THANK YOU VERY MUCH

I Love You for a Hundred Thousand Reasons

Wednesday

1986. Twenty years. Now that's a long time. What was I doing exactly twenty years ago today? The memory is a bit hazy now but it was a Saturday, and the wedding wasn't until 4pm so that the reception coincided with my brother's meal time schedule (on account of his diabetes). It was a long day waiting.

I have some recollection of a chair shortage at the Number 10 club, RAF Valley, where we were having our wedding reception. My mother used her village contacts and we collected twenty chairs from Caergeiliog's village hall. At least all the running about delivering chairs made the day go a little quicker.

I didn't at all feel nervous or apprehensive nor did I have any doubts that I was doing the right thing. It just felt right with Julie from the day we met, or at least the day we became a couple.

I remember it well. Plas Coch Social evening, Thursday, 12th December 1985.

Julie was a sweet sixteen with a mop of tightly permed hair but with it cut very short at the back. Quite a distinctive style. I remember thinking "wow, she's something else!". That night she only had eyes for me; and how they sparkled. "Wow, she likes me!" I also had a mop of curly permed hair, wore white jeans, drank malibu and orange by the pint and had the social skills of a feral child. Ah, them were the days but what the hell did she see in me!

We'd met much earlier as we attended the same school. I first met her when she was dating a friend of mine, who we nicknamed Quincy because he wanted to be a doctor. (He never did, but he did become my best man.) She later told me that she had been admiring me from afar for quite some time. She often tells the story of when she turned to her best friend Sonya and told her that she was going to marry me, and this was before we'd even met. She had me in her sights and I didn't stand a chance!

I hardly remember a thing of our wedding ceremony itself, other than the two of us kneeling down before the vicar as he went through the service. When he came to the line "Bless this marriage with children" I nudged Julie so much she almost fell over! Luckily the vicar didn't notice and he carried on to the end, pronouncing us man and wife. His parting words were "Please do not throw confetti in the churchyard and do not dance on the gravestones" or words to that effect.

Anyway, that was then and this is now.

Today, our Elvis wedding was booked for 4pm so we had the same long wait. Unlike 1986 however we had plenty to distract us with Vegas on our doorstep.

We actually didn't leave our room until 10:30am this morning. It was our first opportunity to just relax and not rush out into the day. We'd arranged to meet Hannah, Tim & Rory and walk over to the Mandalay to try their Buffet breakfast, solely based on Dan's recommendation. I'm a sucker for a decent help-yourself-to-eat-as-much-as-you-can buffet. I always do quite literally eat as much as I physically can, and then some more.

This morning we couldn't have timed it any better. We'd arrived on the cusp so to speak. The breakfasts were coming to an end, in readiness for lunch.

So for only for £10.95 we sat down for breakfast, and by the time I had cleared my plate of scrambled egg, fried shredded potatoes and eggy bread they were placing out their lunch selection. I did try my best not to seem too eager and waited at least three minutes before getting up for my second plateful, this time consisting of spinach & ricotta cannelloni, a large slice of pizza, and a bowl of fresh tomato & mozzarella salad.

My gluttony didn't stop there because there's always room for pudding! I'm sure that it could be scientifically proven that I do have multiple stomachs similar to the digestive system of a cow . I certainly have a pudding stomach, a beer stomach and one highly refined pizza stomach.

I probably ate more this morning than I'd ever done before in one sitting. Even more that when I won a pie eating challenge in 1991!

Rory also did eat his body weight in pork sausages but he was more interested in bashing the table with spoons and then launching them like grenades towards passers by.

Waddling back towards the Excalibur Julie and I stopped to take Rory into the King Tutankhamen's museum at the Luxor. We were quite disappointed as to how small the exhibition was.

The main feature was a reconstruction of King Tut's tomb behind a thick glass wall to give the impression that it was real!

In true Vegas style it was billed as an "authentic reproduction". "Relive Howard Carter's moment of discovery"!

They did have some genuine exhibits along the outside wall but the British Museum's Egyptology room it was not!

I have had the good fortune of seeing the real Tutankhamen sarcophagus in Cairo, (although the famous death mask was away at the time).

I certainly didn't expect Vegas to compete on authenticity but I did perhaps expected greater entertainment.

We hardly spent 5 minutes in there, and for $10 each it wasn't value for money.

It was 2pm by the time we reached our room so we only had 90 minutes to get ready for our limo pick-up.

Julie dived into the bathroom and emerged 30 minutes later looking truly lovely, radiant and brimming with excitement. Then followed the sequence of costume changes, each followed by the question that all men can not answer. "Which do you think I should wear?"

My costume change was much more straightforward, I had already chosen. I'd always wanted to get married in my jeans so I was wearing my favourite comfy pair, complete with a rebellious hole over the right knee.

When we met Hannah and Tim outside their room we had a nice surprise for Julie. Rory was sharply dressed in a suit, one that Julie had ordered over the internet but thought hadn't arrived in time. Unfortunately he wasn't able to strut down the runway for us as he was fast asleep in his pushchair.

Hannah looked a million dollars but she was concerned that she looked a bit "Jessica Rabbit" in her red dress. She certainly looked very Vegas.

We walked outside tower II where a stretched white limo was waiting for us.

Rory was still fast asleep and we were just about to lift him out of his pushchair when the chauffer said "Leave him in the stroller. Just lift him in." To our surprise we all got in and there was even room for more.

I'd never been in a limo before. It certainly gave you the feel of luxury even if it was hardly anything more than an expensive taxi.

We arrived at Gracelands chapel feeling like stars. A sign outside proudly declared that Jon Bon Jovi got married here.

Before the ceremony we had to go through the formalities of confirming our names, (for the purpose of our renewal certificate; they didn't want any spelling mistakes!).

We then had to chose a style of T-shirt we wanted for our carry-out pack which also had a blue garter and two engraved 'Gracelands' champagne flutes. It certainly didn't let us down on the wonderful tackiness that we had expected!

Julie was then handed a bouquet of fresh lilac flowers which immediately changed the whole ambience. "These are gorgeous. They're better than what I had for our real wedding!"

They weren't fake silk or plastic but real. I could see in Julie's eyes a realisation that whilst this was going to be fun and a bloody good laugh it was also a genuine and sincere moment. And so it proved to be.

We stepped inside the chapel. It was only small, with perhaps 5 rows of pews deep. Elvis stood at the end welcoming us and explained what was going to take place. Hannah, Tim and a still fast asleep Rory sat in the first row for the performance as Julie and Elvis returned to the entrance. The only other person in the room was a photographer who also operated the video camera and the CD player. Cue music.

Elvis began to sing. "Wise men say; only fools rush in". I turned around to see him walking Julie arm in arm down the aisle. She was half laughing half crying. The whole scenario was both hilarious and emotional in equal measures. It was quite a strange mix.

We repeated vows which were probably copied from some sugary Anniversary Card but despite being very soppy they felt right.

We then repeated some special "Elvis" vows.

"I Colin" … which I repeated in my best American accent.

"promise never to leave you at Heartbreak Hotel" ... and so on it went.

Then it was Julie's turn. "I Julie" … "promise to love you tender" ... "and never return you to sender"

But instead of just repeating she changed the words and said "and never return you to your mother" It was so funny! (Ok, perhaps it was one of those you had to be there moments!)

Elvis then ripped into a rendition of Viva Las Vegas and we all joined in. (Almost a year later we saw who we affectionally call "our Elvis" on the BBC performing in the World's Greatest Elvis competition. His name is Brendan Paul.)

Rory remained fast asleep!

We had several photos taken with Elvis before he left the building, then a few more photos on our own.

We didn't have to endure a marathon photo shoot as we mercifully completed our photograph quota just as our cheeks were begining to ache and the smiles were starting to wane.

So that was that. We were now husband and wife all over again. And what a fantastic fun way to have celebrated the millstone, I mean milestone!

Twenty years, that's 7,305 days. Not every one a winner but the vast majority of them have been wonderful. Some of them have even reached heights that most people can only dream of.

What I am most grateful for is that from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep, I feel loved.

I look at my life with great contentment (for what I have) and excitement (for the future). I look at my family with the deepest joy and happiness.

Roll on the next twenty years!

When I had originally booked the wedding I had planned on serenading Julie with an Elvis love song but it never quite materialised. It went a little like this ...

"I love you for a hundred thousand reasons but most of all I love you because you're you."

Thank you very much ... uh hu hu.

Our limo took us back to the Excalibur where they took a still fast asleep Rory up to their room and we headed to the bar for two marguerites.

"Do you think we should let them get married?" Julie asked.

"Who? Oh... Hannah and Tim. Um .. Yes" I didn't have to say any more. She had already made her mind up and was just seeking my agreement.

Within a minute an excited Julie had found the nearest phone and rang their room. Hannah and Tim were absolutely elated and we felt so very very happy for them.

They immediately came down to join us at the bar to thank us. We all couldn't stop smiling. It was a great feel-good moment. Even Julie's "Hurt her and we'll break your legs" didn't dampen the moment!

When we left the Excalibur, an hour later, Julie and I were on our way to the Bellagio for one night of luxury whilst the three musketeers were on a mission to find the County Hall and obtain a marriage licence for $55.

From the moment we stepped inside the 5 star luxurious hotel we felt special.

The lobby was brightly decorated by a spectacular glass floral ceiling. Despite the extraordinary $1 million price tag and the fact it reminded us of our trip last year to Murano, we found it a bit too garish.

Class and taste do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Having checked-in we went in search of our room, first strolling through the hotel's Atrium which resembled an autumnal fantasy world that would not have been out of place in the Wizard of Oz.

Having recovered from what must have been a bad acid trip we continued to stroll towards the Spa Towers passing several stores, one that stuck in the mind because it had an enormous chocolate fountain in perpetual flow. Also continuing the fluid theme was a bar and restaurant which had for its frontage a wall of water.

Before long we began to doubt the directions given to us as we had walked quite a distance, pulling our overnight suitcase in tow. It would have been useful if we had been supplied with a map, or possibly even our own sherpa guide.

Eventually we stepped inside the elevators, which could easily be described as 'sumptuous' and we ascended gracefully to the 26th floor. We walked down a long corridor towards our room with the anticipation rising with every step. Class and quality without necessarily being tasteful had been the theme so far so we couldn't wait to open the door to our home for the night.

I turned the key and in unison we let out a sigh of pleasure, falling into synchronised rapture.

It was perfect; both palatial and homely; stylish and comfortable, richly decorated yet subtle and warm. We jumped onto the fabulous large bed and beamed like Chesire Cats.

Whilst Julie read the room service menu I sat there with the remote control opening and closing the curtains! Like a kid with a new toy it kept me quiet for ages! "Swish (open) … swish (shut) "

We could tell that we were in a classier establishment when Julie read that similar to dressing gowns, if you like them you can buy them, (usually to encourage you not to steal them!) here at the Bellagio if you liked the bed you could buy it!

Julie was settling in for the evening "What are we doing tonight?" she asked

She continued by putting forward a strong argument for making the most of the room but even the lure of watching the first episode of Lost series 3 wasn't enough. I had other ideas.

"Uh, I don't mind what we do" I said, but with twenty years of experience of reading into what I don't say Julie knew that I had my own plans.

"We'll check out the different menus and decide later" she suggested.

We returned down the casino floor and made a b-line for Circo, gave the menu a cursory glance and immediately booked the next available table!

Getting your own way is a wonderful feeling. Knowing that Julie knew that I was getting my own way and found it endearing was an even better feeling.

We had over a two hour wait for our table so we went outside to take another look at the fountains. The waterworks didn't have the same impact today, Frank Sinatra singing "Luck Be A Lady" was nowhere near as emotionally charged as Bocelli singing good bye.

We stood there looking across the lake towards Circo wondering what to do for the next hour and fifty minutes.

We decided against running around the strip and returned inside to find a bar to relax.

The casino wasn't too busy; there were plenty of empty tables. We hadn't gambled so far during our visit (except for a few dollars in a slot) and briefly thought about breaking our self-denial on the strangely beige baize of the Bellagio tables. I don't know why we didn't. It may have been the fear of the unknown, the fear of making right tits of ourselves or the fear of throwing our money away on the turn of a card perhaps. It certainly wasn't a moment of virtuous piety; it's just that gambling doesn't get the adrenalin pumping as it seems to for so many others.

We stopped at what they called the Baccarat Bar for a drink, which was served to us by one of Robert Palmer's backing dancers. She had legs up to her armpits and a skirt as short as face flannel. She may have had catwalk credentials but she didn't smile once which is a particularly ugly trait.

After popping up to the room quickly to swap Julie's shoes from heels to flatties we had another round of drinks. We were served this time by the complete opposite of the "Addicted To Love" girl. She was half the height, twice the girth, and had the whole buxom wench package bursting out of her ill-fitting dress. She looked wrong but was an exceptionally cheerful waitress with a genuine big smile.

When it was time to move to the restaurant we paid our bill, which was surprisingly cheap, so we left a good 33% tip.

Back across the casino floor we returned to Circo. Having announced our arrival we were shown to their waiting area where we teetered on bar stools sipping our Pinot Grigio. Within minutes our table was ready and we climbed down off our perches much to Julie's relief as she doesn't do "perching" very well.

Reading the menu my eyes instantly fixed on the words "White Truffle D'Alba".

Try as I might to run a good look over the rest of the menu I just kept on returning to the truffles. The price was absolutely ludicrous at $65 for a starter or $90 for a main course Risotto. How could I justify it?

Julie noticed my quandary and suggested a solution. "You have the starter, and I'll skip."

"Really?"

"Yes, go for it. I'll enjoy watching you eat more that actually eating my own."

The waiter arrived and was more excited than I was when I ordered the White Truffle D'Alba Risotto. "Oh, very good choice, do enjoy" he said, almost sighing with envy, "sir, you are in for a treat."

When it arrived I couldn't wait to get stuck in. Julie reminded me however that I whilst I'm capable of gulping down the whole dish in 45 seconds flat, it may perhaps be better to take it slower and savour each $2 mouthful! Wise words.

The first spoonful was placed carefully in my mouth and then moved slowly around clockwise covering my taste buds in a delicate creamy texture. Then breathing gradually in through my nostrils, and swallowing nothing but the air I'd inhaled, laced with the stunning fragrance of the white truffles, it sent my head spinning into a higher plane. Then finally it was time to swallow and it were as if I didn't want to say goodbye as the perfectly cooked rice slid down coating my throat in glorious comfort.

"Oh my God, that was just beautiful"

I took as much care and attention with every single spoonful and when I scooped up the last delectable bundle of rice I so wished that I had ordered it as a main course. It was possibly the best culinary pleasure that I had ever experienced.

Obviously the bowl of tagliatelle and tomato sauce that followed could only have been an anti-climax, and so it proved. The soggy overcooked pasta was possibly my fault as I took so long to eat my starter. But even the espresso coffee I had to finish the meal lacked any pizzazz.

When the waiter came to ask if we wanted to see the desert menu I wondered if I could get away with ordering a truffle risotto for pudding! It wasn't all down hill however as Julie really enjoyed her Chicken and Potato, and when it came to paying the $180 for the meal I didn't feel at all cheated such was the intensity of the white truffle.

We left Circo and made our way back to the Bacarat Bar. It wasn't an enclosed room it was just a raised platform on the casino floor. We stepped up to see that all the seats were taken so we stepped back down and moved on towards the next bar. That one seemed even busier with people waiting to be seated, so we returned back to the Bacarat. We stepped up again, and this waitress came rushing over. "Hey, we're you guys here earlier" she said. We nodded, a little confused. "There was a problem with an unpaid check" she said accusingly. "Oh, uh … OK"

We were marched to a seat straight away and sat down. It felt as if we were about to be interrogated. The same waitress who served us earlier arrived, the smiley one, and we immediately capitulated, confessing to everything before we were tortured. Although I'm sure some people would have paid good money for that!

She returned to the bar and we could see her discussing with the other waitresses what punishment we should receive. When she came back she leant over and said quietly "Don't worry about it" then winked, "the house will take the tab". That was so unexpected. Hooray! Cheers!

We sat there for a good half hour talking to a couple from Tennessee. He enthused about Jack Daniels and she wittered on about all sorts. We mentioned that we were going to see Elton John on Friday and they told us that they'd been earlier in the week. Despite not really being Elton fans they said that the show was superb and well worth it.

Before long I closed my eyes briefly, just to rest them, but I couldn't reopen them! "What time is it?" I asked. Julie showed me her clock face but I was too shit faced to work it out.

"Time for bed, I think" and so it was.

Thursday >>> ©Copyright Colin Owen 2006

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