Tuesday, 11 November 2008

A totally unexpected triumph for love

Writing a column for The Journal completely changed my life. Not a lot of people can say that.

The column in question appeared on the business pages in 2006, and was entitled “The Chief Executive’s Handbook”. A characteristically cynical piece about the motivation and capabilities of some business leaders, I realised that it had struck a chord when people from several different organisations congratulated me on my insight into their own particular company.

One client liked it so much that he copied it onto his own corporate website, where it was read by a female employee. She in turn forwarded it to a number of people. Months later, one of these followed the link at the end of the article, then emailed the sender to ask “Have you ever looked at that bloke’s website? He’s as mad as a box of frogs.”

So in due course she did, and was amused by the vacancy I had jokingly advertised for a wife, girlfriend or carer. Though she spotted that I was not entirely serious; and that, in any event, I was far too old for her. However, she mentioned it to a friend who had just split up with a much older man, and who then urged her to contact me on her behalf. When the email arrived in April, I frankly doubted whether either party really existed. How many 30-somethings in the UK today need to get a friend to write their emails for them because they cannot use a computer?

In due course a seven page, handwritten letter arrived from the friend explaining why I would be her ideal partner. I did not agree, but in the intervening exchange of emails I had found myself curiously drawn towards the person who had attempted to introduce us. Meanwhile this matchmaker had begun reading my curmudgeonly Bloke in the North blog and was coming to the bizarre conclusion that we had a surprising amount in common.

Our first telephone conversation felt like the reunion of two very old and dear friends. Our subsequent first date went surprisingly well. Six months on, last Monday we went to see a deservedly obscure Rossini opera called Matilde di Shabran, about a fierce and solitary misogynist who is won round to love by the lady of the title. Inspired by this story, and suitably fortified by strong ale, I proposed marriage early on Tuesday and she instantly accepted, making November 4 a historic triumph for me as well as Barack Obama.

A former colleague emailed to say that if anyone had told him a few years ago that an African American would win the White House, Lehman Brothers would go bust, Peter Mandelson would return to the cabinet and I would get engaged again, he would have bet heavily against all of them – but particularly the last.

Another so-called friend wrote after dining with us last week that my fiancée is “charming, amusing, beautiful, unbelievably young and clearly utterly deluded. Well done!”

Now, I am not mentioning all this to boast or because I am too mean to pay for a conventional small ad, but because there are lessons in this saga for everyone, and particularly for the older and grumpier elements amongst you.

First, we really cannot know what lies around the corner, and it may not necessarily be the out-of-control steamroller we have always been inclined to fear. Secondly, love can bridge the unlikeliest gaps: my fiancée and I are 17 years and 200-odd miles apart, and from completely different backgrounds, religions and cultures.

Thirdly, never underestimate the awesome power of the internet to change lives, in my experience usually for the better.

And, finally, never think that columnists and bloggers are just sad, lonely people with bees in their bonnets. Sometimes, contrary to all expectations (including their own), they can achieve truly remarkable results.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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