the autogeography of a no/body

Oct 22

The Wedding Speech

The father of the bride rose, straightened his tie and clinked the side of his glass with a silver plated fish knife.

“Ladies and gentlemen.” Ahem. “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! It is my great pleasure to welcome you here today for my daughter's marriage to Christopher Peacock.” He turned and smiled at the happy couple, who duly smiled back. “And unaccustomed as I am to public speaking.” A polite laugh ripped around the room. “I feel it is beholden on me to pass on a few words of wisdom.”

“When my good lady wife.” Another turn, another smile. “Told me she was expecting our first child, I was happy beyond belief. Indeed, I even shed a few tears. It is undoubtedly one of the huge transformations in life, to become a parent. In many ways it is the ultimate definition. One begins a baby, named by another, and, in adulthood, god willing, progresses to having a baby of one's own. Interestingly, as soon as that child can speak, one is renamed, 'Da, Dadda, Daddy, Dad”. The identity I had imagined, as a self defined individual, never happened. I went from son to husband to father. It is the final incarnation that will remain with me, that I treasure, that has taught me so much about myself and others.”

“While she was pregnant, my wife asked me whether I would prefer a boy or girl. I did not hesitate in my answer. A girl of course. I grew up in a male household, with brothers. It was not unusual for bedrooms to stink of testosterone fuelled sweat, mingled with eau de filthy untidiness. My teenage girlfriends did not appear to live in such rat holes. Their clothes had none of the damp mustiness of my brothers' garments. And they did not play football in the sitting room, causing ornamental breakages. Nor did they fight for fun, unexpectedly imposing dead legs and dents in plasterboard walls during periods of high jinx.”

“A girl, I wanted a girl, a princess, a jewel in my crown, because, or so I thought, a man's home is his castle and I was to be king.”

“The desired regal beauty duly arrived, looking more like a skinned rabbit, but she soon fleshed out. I watched her grow, say her first words, take her first steps. I, as Daddy, was always there, listening to her read, recounting her days at school and later, much later, attempting to help her navigate the ways of life. And what a life eh?”

“There was David. Do you remember David?” He turned to see the shocked look on his daughter's face. A hush fell over the audience. “A complete runt – feel free to elaborate with your own rhyming slang. I found it very hard to believe she wanted to get involved with that character. There were tears, lots of them, tantrums, telephone calls in the early hours of the morning, the occasional violent incident. She changed. My little girl. In the space of a few weeks she went from a confident, outgoing, capable individual to a snivelling wreck who perpetually failed to learn from her mistakes and made them over and over again.”

“Perhaps she was learning. Although I did ask her to bear in mind Einstein's 'A man who repeatedly undertakes the same experiment expecting different results is an idiot' – I am paraphrasing here. But it was her life, and one is entitled to conduct one's life in whatever manner one sees fit, providing, and here's the crux, providing that it does not negatively affect the life of another.”

“I see some of you are shifting uncomfortably in your seats. Of course, at this juncture, it would be easier for you to assume that I am a bad father, this would definitely be more convenient. My expectations were too severe, impossible to achieve. If my judgements had been more flexible, accommodating, understanding of my daughter's position – both in terms of maturity and as an individual herself – then some of the damage could have been mitigated. Arguably, as a father I should have found it possible to forgive her indiscretions, after all, surely it was all part of the 'growing up' experience. I should have been her guide, perhaps even her mentor …”

He paused and took a swig from his champagne. There was no intervening chatter. The bride and groom held hands under the table.

“Have any of you ever owned ferrets, not as pets, rather as hunting companions? I have, as a child, six of the vicious, little bastards. They were kept in a cage and it was my job to look after them. You have to wear gloves, and still the blighters can bite through. Children are like ferrets. Anyway, I digress.”

Another swig.

“Ferrets, yes.”

And another swig.

“I remember the Bassett Hound as well. What a lovely fellow. Could go for miles that dog. Steady you see. It's the tortoise and hare thing I expect. A hare, well, he can sprint short distances, but a Bassett, although not fast, has stamina. Which one are you Christopher?” he said, directly addressing the groom, “a hare or a Bassett?” The groom did not reply. “No matter. Bertie, the Bassett, terribly inbred, shame really. When he got old his legs went. Poor chap ended up dragging his cock, sorry, lower appendages, across the ground. I couldn't bear it. I used to carry him on his walks, plop him down to do his business, carry him back home.”

“Could someone refill this glass?”

“Yes, when you have children you do look back at your own childhood, a kind of compare and contrast exercise. One doesn't want to make the same mistakes as one's parents, unless one's a complete idiot.”

“As a boy I worked, not down the mines or anything, just a paper round, a little bit of gardening at an old folks' home. Nice to have your own money in your pocket isn't it? Eh? Sofia, nice to have your own money in your pocket? And if you haven't got any of that, well, Dad's wallet's always within easy reach. You don't even have to ask him, do you dear? He won't notice the occasional tenner, twenty. Silly old bugger probably won't mind anyway. Anything for his little princess. You were pushing it a bit though, that time you took my credit card. I mean who pays a hundred and twenty pounds for a pair of shoes? You must have thought I was really quite senile, too stupid to read my bills.”

“Then there was the time the police brought you home, the first time. Shoplifting. Was it shoplifting darling? Yes, it was shoplifting. They let you off with a slap on the wrists and a long, cold stare directed at your mother. There have been lots of those, stares directed at your mother I mean. I expect it's an alpha female thing. The young needing to assert themselves. Why on earth you couldn't have been more polite though is beyond me.”

“The second time, with the police, what was that all about? I never could get the full story out of you, something about a party, a motorcycle and a boy called Paul. Has she told you about Paul Chris? Thought not.”

“The third time, apparently a misunderstanding between yourself, Sofia, and another girl in a night club that spilled into the street and warranted three columns in the local paper. You laughed it off, as did my colleagues at work. It was odd, I had imagined being proud of my daughter, instead I felt ashamed and bitterly embarrassed.”

His wife tugged at his jacket sleeve, but he shook her off and took another slurp from his champagne.

“However, we're all allowed our minor indiscretions. Eh? Who here can honestly say they've never made complete fools of themselves?” Silence. “Thought so.”

“Back to the point in hand, because there is a point. When she was about thirteen Sofia changed, as I'm sure all young girls do. Gone were the white woolly tights and plaited hair, replaced by black fishnets and thick eye liner. 'Goth,' she announced proudly. 'Gosh,' I said in shocked awe. She looked like drug addled prostitute but with better skin.”

“With her new identity came a new 'charm'. Pitched battles ensued. My home, my castle, where I was meant to be king, became a squatters' camp, like those you see on the outskirts of third world cities. And her bedroom! Dirty knickers, used sanitary towels – I know, disgusting – plates and bowls containing mouldering food … I think what I found most unpalatable, however, was her propensity for urinating in drinking glasses that she then hid under her bed. For the life of me, I couldn't understand this particular character trait. I did ask, but my questions were met with mute indifference. If I pushed the query she sulked. Have you experienced her sulks yet Chris? They're quite legendary.”

“How about her bone idle laziness? God knows where she gets that from. It's as if she went through a re-birthing at the age of thirteen only to emerge with a sofa firmly attached to her backside. I'm surprised she doesn't get bed sores, the amount of time she spends lying on the damn thing. Heaven forbid she should try and remain vertical for more than three hours a day, unless she's shopping. Has she taken you shopping? I bet she has. I can guess who paid.”

He unknotted his tie and pulled it through his collar.

“As a man I wanted to be a king and this required that my daughter was to be a princess, gracious, pure, delicate in all the right places. But I'm just a man. We're all just men. Even the kings are just men. So, how do we square this reality with the dream? We walk them down an aisle, dressed as princesses. They hang off our arms. We give them away to other men, who are also not, and never will be, kings. Of course, there are the medieval phrases, about knights in shining armour and prince charmings, but these are fairytales. The people in them don't exist. I doubt they ever did. Just look at King Arthur, his wife ran off with his best friend.”

A few guests fidgeted and cast their eyes down to the floor.

“In conclusion, Chris, forget the fairytale romance. As much as I love Sofia, she's a pain in the neck, seemingly allergic to housework and small acts of consideration. If you're lucky, there's a chance you can both learn to live with each others' personality flaws. In order to do this, try and remember what you saw in her in the first place. I have the memory of a giggling baby, a child who hung on my ever word, a young woman who always found her father's shoulders broad enough to carry the weight of her worries as well as his own.”

“And don't take things personally. Couples are not mirrors, set up to reflect the successes and anguishes of their other halves. Rather, they are a team of two, bound to sometimes get things wrong and fluff their lines. It's human nature. Nothing is perfect. Learn to accept that.”

“Sofia, I loved you before I even knew you. It's been an interesting journey, on occasion resembling one of those catastrophes where the car breaks down three miles from a phone box, in the middle of the night, while a force ten gale is blowing. I never stopped loving you, and I never will. Despite your dirty underwear, your foul mouth and your less than friendly attitude, we muddled along. I still feel I gave more than I took, and that you took more than you gave, but perhaps this is parental responsibility. You may do well to remember that.”

“To the rest of you, distinguished guests, please be upstanding and raise your glasses to Sofia and Chris Peacock, husband and wife. I wish you every happiness.”