Friday 1 May 2009

A tale of the unexpected

Do something unexpected. It was never advice that appealed to me, as a lifelong bachelor and dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon. Yet in February I astonished my friends by marrying a beautiful woman who is young enough to be my daughter (though luckily she isn’t). Even more remarkably, I find myself looking forward to the birth of my first child in July, a month after my 55th birthday.

Like many people, I had taken stock of my life as I approached my half century. By then I had worked in the City for 25 years, mainly as a PR consultant to companies in various sorts of difficulty (if they weren’t when they appointed me, they soon were). Thanks to my brilliant insight that the London property market was hugely overvalued by the mid-1980s, I commuted every week between a poky rented flat in Pimlico and a spacious but inexpensive house in Northumberland. I was overweight, over-stressed and taking a daily cocktail of drugs for hypertension, depression and thrush (the last, admittedly, only because of a ludicrous mix-up at the pharmacy).

Sod it, I decided; I’m going to pack this in and spend more time with my Border terrier, walking the hills and finally writing that Big Novel. On the plus side, I lost weight, relaxed and weaned myself off the pills; on the minus, I became relatively poor. Not a word of the Big Novel got written, but the local paper kindly gave me a weekly column and I set up a couple of websites to keep my writing hand in, notably a daily blog about my sad decline called Bloke in the North.

Just before April Fool’s Day last year I received an email in response to a spoof advertisement on (a site created in 2004 for the sole purpose of discouraging potential PR clients, and thus one of my few undisputed successes). This contained the unlikely claim that the sender had “a friend” who was interested in applying for the vacant position of my wife, girlfriend or carer.

Yeah right, I thought. Particularly when the writer seriously overplayed her hand by claiming that her friend was a six foot tall, 35-year-old, blonde, buxom nanny. The only thing that prevented me from pressing the “delete” button on this obvious wind-up was the fact that the sender claimed to work for a company that had once been a client of mine. So I forwarded the email to her Chief Executive, who confirmed that she really did exist.

There ensued a bizarre correspondence about the alleged friend – who was, as it turned out, entirely genuine. But I fell in love with my initial correspondent’s way with words, which suggested that she possessed a sense of humour almost as peculiar as my own. Something made all the odder by the fact that she had a name that read like a nasty accident on a Scrabble board, and had spent the first ten years of her life in Iran. How could someone from such a different background and culture have acquired the mindset of a northern club comedian and a repertoire of old jokes that would put even the late Bob Monkhouse to shame?

I simply had to see her to find out, even though we lived 222 miles apart. Luckily for me she had started reading Bloke in the North, and found it amusing enough to think that it might be worth meeting me, even at the risk of upsetting her friend. She later admitted that her reaction on walking into the restaurant for our first date was “Oh God, he looks like someone’s dad!” But she bravely went through with dinner, and by the end of it the first of many subsequent dates had already been arranged. Our shared sense of the ludicrous swept all before it.

Months later, she asked what had first attracted me to her and I explained that it was simply that her first email had been so very funny. “But didn’t you notice?” she said. “I just copied all your own lines off your website and repeated them back to you.”

The important lessons to be learned from this strange little story are therefore as follows. Never laugh at your own jokes. Never dismiss blogging as a complete waste of time. Never assume that you are too old to need contraception. And never dismiss the possibility that even something as completely unexpected as true happiness might be lurking just around the next corner.

Now all I need to do is sell my house, relocate to Cheshire and go back to work until the age of 80 to support my new family. All in the teeth of the worst recession for a century. Still, compared with finding a gorgeous, loving and hilarious wife like Maral that looks like a piece of (wedding) cake.

Originally published in SAGA Magazine.

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