Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Another bubble of crazy hyperinflation

At the weekend I was reminded of a very uncomfortable truth for a man about to embark on the great adventure of matrimony: I simply loathe weddings.

Not the service itself, I hasten to add, which I found joyous and uplifting. Surely no-one could fail to a warm to a couple who chose “He would valiant be 'gainst all disaster” as their opening hymn, and made its singing all the more enjoyable by hiring the local brass band to accompany it.

No, what gets me down is the apparently endless palaver after the important bit is over. In my adult lifetime, weddings in this country have been subject to the same sort of crazy hyperinflation as house prices, with similarly deleterious effects.

It was all right when my contemporaries started getting married in the 1970s. We all dressed up, the happy couple got hitched in her local church, we had a decent lunch at a nearby hotel, they cleared off on their honeymoon to a respectable seaside boarding house and everyone else went home. Job done.

Then someone – could it by any chance have been a hotelier? – decided that no wedding was complete without an evening party in addition to the afternoon reception. Why? I had never actually attended such an event until Saturday, as my reaction to most recent wedding invitations has been to despatch a generous present and a half plausible story about a vital prior engagement. I see no reason to regret this.

There has been a similar bizarre inflation of expectations regarding those hideous affairs known as stag and hen nights. I am happy to say that I have never actually been on one, but I have had quite enough encounters with spectacularly drunken participants to know what they involve. What astonished me during my City career was observing the way in which they gradually expanded from single nights of life-endangering binge drinking to “stag weekends” enlivened by assorted dangerous sports, and in some cases even “stag weeks”. What next?

At the other end of the process, a few nights in Scarborough apparently no longer pass muster as a middle class honeymoon; it has to be a big game safari or a tropical island, and preferably both.

Can it be a pure coincidence that, as weddings have become ever more elaborate and expensive, marriages have grown progressively less likely to endure? Nearly all my friends who married 25 to 30 years ago are still together. Yet I know one bitter father who, not so long ago, invested almost £50,000 in his daughter’s dream wedding only to have her back on his hands as a divorcee within two years. He spent many sleepless nights scouring the small print, but could not find the hoped-for money-back guarantee.

Perhaps, in the olden days, people gave more thought to the important question of whether they had actually found the person they wanted to spend the rest of their life with, and less to holding a colossal party that capped the excesses of their friends.

I am absolutely sure that I have finally found the right woman, but I could tell that it did not go down a storm when I turned away from the spectacle of Saturday’s bride and groom finally taking their first dance to the flashes of countless cameras, and suggested that we did not need any of this. Indeed, her practical response to my bright idea of elopement was to point out that I had signed a contract committing me to pay an 80% cancellation charge whether we went ahead with the reception or not.

Comprehensively outwitted again, and we have not even got to the altar yet. I sense a pattern emerging. Clearly the only way forward is to keep telling myself, as they almost say in those cosmetic ads, “because she’s worth it.”


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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