As I said to my sister-in-law on our way home early Sunday morning, I never realised that I was nothing more than a wide-eyed and innocent child, lost and oblivious in the deep dark woods of human depravity, completely ignorant of the poisonous mushrooms of sin and the prowling wolves of perversion all around me.
Or at least I said something like that, but you must understand I had just finished about a half-pint of Fisherman’s Friend-flavoured vodka, so it might have actually sounded more like “ashu bwa, mrmfrm musha, ha ha ha ha burp ha ha.”
This weekend, you see, I was honoured with an invitation to the wedding of a man who shall, for the purposes of Internet publication, be identified only as the Groom. I have likewise disguised the names of the other main players, although to say this is to protect the innocent is, as you will come to realise, a misphrasing of colossal proportions.
The hero of our tale is, of course, the blushing groom. My relationship with this fellow stretches the bounds of “friend of a friend” to the absolute limit, but he is a Hell of a nice bloke for somebody I barely know. My wife’s uncle (the youngest prince in an earlier fable on this blog) plays host to this bloke and other friends from time to time, with car-fixing and other technical stuff on the agenda, and it was through my uncle-in-law that the Groom discovered my modest bagpiping ability. For a while he was shy about contacting me, worried as he was that I would insist, in my mean and nasty way, on speaking English. When he discovered that I was capable of communication in Finnish, the Groom phoned me and made a booking. Up until the day before the wedding, I thought he was one of the other guys who hung out at my uncle-in-law’s place. But that’s another (hilarious) story. Turns out, I’d put the wrong face to the name. I guess it wasn’t so hilarious after all.
What is a good hero without his leading lady? I don’t know if I’d ever met this lass before, but knowing people is not a prerequisite for playing bagpipes in their vicinity. A very nice young lady, but if you have recently had your nipples pierced and she comes at you with a ping-pong bat, be afraid. Be very, very afraid. This disturbingly-specific piece of advice will make more sense later.
Big Little Brother
The Groom’s little brother, a nine-foot-tall dude in suspenders, was a definite ray of sunshine at this wedding. He was, to further extend my introductory metaphor, a hearty smiling woodcutter brandishing a shiny axe of bullshit negation. Big Little Brother wins Best Speech award for his masterpiece, “You always used to tease me when I was little, and you’re still a prick. Congratulations.”
This poor, dear old lady comes a very close second in the Best Speech award, for describing her son as “tämä iso vittulainen” (roughly “this big cunt here”). She was an extremely cheerful old boiler with a ciggie in one hand and a bottle in the other – I think my sister-in-law and I were the only people at the party who weren’t smoking – but her cheerful, open-minded demeanour started to fall apart as the night progressed and the depravity continued to darken. She ended up hiding at the bar with my sister-in-law and I, as the sounds of whips, screams, clinking chains and laughter grew louder in the party hall.
Tattoo Artist Guy
This escapee from the Jim Beam Distillery maximum-security wing for the Alcoholically Insane wins Pissiest Pants on Ground by a clear body-length. His pants were so pissy, he couldn’t even keep them on. I have to thank him for unconsciously buying me a massive number of drinks, and offering me another piping gig, even if he had the information-retaining ability of a half-chewed piece of bacon. He was another constant companion of ours at the bar, no matter how hard we tried to get rid of him.
Big Giant Pervert Guy
This guy was, and presumably still is – I shit you not – spokesman for the Finnish Perversion Society. Or something like that. I’m pretty sure I talked to him earlier in the evening, before finding out who he was, after which I became too shitscared to even approach him. Apart from the nipple piercings (which he did himself, and also did for the Groom a few days earlier) and the studded black leather girdle, he apparently also had five piercings in his penis. I heard, from various sources, that using the sauna with him was a frightening experience, because his penis would go “clonk” whenever he sat down. This comes in at about #684 on my list of Reasons I Wouldn’t Want to Share a Sauna With Big Giant Pervert Guy.
Bar Dude was a recovering alcoholic, and the wedding planners must have had an all-night think-tank about where to put the poor fucker for the duration of the night. The wedding was held at the Groom and Bride’s house, the party hall was one of their big farm-style sheds, and one room of this was set aside for a bar. Once the complimentary beers and wine ran out, the bar opened for business, selling soft drinks, beers, ciders, and assorted whiskey and vodka shots (including the marvellous “Fisu”) for two euros a pop. Hopefully the Bride and Groom will be able to pay for their honeymoon with the proceeds. I’m proud to say I didn’t pay for a thing all night. Pipers – make a note of this – do not pay for shit.
Punchiest on Ground goes to the Best Man, who started the evening as a jovial helpful sort of guy with only the best intentions at heart for his oldest friend, and ended the evening as a festering clump of directionless anger in an orange shirt. I don’t know what that was all about, but his transformation at about 1:30 in the morning was our cue to leave.
There was one at the wedding.
The bar situation was such that several people were running up tabs, and Frustrated Girlfriend was merrily running up her boyfriend’s tab for him. Romantic. Another commonly-seen face down at the Syväjoki bar. Or, indeed, commonly seen face-down at the Syväjoki bar.
On the understanding that she would drive us there and home again, and help out behind the bar for a few hours as well, on top of her many-years acquaintanceship with the Groom via her uncle (are you keeping up? This really is pretty simple, as far as my in-laws go), my sister-in-law also scored an invitation to the wedding event of the decade. She has to win some sort of award in this report, simply for getting through the whole night practically without alcoholic enhancement. I know the only way I got through it was with generous doses of Minttu, Fisu, and allied inebriating agents.
I think it’s a rule that every party needs one of these. It’s just really funny when the party also features a bagpiper.
So, with the main cast duly described, let us continue.
Things didn’t get off to a great start. The map directions included in the invitation were shithouse, and we drove almost 80km to get to Syväjoki, which was in fact less than 40km away. We ended up being pretty late, but that was fine because everything was late and the wedding hadn’t kicked off yet. As the old saying goes, a bagpiper is never late, nor is he early. He’s just a noisy cunt at any time of the day.
I knew this wedding was going to be a little bit unusual when the Groom came over a couple of days beforehand and explained a bit about what was going to happen. He said the dress scheme was pretty casual, and that he himself would be wearing a bright orange suit. I thought he was joking, but apparently not. Groom, Best Man and assorted close friends of the bridal party were all wearing prison outfits, and the decorations had a sort of orange theme. It was actually pretty cool.
My second clue was when I marched into the wedding hall and played my piece. I was intended to be a surprise, and I guess I was that. Only the groom and my sister-in-law (and my aunt- and uncle-in-law, who were attending as guests and knew about my unfortunate habit of ruining parties) knew I was going to be playing. So I marched in and played, while the Bride got down on her knees and attached a ball and chain to the Groom’s ankle, which he then wore for the rest of the night. I also apparently missed the part where the priest said “you may kiss the bride” and then kissed the Bride, rather than letting the Groom do it. Also, the party hall was full of chains, hooks, cages, and crucifixes with studded leather straps on. My spidey-sense started tingling, even as I ran the classic spiel of “Highland Cathedral” into “Scotland the Brave.” I was going to go with “Amazing Grace”, and later events would prove my instincts to be right on the ball, but decided against it on the grounds that it was a funeral tune.
I was, incidentally, one of only three people in a suit. Everybody else was in jeans, T-shirts, leather jackets, and so on. One of the other guys in a suit was this little Asian bloke, who I never quite managed to talk to all night – but I’ve never seen anybody quite so out-of-place. Not wishing to stoop to stereotypes, but he looked like he’d wandered away from his tour group and ended up lost in Syväjoki somehow, where mobile phone service was patchy at best, thus preventing him from calling for help. On the other hand, this was the first party I’d been to in years where nobody even mentioned the fact that I had long hair. This was mainly because most of the other guys had long hair too. Or mohawks. It was quite refreshing.
After my first set, I was standing in line to congratulate the Bride and Groom (I noticed at this time that congratulating the Groom involved getting one’s ass fondled, regardless of one’s gender), and had the distinct misfortune of standing behind the Music Critic. He told me, in extremely slurred Finnish, that my tune had been crappy, and the composer had been shithouse, but it hadn’t sounded all that bad, and hopefully I knew other tunes. I assured him I knew a lot more tunes, and he might even live to hear some of them if he shut the fuck up immediately. My uncle-in-law later explained that the Music Critic was a twat, which I had more or less figured out for myself, and that he’d destroyed his brain by sniffing and drinking petroleum byproducts, which I was really only minutes from figuring out as well.
I got a cordial handshake from the Groom, then a sneaky spanking when I turned my back. I obviously looked crestfallen that I had been the only person not to get his or her ass fondled.
There were a few short, sweet speeches (Big Little Brother carried the day with a sixteen-word shiner) and dinner was served. It was freaking excellent, and not spoiled in the slightest (and I say this, at least, without sarcasm) by the fact that the meat course was a spit-roast pig, thus preventing me from having any. The meal was great, and after two heaping platefuls of potato wedges and pepper sauce, washed down with several free beers, I was absolutely stuffed. As a consequence, my second set was pretty shithouse, but nobody seemed to mind.
My uncle-in-law was amazed to see a very rare breed of butterfly near the entrance to the party hall during dinner, and told us that it was the largest butterfly species in Finland, and extremely endangered. We watched it flap around at ground-level, bonk into walls and generally get underfoot, and agreed that there was a damn good reason it was endangered, and that was because it was a great big dumbass. Then, after we managed to guide the first butterfly to safety at my uncle-in-law’s insistence, a second one flapped across the yard, and we concluded that they couldn’t be that rare after all.
After this ecologically and statistically sound agreement, we went back to attempting to figure out who would be the first person to vomit, pass out, or get in a fight. Unlike the butterfly conundrum, this question wasn’t so easy to answer. Usually, at parties, there’s a clear leader in such things, but in this case, it seemed like practically everybody was in with a chance. It was just too close to call.
Then, something happened that has now become quite familiar to me, and restored a little of my equilibrium after the prison overalls and the weird sleazy priest with the Leningrad Cowboys hairdo. The Bride was kidnapped. She was picked up by Big Little Brother, and driven away into the distance by the priest, in some sort of clapped-out old Ford. Jokes abounded concerning the Ford’s usefulness as a getaway vehicle, and how the Groom could catch up with the kidnappers if he just ran a bit, and how the Bride would soon be back, behind the Ford, pushing the Ford, which had shat itself two kilometres out. Repartee, in short, sparkled.
Then the games began. These, too, should be more or less familiar to the discerning attendee of Finnish weddings. The idea is to get the groom to do various things in order to get his wife back, such as build castles out of empty beer cans, or sing a song in front of the audience, or … get into a cage … and get … spanked … by a leather-clad Dominatrix.
Yes, the comforting feeling of familiarity faded quite sharply at that point. I decided I needed more alcohol, and applied myself diligently to finishing an entire carton of Blue Nun. Preferably before the Groom was set his next task which could, for all I knew, involve a donkey.
Anyway, I’m fairly sure the Bride was returned in good order. At about this point, my Sister-in-law went for her first stint as official barmaid, and after mingling for a while without much success, I opted to join her, and at least provide a semi-sympathetic presence in the bar area so she wouldn’t get too freaked out. I’m just nice like that. Also, plenty of people bought me drinks, either intentionally or otherwise, and I soon had a nice stash built up.
Bar Dude had explained the system by the time I arrived – everything costs two euros, there are a few people with running tabs, some other people have their own drinks in the fridge, the shot measuring cup needs to be wiped clean with toilet paper after each shot of Fisu poured … you know, typical five-star hotel stuff. Fisu, by the way, is vodka with a bunch of Fisherman’s Friend throat lozenges dissolved into it. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do so. An excellent way to make shit vodka drinkable.
It was also at about this point that I first met Tattoo Artist Guy. He was swaying gently back and forth in front of the bar, and having trouble maintaining eye coordination and facial expressions. He also had no idea what language I was speaking, what language *he* should be speaking, what my relationship with my Sister-in-law was, where I was from, and a great many other things. And he didn’t just have trouble with these things, he had persistent trouble. I explained that I was from Australia and that I spoke both English and Finnish, and that my Sister-in-law was my wife’s sister. This somehow got turned around in his mind so that I was from Iceland, and my Sister-in-law was in fact my girlfriend. Which was briefly awkward, since I don’t know much about Iceland.
He told me that he was getting married next summer, and asked if I could play the pipes at his wedding. I was tempted to say that if he was getting married, I could arrange an entire pipe band to play at the ceremony, composed entirely out of monkeys that had just flown out of my butt, but Tattoo Artist Guy was already confused enough. He asked me where I was from, and seemed amazed when I answered in Finnish. Then he pointed at my Sister-in-law and said, in an eerily-passable Australian accent, “she’s your girlfriend, eh?”
Amidst our many hilarious hours spent at the bar, things were rapidly degenerating in the main party hall. I went out to look for more free alcohol when I heard punch was being served, and noticed as I did so that Big Giant Pervert Guy, previously seen only from afar, had stripped down to a sort of pants-and-girdle combo, and the Dominatrix was back, with a whip. I returned hurriedly to my place of safety.
Tattoo Artist Guy (I noticed the ink stains on his hands, and asked him if he learned to tattoo on pig skin the way I’ve heard it’s done, but he told me no, he learned to tattoo by tattooing himself, and also some of his friends) asked me where I was from, and whether I would be able to play pipes at his wedding next summer.
Then, in between sets by a band – really a very good band, actually, I can’t recall what they were called but they’re already making a name for themselves and are worth listening to – things really began to get weird. There were several more S&M-style performances of increasing lewdness, by the Dominatrix and the Big Giant Pervert Guy and the Bride and Groom. There was dancing, and garter removal, and in between all of this everybody got steadily drunker. I returned to the bar and had the distinct pleasure of talking to the Music Critic again.
This time, he was of the opinion that I should have played “you know, that song, they always play it in American movies, when the army guy dies and they have the funeral and they fold up the flag and give it to the wife and there’s guns firing and stuff, you probably don’t know it.”
I told him the tune was probably “Amazing Grace”, and in fact I did know it, and I had in fact played it during my second set. He couldn’t remember that far back, of course, but still seemed doubtful that I knew it. I hummed him a few bars, and that shut him up on the subject of American army funeral movie songs, at least. Sadly, he started to talk about Australia next, as specifically relates to Foster’s and Crocodile Dundee. He told me that he’d started to drink Foster’s a few years back, and that he really liked it. I told him that Foster’s was not, as such, Australian for beer, and the beer itself was made in England and bottled in Scotland, and no Australian worth a damn would ever drink the stuff, and the whole thing was a cynical marketing ploy, and he had been drinking English soccer hooligan piss for the past three years under the misconception that it was some sort of exotic Aussie booze. He was a bit deflated on hearing this newsflash, but he probably should have thought about that before telling me “Highland Cathedral” and “Scotland the Brave” were shithouse tunes written by lousy composers. The twat.
He also wanted to know if Crocodile Dundee was a real person, and several people standing at the bar laughed at my series of facial expressions as I tried to decide which smartass answer to give him.
At about eleven o’clock, Bar Dude snapped. As a recovering alcoholic, he had been put in the worst possible place, and he realised that if he didn’t get out of there, the one or two little drinks he’d been taking would turn into bottles, and he’d find himself back in the wagon-ruts. So he ran away, leaving my Sister-in-law in charge of the bar. With me as Associate Junior Vice President in charge of Marketing (Fisu branch). It worked out very well.
Frustrated Girlfriend, in between racking up a huge bar tab, managed to strap her boyfriend onto the Wheel of Pain, and on one of my hourly punch-runs I was amused to hear her whipping him and shouting “When are we getting married? Name the day! Give me a day!” while the guy squealed like a pig. That was just funny. Especially when he started, “the year nine thousand and-” and she whopped him in the balls with a riding crop. I don’t care what you have between your legs, that’s got to hurt.
Tattoo Artist Guy invited me yet again to play pipes at his wedding next summer, and I once again promised that I would definitely think about thinking about it, if the time came and I wasn’t on holiday in Australia – which, I stressed, I definitely would be. At the same time, I wondered who the fuck would be marrying this dude. Perhaps my uncharitable amazement was plain to see on my face, because Tattoo Artist Guy started a rambling explanation of his wife-to-be, and how they were getting married in a year’s time. He confided in me that he was having doubts, and wondered if maybe he was too young to get married. When we compared ages, and found out that he was two months older than I was, and I told him I’d been married for seven years, we concluded that he wasn’t too young to get married – although he was, in all likelihood, too much of a booze-fucked basket case.
The bar, as I’ve sort of attempted to explain, was built into a side-room off the main party shed, and it was packed with a lot of shed-style stuff, like old lawnmowers and furniture and things. When the Best Man stumbled into the piles of junk, rummaged for a while, and produced a huge metal-edged plank of wood and carried it purposefully back outside, we decided it was time to steal as much booze as we could from the bar and leave before … well, I was going to say “before things turned ugly”, but we were a bit too late for that. I played my third and final set, just to clear the way to the main doors, and we bolted.
All in all, a fascinating experience. I’d volunteer to play at their next anniversary, but I don’t think Janica would let me.
DISCLAIMER #1: At no point should it be assumed that any of this is even slightly normal for Finnish weddings. The bride kidnapping and removal of garter with teeth, yes, okay, those are normal. But the rest is weird.
DISCLAIMER #2: Some people have had their faces censored in the following pictures, out of respect for their privacy. I used my own judgement concerning this, since these people seemed to be professionals. And I really don’t want them mad at me.