreme.
We got the list to 92. So there are 28 people who will most likely be furious if they ever find out they were de-prioritised (there must be a better word for that!). In fairness, the majority were kids… averaging £35+VAT for a kid’s meal of chicken and chips at most venues then if you are not an immediate family member (biological or logical as Armistead Maupin would say) then you can stay home with Captain Birdseye and Nickelodeon, soz huns.
We arrived at an approximate number of day guests and an obviously much larger evening guest list. Google searches come in handy here, as do apps like Bridebook (the name still raises eyebrows for this particular blogger) and when you narrow down your search criteria to exclude hotels, golf clubs and anything on the Wirral then you’ve got a limited catchment area, and virtually no warehouse options left.
Then Liam made a suggestion. Something I would have said no to (and probably did) in January when we first started planning, having been to a wedding there before. It turns out so had Liam, but it had been a while ago for both of us. Suddenly, with fresh post-rona eyes, it seemed an un-obvious option that was obviously a great option for us.
To put you out of your misery, it is Sefton Park Palm House; the beautiful Victorian conservatory in Sefton Park, Liverpool. Liam last went to a wedding there a few years ago and I haven’t been to one for over 15 years! It completely avoids the original warehouse vibe but does tick the box of a style Liam and I have talked about but I possibly haven’t included in the blog yet: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Add to that the fact that I’ve become obsessed with all of the house plants I acquired in quarantine and I simply cannot get married if not within 27feet of a Yucca Tree.
I enquired through Bridebook (there’s that name again!) and received a gorgeously positive email from the lovely Sandra the very next day (that’s how you do customer service Camp and Furnace!). I much prefer phone calls to emails for important personal things like this so I rang Sandra who was more than helpful and booked us in for a viewing today, just 5 days after the phone call. Sandra informed us she wouldn’t be around on Saturday (today) and we’d be greeted by the lovely Rosemary, but added “I’ll be the one to coordinate for you on the day, God spares me”. I filled up with tears. My Nanny Gladys (not my real nan, my Scouse nan) used to say “God spares me” whenever she talked of anything in the future, and always used to say “I hope I live to see you get married, God spares me”. I haven’t heard that saying since she passed away in 2012. It was a sign.
So today was the day of our viewing. Masks on, glasses fogging, yet ready for business. Rosemary was indeed lovely, more than helpful and gave instant confidence as she certainly had every detail of how weddings work in the venue nailed to a fine art. Her years of experience in the venue were apparent and it really does make a huge difference to be told exactly how a venue usually works for most weddings, but to be allowed to imagine your own experience individually within the space too. As a same-sex wedding, it was amazing to hear from Rosemary about how they, at the Palm House, are working to neutralise the experience of planning to focus on the groom as much as the bride. Another huge tick there!
The venue itself is obviously stunning. You don’t need me to tell you that. A 125-year-old, 25-metre high glass panelled conservatory within its own private garden in the heart of the biggest park in Liverpool, filled with stunning plants and beautiful natural light is already a winner for visuals. But on top of that, the layout lends itself to a really beautiful day, with options for spaces around the site to isolate different areas for specific segments of the day. The outdoor grounds are beautiful if the weather is nice (and let’s hope in July it is!) but the indoors are just as beautiful if the weather turns biblical, and at least either way I won’t have to worry about a long white train getting ruined…
For those who remember my earlier worries, I have a particular obsession with lavatorial aesthetics, ie. I can’t bear minty toilets. Safe to say, there are no concerns here as the lower level toilets passed the test, and are fully accessible by stair and by lift.
So it’s got everything… space, visuals, plants… they even allow the dogs of the happy couple if we wanted (though that’ll probably mean we’ll have a domestic over whether or not Blue is coming!). What more could a gay want? We walked out feeling like we’d found our venue and rushed for lunch to have another look at the guest list. Guests need feeding and the next conversation to have is with the caterers, which could be the make or break moment of whether we can go ahead and book… like we so want to!!!
The Palm House work in partnership with Dine so we need to speak to them, and as an example of the efficiency I love, Rosemary has already put us in contact and I have a phone call scheduled for tomorrow morning. I know from their Instagram that Dine’s food looks incredible so let’s hope that their pricing is incredibly affordable… otherwise I shall have to sell my body or my kidney, whichever will fetch a higher price!