Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange, the troubled doc, really needs to get a grip. He’s too much of a navel-gazer. Frankly, he needs to get out more. I mean, look at the following piece of nonsense. I’ve persuaded him to dump it from Episode 3 in his troubled life…
Even though I’d been down that route, I didn’t really “get” nuptials. I thought of it as a con. It was society’s way of putting bromide in your tea; it was a sanctioning of carnality that rendered you devoid of passion. The older members of the congregation who had seen it all before enjoyed it hugely. The bewildered couple were surrounded by avuncular guffaws. They were dressed up in ridiculous clobber; they looked ridiculous.
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t repeat that long walk down the aisle. It was bad enough being a guest. To be honest, I prefer funerals. At least they’re quick. It was always such a pain in the neck to get an invite. It was a whole day out of your life, spent in a churchy atmosphere, washed, brushed, and in your churchy clothes. There was a terrible sense of unease about the whole transaction. You entered the church and were directed to right or left. Two opposing factions covertly eyed one another with deep suspicion across the aisle, both aware that this enforced amalgamation was entirely capricious. You endured the first of a series of interminable waits. The organist would exhaust his repertoire and have to start through it again. For some reason the bride, though she and her mother had been planning this event for eighteen months, and therefore could hardly be said to be unprepared, was late. The groom and his best man, unaccountably dressed identically to resemble a pair of nineteenth century dandies, stood with their backs to us shifting their weight from foot to foot. A pregnant pause, then the slow troop of the bride’s father and the cream blancmange. Mendelssohn or Wagner, the minister beaming with the forced grin of a politician inducted to kiss babies.
Hymn. Preamble. Prayer. Vows. A terrible tension gripped the entire gathering. I could feel my heart thump. I would think of Jane Eyre. Would anybody speak now, or would they forever hold their peace? I felt like shouting out myself. This is grotesque! Would they muff their lines? The groom tremulous but loud, the bride barely audible, the minister deeply sympathetic, like a surgeon trying to inflict as little trauma as possible. Exchange of rings. The discomfiture of the congregation now at its zenith. Or perhaps nadir. The best man would fumble in an empty pocket. The bride would be too shaky and the groom too detumescent to get the thing on. The ring would vanish under the front pew with a faint tinkle. The blancmange would run back up the aisle in hysterics.
Done! Spliced! The relief would be palpable. Off to the vestry. Another interminable wait while a contralto warbled. Then a lightening of the atmosphere. Vidor’s Toccata. Bride and groom emerge. The bride’s veil is back, and she is grinning. Do newly married couples still throw coppers at waifs and urchins out in the gutter as they depart in a limousine? Perhaps I’ll join them, and risk losing my fingers under the wheels of a Bentley for some petty cash. How bizarre that would be, like the sight of grown men taking to the swings and roundabouts in a kids’ playground, or jumping around on the bouncy castle.
There are more hiatuses to endure, shivering outside the church waiting for transport. At the reception the adults make a bee-line for the bar. In Orwell’s A Hanging, they all had whisky after the event. This has a similar feel. Now the longest wait of all. The photographer has taken over, and whisked the bridal party away to the park behind the hotel. The groom poses, chasing his bride round trees. It’s absolutely excruciating. Now the guests are getting tipsy, hungry, and disgruntled. At least the wedding breakfast affords a chance of a good square meal. But the worst is yet to come. Speeches. The Best Man, who yesterday was a perfectly normal bank teller at RBS, has metamorphosed into an unconvincing urban Lothario bent on apprising the bride and her people of the true nature of the monstrous husband she has so recently acquired. The company has reached another pitch of nervousness, laughing ahead of time at the clunking punchlines. I squirm at each lewd double-entendre. I can’t take any more. Dear God, beam me up.
And yet wasn’t the alternative equally bleak? I would see all my friends and loved ones make that commitment that I conceitedly professed to despise. I would gradually and dim-wittedly begin to sense that I was being left behind. There comes a point in your life when solitude becomes deeply unattractive. Solitude turned into loneliness. You thought you were doing just fine, avoiding the trap of turning into a hen-pecked Walter Mitty figure, but in fact you were only becoming Thurber’s other side of the coin, the sad man who is always a wanderer. Yes you avoided Thurber’s hellish matrimonial corrida, but this is how you will end up. A sad, lonely old man sitting around getting crocked in hotel lobbies, drinking brandy, with a little water on the side, asking the concierge if there are any messages. He glances in your pigeon hole.
“No, nothing to-night, sir.”
The final straw would come when dear Caitlin got married to somebody from Cambridge named Caedmon Ambrose-Pedoe. At the reception, I would find myself seated with a whole lot of matrons of ample girth, and bald-headed bank managers. “I don’t understand!” I would say. “Why am I not seated down there at that rowdy table with all the other young bucks?” I would concoct an elaborate confabulation for my garrulous barber just to avoid the embarrassment of declaring myself a reclusive old git. It would start off, to all intents and purposes, innocently enough. “How’re you doing, doc? Wife and kids okay?” The comb and scissors flashing in front of my eyes.
“Keeping you out of mischief?”
“Somebody’s got to.”
“Ah! Don’t you just love ’em?”
The trouble is, he would remember. Before I knew it, I would have invented an entire fantasy world, populated by Fiona, and Cameron and Sophie, and Watson the dog, going off in our Chelsea tractor to our croft in Ardnamurchan. There would be no way out. I’d have to sue for divorce, lose custody of the kids, and look suitably dejected every time I had a haircut. If I really took the role seriously, employing the Method, I might begin to look down on my luck. Imperceptibly slipping down the social scale. Ill-shaven, shabby, stained trousers, and mild body odour. Once I’d left the shop the barber would gossip about me with the other clients. “Used to be a smart guy. But something happened. It just shows you, it can happen to anybody. Poor bastard.”
Oh fetch me my violin. Cut out the schmaltz. Pull yourself together.