I was walking home from Tesco the other night when I heard a wile commotion, as they say around these parts.
Turning down my music, I looked around to see about half a dozen cars driving in a line, blaring their horns wildly as they proceeded to do a lap of the car park. The first car was pulling a trailer containing two decidedly unhappy looking creatures only vaguely recognisable as human beings underneath their coating of flour, eggs, ketchup, and other random gunk. Their kidnappers, on the other hand, were grinning gleefully and cheering like lunatics out of their nice, clean car windows.
I stood and watched them until they completed their tour of the car park (during which most shoppers paused, looked, and either smiled or gave a cheer).
Just your average evening in Ballymena.
It occurred to me that this may not be normal in other areas of the world, as I haven’t actually seen it done anywhere else but here. A bit of Google-based research today has introduced me to a Scottish custom called “blackening of the bride”, which seems similar, so I imagine it’s a tradition stemming from our Scottish heritage.
Honestly, it never really struck me as odd, when I was growing up. You’d hear the horns blaring in the street, and Mum would say “Oh – somebody must be getting married!”, and that was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the gloop-covered couple that would then go past, trussed up like sad chickens in a trailer, with a load of cars honking their horns. I don’t think I ever stopped and went “Hang on… what?!” until I saw it for the first time since my return from living abroad for several years.
Anyway, although I’ve never taken part in this cultural oddity, I’ve seen it many, many times. This is what happens.
Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they fall in love, get engaged, how lovely. The wedding is planned, the date is set, the hen and stag (bachelor) parties take place.
And then, shortly before the big day, their friends kidnap them, tie them up, pelt them with eggs, tip bags of flour over their heads, take turns at pouring buckets and basins of disgusting concoctions on them (anything from sour milk to expired food products to manure), then put them into a trailer hitched to a car and parade them around the town while blaring their horns constantly and cheering out of the windows.
They used to then tie them to a lamppost and leave them stranded there, although I haven’t seen an unfortunate, shivering, gunk-covered couple tied up and abandoned in recent years, so maybe they’ve stopped that part of the ritual.
Click the link below for a video of my friend’s sister and her soon-to-be-husband “gettin’ done” last night.
I suppose it’s only when you step out of the world you grew up in and then return to it after a few years that you stop and actually question this type of behaviour. I can find no explanation for it online, and anyone I ask looks baffled and eventually answers my “but WHY?!” with “I don’t know, actually.”. I’ve just interviewed my parents about the matter, and you could see them thinking about it and realising that it is in fact extremely weird.
“They did it to me,” said Dad, “threw stuff over me and left me tied to a lamppost.”
He doesn’t know why.
Mum somehow escaped this ordeal but knows someone who was a mechanic who was the best car best jump starter you’ve ever seen. Had grease and oil poured over him, which wouldn’t wash out and subsequently ruined all his wedding photos.
She doesn’t know why.
There doesn’t even seem to be a name for it, other than “gettin’ done”.
It’s yet another reason against ever getting married, in any case.
Pictures courtesy of my friend Norma, whose sister’s “doin'” it is.
Video courtesy of David McLean Photography.