Tripod or No Tripod?

In this article, I want to discuss the question: tripod or no tripod?  Should I use a tripod for photography?  The above picture is what happens when you don’t use a tripod on a long exposure.

“A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you.”
– Brigitte Bardot

Tripods are a three legged stand that you can attach your camera to, so it stays put on the tripod.  They are very useful for a range of photography and video situations.  I’ve done several Youtube videos that wouldn’t have been possible without a tripod, because they stray from my usual camera setup, but I rarely use the tripod for photography.  Should I use my tripod more?  It got me thinking about when is an appropriate situation to use a tripod, and when they’re just a faff.  Here I want to share my thoughts about when it’s a good idea to use a tripod, and when it’s better to not bother.  Add your own thoughts in the comments!

Pro’s of using a tripod:

1. They steady the camera.
If getting those horizontal and vertical lines is a challenge for you, then the spirit level on your tripod can be a fantastic tool, because you can just adjust the legs until you get a perfectly level picture.  A lot of lenses these days have image stabilization but nothing beats a good tripod.  I’ve said it before, but if you know how to take a good picture first time, it saves a lot of lost opportunities.
2. Your hands don’t get tired.
Holding a camera in an awkward position while you wait for the subject to get arranged can really tire your hands out – and hand shake is the enemy of a good picture.
3. Essential for longer exposures e.g. astrophotography.
You literally cannot hold a camera still enough to get 30 second photos of space, unless you don’t have a heartbeat.
4. You can spend more time setting up the shot to make sure it’s perfect.
If your camera has a movable viewfinder, you can leave the camera in place and check whether everything you’ve arranged is in-shot.
5. You can learn how to compose the perfect shot.
This will probably improve the quality of your future pictures.  Pictures taken with tripods tend to come out either very static or very dynamic.  There’s no way to really compose the perfect dynamic shot (e.g. sports pictures) because the subject is generally moving independently of the photographer’s control, but for static shots, having a tripod can help you practise framing and using different focus techniques (for example) on the exact same shot to see what works and what doesn’t.
6. You can use the 10 second (or longer) self timer
This enables people to take pictures, and get a good shot without needing anyone to hold the camera, e.g. for family portraits.

Con’s of using a tripod:

1. They add weight to your setup.  Especially the ones that extend enough for you to stand up straight whilst using them – when you add a dolly (wheels) you’re looking at even more weight, and soon you’re going to need a trolley to cart it all around.  There’s a reason cameramen tend to have very strong arms!
2. They add money to your photography expenses.  Granted, you can pick up a tripod for pretty cheap on Amazon, but it’s still another thing to pay for, on top of all the other things you’ve already paid for, and some people simply don’t have the money for a tripod.
3. The ones for outdoor shots tend to be bulky.  The flimsy cheap ones can blow over easily (or get knocked over) if you’re not careful because they’re too top-heavy; would you risk a $1000 (often significantly more) camera and lens combo on a $20 badly made tripod?
4. You can get lazy in your composition
This comes from not snapping pictures whilst holding the camera, and it can lead to poorer quality pictures without the tripod.  Some pro-tripod people don’t even believe it’s possible to get good pictures without using a tripod!

Conclusion:

I have just one tripod, a medium sized one of moderately good build, but I think there’s a time and a place for using it – I generally use it in my house or for astrophotography, as I said.  When it warms up, I’ll start using it for infrared photography as well.  I’ve never taken it up a mountain with me and I’m not sure I ever would (although who knows what the future holds).  I’d like to play around with it more, but the weight is off putting because my camera setup is already fairly hefty.

What do you think?  When do you use your tripod?  Are there any times when you would say it’s essential?

Two Unbelievable German Fairytale Castles.

By all accounts, Ludwig II was a mad king.  Of course, madness is subjective, but most people agree that it’s a bit off the wall to build yourself a fantastic fairytale castle, then spend your kingdom’s vast fortune to build another one across the way, just so you have something nice to look at from your own, fabulous castle.  It’s even more ridiculous to hear that Ludwig II married a girl, then moved her into the other castle.  I’m sure that made for interesting sex, sending a messenger on the forty minute walk to ask: “Your castle or mine?” Only to receive a reply, eighty minutes later: “Oh, not tonight darling, I have a headache.”  May as well save oneself the effort and grab a villager instead.  Perhaps this explains why Hohenschwangau castle (often mistakenly called Hohenschwanstein castle) was quite near to the village of Schwangau and Neuschwanstein castle was way off in the distance.  Old Mrs Ludwig II couldn’t exactly complain if she couldn’t see anything that her husband was doing.  Perhaps if Henry VIII had adopted this two-castles-on-two-mountainsides approach, he could have saved himself all the nuisance of having to dispose of unwanted wives after the warranty period.

But he didn’t think of it.

In Britain, we never really consider Henry VIII a mad king, perhaps because he knew which end the crown was supposed to go on, and didn’t roam Buckingham Palace in his nightwear, and anyway, when he was compared to Charles I (who was so despotic, he caused the only English civil war) or George III (who figuratively wore his underpants on his head), he gets a free pass.  I think it comes down to the fact that, historically, we have tended to respect the institution of marriage a little too much.  Henry VIII was married to each of the six women who he wronged, but that’s fine because he married them.  If, as a bachelor, he had treated just one of those women properly but not married her, that would have been a scandal.  But beheading two wives?  That was reasonable, because he was married to them at the time.  I think the other reason we don’t remember any of our kings as properly, truly mad (rather than just bloody stupid), is because we’ve never had a proper despot on the throne.  Add to that the fact that we still have a monarchy and the Germans don’t, and it’s perhaps easier to see why the Germans embrace the madness of their erstwhile monarchy and open it up for tourists to see at low low prices (Austria’s got the market pretty well cornered on this too, but I’ll come to that in another article).

Ludwig II is suggested to have schizotypal personality disorder for which there is evidence from his autopsy – he died in 1886 under highly mysterious circumstances the day after he was dethroned for extremely paranoid behavior.  Fascinatingly, he was claimed to have drowned and it was recorded as a suicide, but he was known to be a good swimmer and there was no water in his lungs.  Add to that the further mystery that his psychiatric doctor was with him at the time – and the doctor was found dead with head and neck wounds and markings concurrent with strangulation.

There are plenty of things in Germany which are spectacular, or ludicrous, or despotic, but nothing in Germany is quite as spectacularly, ludicrously, despotically fabulous as the twin castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.  We were so taken by them that we actually went to see them twice.

The drive was painful in both directions due to bad traffic around Munich.  We parked in Fussen for a breather and that was when we saw the first of the two castles.  I’ve been told by quite a few people that Schloss Hohenschwangau is supposed to be the best one, but Schloss Neuschwanstein was the first one I saw and it captured my imagination far more.  It was fit for a princess.  It looked like a Disney castle.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a castle that was quite so… well… castley.  If someone distilled pure essence of castle and made a castle out of it, Neuschwanstein would be the result.  This castle belonged to every Disney Princess who ever lived.

Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany; taken from Fussen.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein as seen from Schwangau.

We didn’t go inside either castle because (on the way to Salzburg) by the time we’d fought our way through traffic they were both closed for the day.  The same thing happened when we drove here on the way back from Rome, so I’ve not seen first-hand what they look like inside, but when they look like this from the outside, I can’t wait until we actually get to go in.  Photography is not allowed inside the castles.

Castle Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, August 2014.
Castle Hohenschwangau, aka Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, Taken August 2014.

The castles look even better in real life and I think they were well worth the  effort of driving here even though we didn’t go inside – I don’t think there’s anything like them to be found side-by-side like this anywhere else in the world.

Make it Happen:

There’s two parts to this – getting to Schwangau and then getting to the actual castles.  Once you’re in Schwangau the rest is pretty damn easy (as long as you DON’T mistakenly go to SCHWANAU which is 3 HOURS AWAY from where the fairytale castles are).

Getting to Schwangau:

  1. Fly to Munich airport then hire a car, accommodation is best in Fussen which also has a much better selection of restaurants and bars than Schwangau.
  2. Drive straight to Schwangau from your home address – this is what I did, it took two full driving days and one overnight stay in a layby in central Germany to get here after 5pm from the North of England.
  3. By public transport it’s really sketchy, which is why I never got here on my Interrail trip – basically Schwangau is a little bit remote and doesn’t have it’s own train station.  There is a direct train from Munich to Fussen which takes 2 hours 6 minutes, then you’re on your own to get to Schwangau (Google says it’s a 45 minute walk or a 12 minute cycle – so if you’re reasonably fit and mobile you can probably walk it in under 30 minutes; it wasn’t far at all by car), but if you’re willing to get a taxi this is another option from Fussen.  I can’t find bus info.

Getting to the Castles from Schwangau:

  1. Hohenschwangau is a very easy stroll from the centre of Schwangau.
  2. Neuschwanstein is slightly less accessible, you can take a 45 minute walk if you’re feeling sporty.
  3. The more common option to get to Neuschwanstein is to take the tourist buses (run by private companies) which costs about E2.60 there and back again.  I think there’s still some walking involved and the buses are unsuitable for disabled people due to the terrain between where the bus stops and getting into the castle.
  4. The most awesome option by far to get to Neuschwanstein is to take a horse drawn carriage, at E6 there and E3 back again.  There is a 15 minute uphill walk from where the carriage drops you off.  If you’re feeling especially fancy, you can also ride in a carriage to Hohenschwangau castle for E4.50 there and E2 back again.
  5. Entrance to the two castles on a twin ticket was 9am-6pm (summer) or 10am-4pm (winter) and cost E12 each or E23 for a combined ticket.  For more information click here.

Disabled, Wheelchair and Pushchair Access:
You can’t drive to the entrances, the closest parking is in Schwangau village centre which costs about E5, or there’s free parking even further down the hill in two large lay-bys. Neuschwanstein appears to sadly be generally unsuitable for wheelchair users or people with mobility-related disabilities due to its design (although some people have had success getting around, I think this has to be taken as the exception; if you’re planning a trip for a busload of pensioners, you’ll have to give Neuschwanstein a miss, but if you push your own wheelchair and you’ve got someone to help out on the hilly bits, you will be able to get around enough to see some of Neuschwanstein). Pushchairs can get to Neuschwanstein but if you’re not reasonably fit you will be utterly shattered afterwards.  If you have an invisible disability such as CFS or MS you may have extreme difficulty with Neuschwanstein because the bus queues are a lot of standing around waiting and the walk is hilly with no real breaks; if you’re having a low-energy day, I’d skip Neuschwanstein and go for Hohenschwangau instead.  Hohenschwangau on the other hand appears to be reasonably accessible if you can make it up the much gentler hill to the entrance (but if in doubt, double check this when you buy tickets, because everyone’s level of ability is different) and pushchairs are no problem at Hohenschwangau.  Everything I saw of both castles and Schwangau village was hills rather than steps.

For accommodation I strongly suggest you avoid the expensive hotels of Schwangau and instead stay in the beautiful large village of Fussen, as there is much more choice, it’s a bigger town and there’s lots of cheaper options and more amenities.  If arriving by train, staying in Fussen will also break up the journey a bit.  I found the absolute best selection of accommodation from Booking.com but do book early as it’s a popular but relatively undeveloped area, and when we were travelling to Schwangau/Fussen from Rome, I tried to book us a hotel for 2 days ahead but the cheapest options that were left started at 150 Euros which was out of my price range (this was September prices).  By contrast, there are currently options for mid-August available starting at £43 for two people, which is obviously a significant saving.  By comparison, for the same example date (12-13th August) hotels in Schwangau start at £93 per night for mid-August if you book now.

Has anyone else been to see these fabulous castles?  Let me know what you thought in the comments.

If you’re looking for more info on disabled access of major tourist destinations, I’ve also written about which parts of Rome were wheelchair accessible.

More info about ticketing etc here.

This article contains affiliate links, it doesn’t affect the prices you pay for anything, and if you choose to book accommodation from links on this page it just means I can buy food and petrol and all that lovely stuff (which gives me more time to write articles like this one).

The Old War Horse

Seven years ago, my ancient and wrecked bike was stolen.  I loved that bike, but couldn’t ride it more than 10 miles from my uni room because it was just so heavy and old.  It weighed about 30 kilos (60lbs) and I couldn’t lift it off both its wheels at the same time – one was hard enough – but I bought it for £17 in the University bike auction and I stripped it down and resprayed it pink and fixed its brakes and transmission (pull lever gear changer between the handlebars, no Shimano SIS here).  Then one night while I was sitting late in Borders drinking coffee and reading a good novel, some chavvy fucker stole it.  They were kind enough to leave the basket.  I walked around the city until 5am then I turned up at my friend’s house, crying my eyes out, absolutely devastated, and she made me coffee and shared her cigarettes with me.

The next morning, I did what I always want to do when I feel wronged by the universe (and what I’m trying to get out of the habit of):  I threw money at the problem and made it go away.  I walked into Halford’s and bought an icy pale blue, aluminium framed cycle which I’ve always affectionately thought of as my very own pony.

No, it’s definitely more of a horse.

Together, we charted new territory and planned to take on the world.  I rode 30 miles to avoid a house party and caught a train home.  No-one said anything – it was the last train home and there was no-one else on there.  We cycled all over the north of England and parts of Scotland and the midlands.  Over the summer between second and third year of university, I considered the day wasted when I didn’t get up at 3pm and cycle at least 10 miles.

My new bike seemed so unbelievably light and aerodynamic compared to my old one – I could actually lift it (it was heavy, but it was ok) and while it’s always had problems, I never really cared to fix them because I knew most of it was design flaws.  The bike cost £89 in 2008 money.  The cheapest aluminium bike on the market now is at least £130.

I modified it by putting on a luggage rack at the back and a basket on the front, so that I could carry camping equipment on it.

And it was pronounced “probably unsalvageable” on Thursday by the mechanics at my local bike repair place.  In the last 3 months I’ve had to get the brakes fixed twice, the seat needed replacing, all 4 brake pads have been replaced and a new brake cable, the chain and both inner tubes needed replacing, and now, all the spokes on the wheels are rusting and the front wheel rim is dented where I hit a pothole lately.

The front brakes haven’t really worked since I got it, and a quick adjustment always fixed that, but now they don’t fix, so I have to disconnect the front brake because it just gets stuck on, slowing my progress so I’m fighting my brakes to actually move forwards all the time.  On top of that, the gear chain cogs have worn the teeth down so much that on the most useful gears (in both sets of ratios), the chain slips so much that it’s dangerous to stop at traffic lights (but I still stop).

I asked how much new wheels, gears and a brake system would cost.

For lightweight wheels alone, they’re about the same money as it would cost to just get another bike.

It seems that this, too, shall pass.  My bike, my trusty steed, needs to be put out to pasture so a new one can take its place as my workhorse, because I could do these repairs, but what, of my old bike, would actually be left?  The handlebars need replacing really as well because the rubber has flaked away and really that just leaves the metal frame, the aluminium that never corrodes.  What a pity the rest of the components weren’t made to last the same length of time.

I’ve been looking at perhaps getting a folding bike, a lightweight one, but I don’t know right now (my grandma had one of the earliest ones and I used to LOVE it as a concept).  If I buy a new bike, I really should upgrade from the old one, otherwise what’s the point?  My bike gets me from A to B at the moment, it’s just if I want to go to C or D that there’s a problem.  An ultra lightweight folding bike would mean I could use it more, although my knees are protesting right now that the bike should be large with huge gears.

Advantages of folders:

1. They store really small so they’re less likely to rust because you can probably fit them somewhere indoors.

2. They travel on most public transport for free, especially if you put them in a specially made bag.

3. They don’t usually need locking away – normally you can take them inside with you.

Disadvantages:

1. They’re lighter than they used to be but they’re still not light enough.  As a rule, 12% of your weight should be the maximum weight of your bike.  As I weigh 50kg, that gives me a pathetic 6kg limit.  Nowhere sells a bike for that light, which explains why I get so tired cycling.  The lightest folding bike is 8 point something kilograms.  There are many arguments about whether riding a lighter bike makes a difference, with people referring to a comparison someone did between a 13kg and 9.5kg bike, but these are BOTH light bikes, barely any difference in the weights, and the experiment had far too many variables to be a REMOTELY fair test so I don’t think the conclusion is valid (also my experience with my heavy bike before and my less heavy but still heavy bike now both contradict the conclusion).

2. They’re more expensive than non-folding bikes.

3. The wheels are usually tiny, which
a) looks ridiculous,
b) means potholes are a bitch and
c) means you can’t get them to go as fast so easily, also coasting is slower.

3. There’s a much more limited choice of styles, colors etc because there are fewer manufacturers.

More to the point, I don’t know what to do with my old bike.  It seems a shame to scrap it, but it’s virtually useless (and pretty dangerous with the gear and brakes problems) on my 10 minute commute to work let alone further afield.

My Official Bands Bucket List

So I keep referring to my bands bucket list when I write about things I’ve been up to.  Today I wanted to go back and explain what it is.

You are probably aware that a bucket list is usually something written by people of all ages to ensure that they get to do all the things they’ve dreamed of doing in life – all the things they want to do before they “kick the bucket,” to coin a term.

In my case, that would be my ever-dwindling 30-list and my currently being written 40-list, which are the things I want to do before I reach age 30 and age 40, respectively.  It would probably not surprise you, then, to know that, when I was eighteen, I started this whole thing by writing a 20-list, a set of things I wanted to do before I turned 20.

The Bands Bucket List is very separate.  My age-lists are really more a set of things I feel would be achievements, accomplishments, or that I have some control over.  Things you can get with work and dedication.  They are lists of things that are within my power to make happen, however unique the circumstances would need to be for the achievement to be made.

The reason I don’t include bands on my 30-list and 40-list is because anyone can buy a ticket and travel to a gig.  Yes, some bands only tour in their homeland of Japan or The Faroe Islands, but by and large, live music is a capitalist, class dependent commodity (ooh er) that anyone with time and money can engage in.  For that reason I don’t think it’s an achievement to see The Who or Lynyrd Skynyrd, in the same sense that it would be an achievement to climb a mountain or get a master’s degree.  It would certainly be an achievement to play in a band, an honour that I have never been privy to (flutes tend to get stuck with orchestras rather than popular music bands, and ukuleles are the sonorous pariah unwanted in most ensembles), but seeing a band?  I am responsible for quality control of my lists and I decided it would cheapen the accomplishment of a PhD or climbing Everest to liken them with going to Download Festival (sorry, Download, it’s not that I don’t think your wonderful, but you are very easy).

I did need to keep track of a large set of data though, to make it possible to organize, and as I was spending more and more time on the internet typing different band names into Google, I thought I needed a spreadsheet.  I do love a good spreadsheet.

So I wrote them all down in alphabetical order, every band I could think of who, if their members died in a plane crash and they ceased to exist, I would feel like I’d missed out if I had neglected to attend them.  I know I won’t see all of them, but I wanted to make a concerted effort to see as many as I could while I could.

The list doesn’t distinguish between bands who have been apart for 30 years and those who are still coherent, it does separate out individual artists who are known to currently have a solo career and also link them to the band they used to be in (so, for example, the entry for David Gilmour states “Dave Gilmour/Pink Floyd” and Roger Waters’ entry is “Roger Waters/Pink Floyd”) ensuring that the musical genius that spawned the bands are placed to be seen even when they can’t be in the same room as one another.  Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are another example, where their entries are “Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin” and “Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin” respectively.  Either entry can be ticked off once the required people have been seen, so if I’d seen Jimmy Page, it would then be at my discretion whether I decided the performance was sufficient to tick off Led Zeppelin, or whether I also wanted to see Robert Plant first.  I have ticked Guns n Roses off because I’ve seen Slash, and his performance with Myles Kennedy would be sufficient to tick off Guns n Roses (although GnR weren’t on my list) even though I haven’t seen Axl Rose and the band he’s put together when he kept the name Guns N Roses.

This list, and the ticking off part especially, has raised two very interesting dilemmas facing the modern music fan of older bands:  To what extent does the name of the band matter if none of the original members survive, and what actually counts as having seen a band?

The naming question is difficult.  So for example, there’s only one founder member of Lynyrd Skynyrd left in the band, but when I went to see them you could tell straight away that it didn’t matter.  Trying to define a band as who they were when they first signed on the dotted line of that fateful first record deal in the 1960s is a constrained and counterproductive way of going about things.  Take Pink Floyd again – guitarist Dave Gilmour wasn’t even in the original line-up, but for many people, he IS Pink Floyd, moreso than any other member.  Likewise, I need to be cautious about letting too many things be defined as the correct band.  It gets to a point where the only member of a band worth seeing is the drummer, and unless it’s Ringo Starr or Keith Moon, you might as well go and see a tribute band and tick off the real thing.  It’s false.  So somewhere between these two polarized opinions lies the way forward.

With The Who it was easy – the lead singer/guitarist and the lead guitarist are both still knocking around, the drummer is Ringo Starr’s son, and the bassist is an excellent session musician.  Hearing them play, you can tell they’re the real deal not some tribute band which have learned their songs meticulously to the letter and never deviate from the script.  They had the spark of Who-ness that made them Who-lesome.  I make no apologies for the wordplay.  Not all wordplay is a pun.

With Guns N Roses it would have been harder, since Axl kept the band name but is the only remaining member.  Seeing Slash play was such a jaw-droppingly stirring experience that I decided there was no way any replacement guitarist could ever possibly outdo him, unless Axl had hired Hendrix or Jimmy Page (which he hasn’t, which is a good job because Hendrix is dead and in either case, they’d want to play like themselves so you’d not get the same result).  It’s all a matter of style and substance.  Tribute bands and lesser replacement musicians can copy the style but have no substance.  Replacement musicians who are greater than the original will have substance but a differing style.  It takes a rare genius to walk the line between these two and still come out on top.  So I ticked off Guns N Roses.

The second dilemma is also one that I could spend years obsessing over if I wanted to:  How much of a band counts as “having seen” a band.  Here are my criteria:

1. It has to be live.

2. I had to be close enough to see and hear the band, not just watch the video screen, because that defeats the point.

3. I have to have heard the actual band play at least one full song.

4. Televised appearances are lovely, but there is so much loss of quality and atmosphere that they can’t possibly count, and the same goes for Youtube and other ways of seeing them.  For example, I watched the Pink Floyd Live 8 performance live on the BBC as it happened less than 20 miles from where I was sat (2 days after my mother had tried to kill me resulting in my being removed and never returning home, and 5 days before the 7/7 bombings), but it doesn’t count as having seen them, even though it had a profound and evelasting impact on the course of my life after that moment and probably stopped me killing myself.  That bit where they played “Wish You Were Here” and dedicated it to Syd had me in tears.

5. It doesn’t matter what they play:  If I wanted to hear a specific song I could buy and listen to the proper recording studio version.  That’s not what I’m looking for in my quest to see these bands.

Then there’s the single criterion for removal from the list:  If there are no living members of a band or if a solo artist dies, they are taken off the list.  Here is the list so far, there are currently 60 entries, and things are always being added:

Click to enlarge, again to zoom.
Click to enlarge, again to zoom.

For planning purposes, only the bands in white/orange matter:  The ones in pale grey are supposed to be ones who are just not touring at all, so they’re discounted from planning purposes (but breakups/reunions etc are so fickle that I don’t exclude reunion tours until the last member has kicked the bucket).  The ones in dark grey are ones I’ve now seen.  The ones in lime green are currently not attainable due to either dates, cost, or some other factor of sheer preposterous awkwardness that makes them unachievable such as announcing on the day of sale, selling out in 10 minutes and placing ridiculous resale criteria on the tickets, that only means that WHEN the tickets are resold, they’re triple the price they would have been so the resellers make even more money.  The ones in lime green are generally ones I’ve written off for this year.

So that’s my bands bucket list.  What do you think?  Who would be on yours?

Wedding Wednesday: Setting The Budget

This is my 100th post, and I just want to say how amazed I am that you guys read stuff wot I write.

This is another of my wedding articles, today we talk budgets; this is probably the most serious, judgemental and opinionated post I will ever write.  Remember folks, this is my opinion, if you don’t like it, there are trillions of mainstream wedding websites filled with articles that can suck you back into the safety of the lunatic idea that £5000 to £10,000 ($10,000 to $20,000) is a budget wedding.  It’s an idea that many of my friends’ weddings subscribed to.  This article will be unashamedly one sided in favour of not wasting money, because I pride myself in trying to show brides-to-be that there is another way, that you don’t need to buy into the stuff you were culturally conditioned to accept, that one bride – this bride – had a modern wedding for vastly under £1000.  Yup.  I’ll write that in words in case you’re lost.  My wedding didn’t come near costing a thousand pounds.  Yours doesn’t have to either.

As a child, I think I only ever drew a wedding picture once.  I didn’t like them because the dresses had to be white which meant you couldn’t colour them in.  That was super-boring.  I preferred drawing princesses in huge flowing dresses of yellow, green, blue, purple and orange.  Never pink.  I think my mum threw out all the pink crayons before they ever got to me.  I might have been four.  You know what else I wanted to do when I was four?  Be an astronaut and eat chocolate and live in a castle and have hair that was blonde and longer than my feet.  In Hawaii.  I also wanted to be the greatest composer who ever lived, learn how to sing like Pavarotti and for it to snow every day.  I also wanted to go to Argos more often, because it meant we sneaked chips from the chip shop when my dad-who’s-not-my-dad was at home growing peas in the garden.  I also wanted to be a mouse and drive a tank and hang out with Berk from TrapDoor, Snuffy and Big Bird from Sesame Street, and Thomas the Tank Engine, and play Lego with them.

My point is, four year old me had no freaking clue what was reasonable or practical.  Being an adult is about having major fun and happiness but in ways that are possible, do-able, and ensure you get to have future fun and happiness.  That’s why they let us cross the street on our own.  Basing your financial decisions on something a four year old came up with results in such disasters as The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl In 3D.  It’s worse if you were the four year old, because one day you will wake up and be unable to believe that a responsible adult (future you, in fact) actually threw inconceivable amounts of money at turning one adult day into something better suited to a little girl’s birthday party.  And forced a boy to go along with it.

While researching things for my wedding I came across loads of “budget bride” articles and websites and every single one of them had a “budget” in mind that was a) many times what I was willing to spend and b) treated it like it was the booby prize.  Oh, you’re poor, but you can still fritter the money you don’t have on a wedding, said the subtext.  A dress for £500. A starter ring for £600.  A cheap theme.

We knew from the outset that we absolutely did not want a super-expensive wedding. Our relatives assumed that we wanted a low cost wedding because we didn’t have much money. We were both bringing in a comfortable amount of money at the time, and I didn’t really know the word “minimalist” so couldn’t articulate why I/we felt so strongly that we didn’t want to waste £5,000 or more on a one-day event.

I had a lot of conversations that ended with me being steamrollered into tears by relatives trying to throw money at me and suggesting more and more ridiculous and extravagant ideas. One example was when a relative asked to take me dress shopping, after I’d bought my dress, and when I politely declined (she knew I had a dress already), she said “but that’s not your real dress, is it? Five hundred pounds is a good price for a wedding dress.” I pointed out that it was my real dress, and that it had cost ten pounds. She then asked if my £10 wedding dress needed any alterations, because she would like to pay for that. I have never needed a single clothing alteration in my life that I couldn’t do by myself with my sewing machine or my bare hands.  I politely tried to explain that we were happy paying for our own wedding, that we were very flattered that (assorted relatives) wanted to take an interest in the wedding, and that we were fine for money.  I will discuss how we survived the relatives a lot more in a separate article, later.

Additionally we had just bought a house (the sale completed in mid-September) when we started making these big wedding decisions, and we’d just ploughed all of our life savings into our deposit, so we could take out the smallest possible mortgage, which meant we weren’t very keen to make another large-scale expenditure any time soon.

I looked around at wedding ideas and made some pricing enquiries before finally settling on a complete budget of £500 (with a £200 tolerance, because weddings always go “over budget”). We felt that this would enable us to have the wedding we wanted, on our own terms, without having to pay for it in ten years’ time.  My biggest way of saving money on the wedding?  Buy most of your stuff from China.  I didn’t buy my dress from here because Chinese sellers seemed singularly incapable of producing a dress that was anything like the pictures, but my veil and shoes came from China.  I wrote an article about this for Offbeat Bride, which details what you need to know about buying from China.  You can find it here.  Naming specific sellers to recommend is pointless because they often have multiple selling IDs and the one who was good at one point isn’t necessarily going to have what you want to buy in the future.

As a side note, Offbeat Bride is an excellent resource if you’re looking for inspiration and encouragement for your non-standard wedding.  They aren’t geared up towards the sort of budget that I had, I’d say they’re representative of all budgets, but they do have a wide range of different ideas and whatnot.  I will refer to them more in future articles because they really helped me keep my sanity and if you’re doing a non-standard wedding I highly recommend you sign up to their forum because the Offbeat Bride Tribe is the most supportive wedding community you can find; my favourite part is that there is a total embargo on talking about weight loss.  No-one’s asked me to say that, they don’t even know I’m writing articles on weddings, but they are amazing so go check them out.

There’s a lot of scaremongering about how you can end up with a disaster if you spend less money on a wedding, but I am here to tell you that, while that’s possible, it’s also possible to have an awesome wedding.  It comes down to how much work you, as an individual, are prepared to do and how flexible you are about the whole thing when it comes to specific wedding ideas, and at the same  time how rigid you can be in the face of mainstream criticism.  This is where Offbeat Bride really came into its own for me – there are loads of examples of weddings that attracted a lot of mainstream criticism, but the brides went, “this is how I’m doing it.”  You also need to be a bit cynical about anything you buy from overseas (see my article on buying from China).  My £10 dress was anything but a disaster:

My £10 wedding dress, on my actual wedding day.  That's about $20.
My £10 wedding dress, on my actual wedding day. That’s about $20.

Other ways I saved money included driving myself and my future husband to our wedding in my own car, cooking all the food myself (because there were no vegan caterers that remotely covered my area), buying a pre-loved ring (my ring would have cost about £1700 brand new), and using a public park as the celebration venue.

What I found really hilarious during the budgeting phase was the amount of articles saying “20 ways to spend £500 on your wedding” which always began, “got an extra £500 to spend?” and always featured 20 items which were always *just over* £500. Because they haven’t squeezed enough money out of a bride until she’s actually had a heart attack from the pressure of all that money.

That was another big reason I didn’t want to spend on the wedding – with a huge expenditure, non-refundable deposits and items that are out of their refund period, comes the weight of having to live up to that expectation. To perform, to be perfect, and most of all… to not back out of it at the last minute. These were stresses that I didn’t need, especially since I quit teaching in February 2014 due to a newly-formed anxiety disorder that was directly caused by my previous teaching job.

Seriously though, who even thinks to themselves, “well I spent £15,000 on the wedding, it is a little over-budget, but y’know what? Sod it, I’m gonna buy me a £589 glass bowl to put fruit in. … and some fruit to put in it. Because it’s my wedding.”

I felt a bit sick when I saw what some people had spent money on for their wedding. I felt even sicker when I saw the amount of ebay listings for the shoes I was after, which had the line “bought new for my wedding but I ended up buying another pair so they are unworn.” These shoes retailed at over £100 brand new. I couldn’t buy them in the end, the consumerism was just too tragic. I felt the sickest when I saw the wedding drama that some people had created for themselves by demanding tens of thousands of pounds from their poor parents then getting all bitchy that mom or dad wanted some kind of say in what that money got spent on. If I gave someone that kind of money, I’d want it invested. This was the stirrings of the start of my journey into minimalism.

The thing that really gets me is that people don’t actually notice all that crap that clutters up the modern wedding. Ask your average wedding guest what they thought of the seat covers, the tablecloths, the *insert superfluous accessory or item of decor here* and they’ll maybe notice one or two if they were unique or interesting. Mostly they won’t care. People who you should care about go to weddings to see other people get married (and party together afterwards). The rest of them don’t matter.

We didn’t really save up or put money in a separate account or anything, we just used money as we got it to buy things as we found them, and kept track of it in a spreadsheet that looked like this:

The formula to get the total is "=SUM(B2:B13)" (you change the letters and numbers inside the brackets depending where the stuff you want to total up is found).
The formula to get the total is “=SUM(B2:B13)” (you change the letters and numbers inside the brackets depending where the stuff you want to total up is found).  As you can see, I was £20.49 over tolerance!!!!!

At the end of the day, no matter what all the mainstream wedding media tells you, you can have a beautiful, moving, happy and, especially, memorable wedding without gorging yourself by frittering money away.

This was for about 80 guests, by the way.

Is there anyone else out there who is totally unwilling to waste gajillions of pounds on something that was generated in four-year-old crayon pictures; drawings that should stay where they belong – on your parents’ fridge?