Monday, July 18, 2011

Tying the knot

There was a time in my 20s when I seemed to be forever going to weddings.  I suppose that’s pretty standard for many of us.  At that age one or other of your friends is always getting hitched.  After that you hit a spate of christenings, and without wanting to be morose I dare say the next thing will be attending funerals, but, as the government keeps telling us, we’re all living longer these days so there’s still plenty of time!

I always liked going to weddings back then.  I don’t mean for sentimental reasons, and certainly not through any interest in what the bride was wearing.  I just liked the whole ritual of meeting up with your mates and their families, catching up on their news (I’m talking pre-interweb here), and necking a couple of stiff G&Ts before the service (pints of beer are far too bladder filling; I still associate drinking gin with weddings).  I even liked the singing in church, not through any love of hymns but because out of tune singing always makes me laugh.  Most of all I enjoyed the wedding reception.

For many of us, when we were in our 20s and still single or without kids, the reception was the mother of all piss ups.   With the occasional free bar and perhaps an undercurrent of inter-family rivalry, there was also untold opportunity for a memorable or embarrassing incident.  I once saw a very posh, rotund Hyacinth Bouquet-like character who, having enjoyed several glasses of champagne, was being sick on the dance floor.  I know there should be nothing in the least bit funny about that, but I nearly wet myself to see her on her hands and knees in a voluminous floral frock and an enormous hat hanging from the back of her head, coughing and retching  like a dog.  I bet I’m not the only guest who remembers that particular day for no other reason.  Similarly, when my old school friend Francis married Billie, I remember the occasion not for the quaintness of the church, nor for the splendour of the bridal gown, but for the speech given by the bride’s father.

You may have seen an old sketch in which Rowan Atkinson stands up at a reception and assassinates the character of his new son in law.  Francis’s new father in law did something similar.  The cutting sarcasm was not quite in Atkinson’s league, but from an entertainment perspective this had the advantage of being totally authentic, and what’s more the guy was completely sober, so it was a deliberate, pre-meditated act.

Obviously I’m paraphrasing here after so many years, but he started off with a lengthy summary of Billie’s academic achievements, telling us how gifted a musician she was and about their lofty expectations for her future, before saying “So you can imagine our disappointment when she announced she was going to marry Francis”.  Up to this point most people had adopted the traditional approach of pretending to listen to the speech but allowing their minds to wander towards eying up the bridesmaids or whatever, but now everyone sat up and took notice. “We had hoped she would marry a man with a proper profession, someone who could at least hold down a job.  Not a teacher who is giving up his employment, apparently to start some sort of farm.  How does he intend to support her?  The whole thing is doomed to failure.  Well, don’t expect me to put my hand in my pocket”.

Francis had indeed just left his teaching job and bought a plot of land with a vague idea of starting a smallholding.  To be fair, we who knew him well were also pretty certain it was doomed to failure, but that’s not really the point.  Francis attempted to defend himself when his turn came to speak, but it just turned into the presentation of a fairly lame business plan, even less convincing than the ones which feature on ‘The Apprentice’.  This all rather diverted attention from his father in law’s spectacular lack of manners and finesse.  The happy couple got divorced a couple of years later.  I don’t think the reception speech had anything to do with it, although it can’t have helped much.  No doubt her father will have felt justified.

My own wedding 24 years ago went pretty much without a hitch, although I did quite literally shout my own speech through sheer nerves.  My only regret is that shortly before the big day I had allowed myself to be talked into getting the world’s worst haircut.  This fact can be forgiven but never forgotten; it haunts me to this day, and all those wedding photos are a constant reminder.  Still, I suppose it could have been worse.  I could have been married in the 1970s which would presumably have involved disastrous permed hair as well as flared trousers, huge jacket lapels and shirt collars, and possibly quite a lot of beige.  I must learn to count my blessings.
Me on my wedding day. If you think the hair wasn't so very bad, trust me it really really was.

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