PC 41 Weddings and the institution of Marriage

OK! OK! I know I am not the greatest example of the lasting strength of marriage but maybe that gives me a different slant on this institution, just as we prepared for a family wedding in deepest Dorset. So it’s with slight trepidation that I write about this social event.

Some of you may be single, some may have been married for a short while, for some it may seem for ever, to the first person you ever met, to someone you ‘courted’, some of you may be on your second or even third marriage. No one starts a relationship believing it will only last for a specific time; it’s always going to last forever … and ever! Maybe some of you have taken advantage of more liberal laws that allow same-sex marriages, and we know of one such couple expecting their first baby next week. It’s a funny world!

It seems that marriage as an institution is still the aim of many, remaining socially the ‘thing to do’. A modern habit is to live together for months, even years – to try it out, so to speak. Imagine if, after a long courtship, you got married and you suddenly found you were not compatible; he/she squeezed the toothpaste in the middle/end, left the loo seat up/down, didn’t imagining empty the rubbish bin, taking her/his iPad to bed, left their clothes all over the place. Am I admitting to pet hates here? Ooopps!

We heard that my nephew and his long term girlfriend had got engaged!! How exciting this news, wondering when they were getting married, where, imagining the flowers, the whole ceremony …. that lovely film “Four Weddings and a Funeral” comes to mind ….. everyone in their best clothes, gorgeous food, champagne, speeches .… and awful jokes from the best man.

The invitation indicated ‘morning suit’ or suits, a nod to the ‘younger’ generation perhaps, although it’s obvious they like making an effort too. I suppose I have a predilection for ‘dressing up’, having been seduced to join the army for the dress uniforms (well, not really!!), so I looked forward to the prospect of wearing a morning suit and all the accoutrements. Some men turned up in suits, but a couple looked as if they were wearing their gardening ones ….. and I wondered what they would wear to a more formal occasion? Am I missing something here? Did they want to appear ‘different’, perceiving themselves as rather ‘above’ the social convention? It’s not that they were not educated ….. maybe an unconscious need to ‘cock a snoop’ at the rest of us, who had made the effort? There was a nice story from an Army chum who had been Officer of the Watch at the Tower of London when the Queen dropped in for supper; well, she has to eat somewhere! One officer was wearing his soft mess shirt and not a stiff one. The queen remarked on it: “Oh! Stiff ones are for more formal occasions.”!! I think dressing up for a wedding is de rigueur!

The small church in the village of Abbotsbury, a mile or two from the coast in Dorset and nestling under an escarpment, was the location for this wonderful celebration. Abbotsbury dates from the C10th and had a thriving Abbey until it was dissolved by Henry VIII; a huge barn is all that remains of the abbey, but on a hill overlooking the village stands a lovely little chapel used by monks for private contemplation. Nowadays Abbotsbury is famous for its swannery; started 600 years ago as a source of food for the monks, it has a large colony of mute swans, and is an important nesting and breeding ground.

Time before the service to gather one’s thoughts, admiring the wonderful flowers and looking at the other guests, wondering who they all were!! The church had a large wooden board above the altar with the Ten Commandments written in gold letters. Made me think of a discussion with Celina’s father about when to use ‘shall’ and when to use ‘will’ in English! The Commandments are all ‘shall’! But I was intrigued to read that, whereas numbers 6 to 10 start “Thou shalt not  ……”, the one concerning taking another’s life read: “Thou shalt do no murder.” Rather quaint wording for a serious subject!

The bride’s parents’ initials are ‘H’ and ‘H’, and my nephew and his now bride’s – H&H, or H² as it was written on their wedding invitation. The vicar made much of this, and added Hope and Hospitality in his homily about the benefits of marriage and how these two could embrace hope and hospitality in their union. The bridesmaids and the page boy and girl looked gorgeous. H² exchanged the traditional vows: “…… for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love cherish and (maybe?) obey, till death do us part ……..”. It’s good to have a faith and a belief.

All too soon the dinner, the speeches and the dancing at the reception were behind us, the live music group was packing up, the newlyweds departing and ‘mwah mwah’ everywhere; it was time to wend our way back to our Bed &Breakfast, The Old Rectory in Winterbourne Steepleton – doesn’t that sound just wonderfully English? And it was!

My father’s father married three times, my father married three times, and me? Well, yes, following the family tradition, but I really really didn’t set out to!! “Rather be an “incurable romantic than love’s loser with an estranged wife” as Cosmo Landesman says. Funny world, innit?

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

PC 40 Habits ….. die hard ….. or not at all!

I’m no petrol head but like most of us (?) enjoy driving, so was intrigued when I saw a question in a magazine about whether one should use the car brakes to slow down or change down a gear and use the engine to brake. I had been taught to use the engine as it was safer and produced less wear on the brake pad. So I was surprised that, with the advent of disc brakes, the perceived wisdom is now to use the brake … and not the engine. Old habits die hard, so I remain deaf to this new advice!

Got me thinking about how habits scope our behaviour … and wondered what other habits I had that belonged to the last century (and why not?!) Gosh, so many, but one or two stand out from the crowd!  For those of you who sometimes judge me to be hypocritical … and talk of glass houses and stones … or pots and kettles and the colour black …. I’m only human!

I am a morning person. I love getting up early; it feels good to occasionally see the dawn. When Tom my Labrador was alive, in his last year (2011/12) I used to get up at 0520 to walk him, before going off at 0610 to the 0630 Bikram Yoga class. There were not many people about, and we always passed an oldish chap, walking with a rolling gait, on our way and said “Good Morning!”. No response – nothing; but I persevered! After 3 months he eventually said: “Er’! Yer not English, are yer?” “Well, actually I am, from the West Country.” I said, rather affronted!! “Well, I’m a Londoner and no one says ‘good morning’!!” “Well, I do!” …. and we said hello and from then on we both felt good at acknowledging each other! A cheery “Good morning!” never hurt anyone, except those whose head hurt from too much wine the night before. In the institutional setting of the Officers’ Mess dining room, it was not ‘done’ to say ‘Good Morning’ – and the breakfast crowd hid behind their newspaper. The paper was placed on a wooden stand, rather like a music stand, thoughtfully provided by the Mess in front of their place. Celina’s father has a similar tale of an Oxford college’s lecturers’ accommodation; “Good Grief, man, Sssshhhhh!!” Even in our morning Bikram session, the teacher’s enthusiastic ‘Good Morning!’ is often met at best with a grunt!

An old habit of mine that has driven my early mornings for many years is to have three boiled eggs for breakfast. I love the ritual of correctly cooking them, of cracking the shell with a teaspoon, the wonderful deep yellow of the gooey yolk – and the salt & black pepper!! Can’t have a boiled egg without salt. I have however dispensed with the ‘soldiers’! For those readers unfamiliar with English habits, traditionally a boiled egg came with fingers of buttered toast that looked like soldiers on parade. You could dunk the ‘soldier’ into the soft yolk and eat; yum! yum! (In Australia they make ‘marmite’ soldiers.) On Northcote Road in Battersea there was even a café called ‘The Boiled Egg and Soldiers’!

Why do they make a cover to fit over the loo seat (sorry, I hate the word ‘toilet’ although it was very socially acceptable to use ‘lavatory’. Maybe it still is!!?)? They make a cover so that the place for one’s daily deposit is covered; never sure how some people don’t develop some very basic standards here …. but there you go. So why do some people leave the loo seat UP and not down? Our local Bikram studio fitted one of those self-closing lids ….. to the men’s loo. This is somehow sexist, isn’t it? Is it only men that leave the seat up? I don’t think so! Anyway, I can’t abide a raised loo seat, so wherever I am, in someone’s house, in a restaurant or even a motorway service station loo ….. and I find the loo seat up, I ensure it’s down when I leave. So if you unexpectedly find the loo seat in a motorway service station down, you know I may have been there recently!! …. And I think this is a good habit!

Then there are “Thank you letters”. This is such a generational thing, this need to say ‘thank you’ properly. You read about it in agony columns (what? You think I don’t occasionally read an agony column? Well, very, very occasionally). A grandmother moaning that their carefully chosen gift to their grandchild has gone unacknowledged. Asking whether she should simple stop sending a present! Then there’s the ‘After Supper’ note. I was always led to believe that if you use a knife and fork in someone else’s home, you should write a note of thanks; ie after cocktails, no – after a meal, yes! Is email OK? Better than nothing and in some countries where the postal service is abysmal maybe the better option. But a manuscript note is best, simply expressing gratitude at their efforts. Some people have come to dine with us, clearly enjoyed themselves and not a squeak of appreciation …  nothing .. da nada … niente!

Someone close to me has kept all of his bank statements, I mean all, ever since he first started banking; what he will do as more and more banks dispense with paper statements and go digital I don’t know. But it’s worth keeping a monthly check, isn’t it? So, back in the last century, when I eventually mastered an Excel Spreadsheet, I created one of my income and expenditure. So ever month I take the figures off my bank statement and put them into the spreadsheet, making sure the figures correlate. But then what? What do you mean? That’s it! They all check out, and I’m happy. Do I use the data in any other way? No! Er! So why do you do it? I need to keep a handle on my finances! This is a habit I sense I should just give up, the spreadsheet I mean, but I am wedded to it.

Just some mumblings on this first day of May.

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com