Tuesday 3 March 2009

What goes around, comes around

On Saturday I did a wonderful thing, and a rather dreadful one. For reasons that will become apparent, I shall focus on the latter: I asked one of my oldest friends from Royal Grammar School days to be my best man.

Now a vet in the comfortable south, Iain had to make the arduous drive from Sussex to Cheshire on Friday evening, starting at the height of the rush hour and arriving just in time for the hotel to tell him he was too late for dinner. He had to kit himself out in expensively hired morning dress, then take on a series of onerous responsibilities, from not losing the rings to ensuring that our wedding presents were safely conveyed to the bridal suite, up several flights of winding stairs in the fairytale castle we had chosen for our wedding reception.

Attempts to delegate much of this more mundane work to the younger ushers sadly had to be vetoed because, if entrusted with the key to our room, they would clearly have felt an irresistible urge to indulge in rib-tickling practical jokes like making an apple pie bed or taping a superannuated kipper to the back of a radiator.

Then, to cap it all, I stood up at the wedding breakfast and made a 20-minute (but it seemed longer) speech that shamefully usurped the best man’s privilege of being the comic turn.

Precisely 27 years ago next weekend, I acted as Iain’s best man in Ponteland parish church. His wife-to-be was expecting a baby at the beginning of July, precisely as my new wife is now. But they had done their best to keep this quiet, and might have succeeded, with the aid of a strategically carried bouquet, if their best man had not devoted more or less his entire speech to sly jokes on the subject.

Having waited nearly three decades to get his revenge, Iain must have felt truly gutted when I demolished all the props of his most fertile comic seam by announcing my fiancée’s pregnancy in the letter of invitation to our wedding.

But then, as he pointed out in his speech, he had been asked to be best man four times in his life – once by his brother and three times by me – and it had seemed safe to accept the assignment yet again because, on past form, I would never go through with it. Which might indeed have been a reasonable bet if my fiancée Maral had not blocked all my attempts at backsliding with her invaluable mantra “I refuse to be dumped when I’ve done nothing wrong.”

The poor chap could hardly eat a mouthful at the wedding breakfast, so awful was the ordeal I was about to put him through. I felt about an inch tall, though I was so conscious of my good fortune in doing the wonderful thing of marrying Maral, and so cheered up by the most laughter-filled wedding ceremony that I have ever attended, that the shame failed to wipe off my face the big silly grin that had been plastered there all day. Indeed, I am still wearing it now, some 48 hours later.

I am writing this in a hotel at Heathrow, before catching a flight to Venice. You might well think that it was devotion beyond the call of duty to volunteer to write a column on the first day of my honeymoon, but I reasoned that I could easily dash off a few joyous words about my own wedding. Then, disastrously, Tom Gutteridge yesterday stole my thunder and shot my fox. I knew that it was a mistake to invite him.

My first reaction was to wonder how could anyone deprive someone of their own material so cruelly. Then I remembered my poor best man, and realised – as usual – that it was exactly what I deserved.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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