The reception will be in our beloved home, into which I had just moved when I met Stephen, out for a drink round the corner with my new puppy in the Wykeham Arms, and learned about his PhD thesis on how stars are born. He came to see me there in my empty drawing room the next day with a bottle of wine, a bunch of flowers and a plan for weekend children’s playdates. He never really went away again. We love our home more than words can express. Even with the Itchen tributary at the bottom of the garden nearly overflowing and the sand-bags stacked, it is more than we ever dreamed of. The garden has apples, pears, plums, figs, blackberries, loganberries and an ancient mulberry tree cut from the one in Christ’s College, Cambridge, under which Milton, aptly enough, wrote Paradise Regained. The house, part Victorian and part William and Mary, in Jane Austen’s last resting place, could be from one of her novels. Once the palace of the Bishop of Basingstoke, then the Cathedral offices (people still come in looking for a parking permit), it is now very much our family home, perhaps for the rest of our lives.
Speeches at the reception will be given by two of our old friends and two from our later lives together. From our younger lives: John Davies first turned up in my life when I was 15, gate-crashing my party with green hair and a German military overcoat. We were at Cambridge together and he was lead editor of Varsity when I was features editor. Now he’s a distinguished economist, the closest thing I have to a brother, and the father to my god-daughter Rowena; Garth Leder was Stephen’s friend and fellow-choral scholar at Peterhouse and has remained his friend ever since. From our present lives: Richard Taylor is our firm’s Practice Director, living through its joys and sorrows with us day by day, and Nicholas Yates, although he originally knew me, being one of the first barristers I instructed after setting up the Vardags almost a decade ago, has now been working on cases with both of us and shares perhaps most with Stephen through their common love and knowledge of music.
The reception will, we hope and plan, be a giant, wild, party, in time-honoured way for us, all about music, dancing, drinking and eating in a free-flowing way, children to be welcome and entertained, spits to be roasted, champagne, strawberries and scones with jam and cream juxtaposed with cocktails, tikkas, shami kebabs and baklava, 18th century English facade juxtaposed with Arabian tent by the river, Viennese waltzes (from my time living there) cut with Scottish reels, Bollywood bhangra, Latin salsa and our world renowned DJ and long-standing friend Jeffrey Louis-Reed, who has played our office parties (even the ones in London with the naked waiters) for years now.