I rounded off my wedding day in style by running over the best man

James and Fiona are going to have a simply splendid wedding. They've found this beautiful little chapel in mid-Wales that is really Presbyterian but is quite happy to go non-denominational for the day in return for a hefty contribution to the parish fund. And then there'll be a grand reception down the road in a renovated medieval castle with food provided by this fabulous couple who used to appear regularly on the BBC's Food and Drink show but have now started up their own self-catering business in Hay-on-Wye.

Even though I've already ordered my wedding suit and coughed up 50 quid for a set of Dartington glasses from the Peter Jones wedding list, I'm becoming increasingly preoccupied with the awful comparison between the grandeur of this particular wedding and the downright banality of my own first marriage. I know it's possible to get married in Westminster Abbey by a top archbishop and set off for your honeymoon in a golden coach accompanied by six regiments of the Household Cavalry and still feel the need to pop round for a bit on the side with your ex-girlfriend six months later, but I can't help but wonder if my life with Helen might have been radically improved if, back in the mid-sixties, we could have found somewhere slightly more auspicious to declare our undying love for each other than the Central Methodist Hall at Tooting Bec.

We decided to go Methodist because of the strong association between the church and the CND movement and the discovery that our nearest registry office was an adjunct of the local town hall, which doubled up as a day centre for the borough's down and outs. (One of Helen's friends who'd married there had found the sanctity of her own ceremony seriously undermined by a leftover drunk who insisted on standing up at regular intervals and shouting at the registrar: "Are you looking at me, pal?")

Everything went wrong at Tooting. All the portents were ranged against us. "I understand that you're not a Methodist," said the minister when we popped round to discuss the arrangements, "but I presume that you believe in God."

I explained that I was an atheist. "If that is the case," he explained sadly, "then I'm afraid that I can't conduct the ceremony."

Helen began to sob quietly. "Look, let me put it like this," he said. "Supposing the door were to open and God walked in, would you believe in Him then?"

I choked on the philosophical untenability of the proposition, but managed to nod. "Excellent," said the minister. "Will you be requiring piano or organ?"

From then on the signs of impending disaster began to multiply. There were 22 people in the 300-seater hall for the ceremony: 14 guests and eight strangers sheltering from the violent storm that suddenly blew up as we walked down the aisle. Even though I'd distinctly ordered the organ at £10 we were palmed off with the £5 piano, and then it was back to Helen's mum's place for salmon-spread sandwiches before I provided the perfect postscript to the day by leaping into the honeymoon car, throwing it into gear, and then finding with alarm that we were not only racing backwards down Balham High Street but that I'd also had the bad luck on the way to run over our best man.

When we were finally on the way to Torquay, Helen bravely tried to snatch some comfort from the whole affair. "At least you only broke his ankle," she said. "Imagine if you'd killed him. Now that would have been a bad omen."

This article first appeared in the 07 June 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Europe grows after Kosovo