“So how old’s Laura now?” Dougie asks us. Dougie is a distant relative; we’re at the wedding reception of my sister Laura.
“Twenty eight now,” my brother replies.
Dougie turns to me. “So Alan, are you the youngest then, or the second youngest?”
I mean, seeing my baby sis walking down the aisle was pretty awesome, and all that, but you can understand if I – as a fucking forty year old – regarded this as the highlight of the day/year/decade. Also, I know what you’re all thinking, but no, Dougie wasn’t drinking – in fact myself and him were rapidly dwindling the hotel’s limited stocks of non-alcoholic beer.
Usually I start my stories at the beginning – narrative and context is important (in fact, I think people under-appreciate just how expertly the arc of these anecdotes is crafted), but for some reason I felt the need to start bang in the middle with Dougie’s post-worthy post-wedding comment. Perhaps to ensure that any of you who usually complain that my posts are too long, will definitely not miss the fact that someone – of sound mind and body, in fact a very well qualified engineer or something – thought I was TWENTY SEVEN OR LESS. In fact Dougie has done well enough for himself that people were wondering if he’d “had work done”. This is no simpleton or buffoon we’re dealing with here.
Anyway, starting this story was easy; also easy was the title. I could also have justifiably called it the Wedding of the Century or the Wedding of the Millenium. Accurate both in terms of how much effort was going into this event, and also because it’s the only one I’ve been to in those timeframes.
I’ve only been to two weddings before in my whole life. Both between my brother and the same woman. Yes, they married with pomp and ceremony, got divorced, then remarried, with a ceremony but no pomp. I always suspected it to be an incredibly egalitarian effort to have both his brothers get a shot as best man, without going through the rigmarole of finding different women.
I’ve included a picture below of how I was dressed at the first of these nuptials. I’d love to be able to save face and claim that I was the one in the girly hat and the red dress, but no the one on the left is me. Dressed like a street magician who left his outfit in the sun too long, with a hint of the ventriloquist’s dummy. Miraculously the camera shutter managed to catch the spinning bow tie at the exact moment when it was horizontal.
I’d go as far as saying, everything weird about me that you have read on this blog, can probably – psychologically – be traced back to the day when I was made to wear this, outside in public, and then in the presence of God. Great effort and expense went into the acquisition of this outfit, including money that was intended for my school uniform for the new term starting the following week. I was mysteriously absent from school for many weeks due to a dispute with the school authorities over whether this outfit could be classed as appropriate schoolwear outside the American Wild West.
For me, looking back on this, I have no recollection of the decision making process here. Why, when everyone else was in black suits, I was to be garbed in this tan-tastic travesty. I’ve just had the thought that maybe this is the reason in later life I went through a phase of wearing entirely matching, such as the time I successfully convinced dozens of colleagues I was Bosnian or the time I terrorised unsuspecting Scandis in a Swede shop. For better or worse, this costume (let’s call it what it is, it’s not a wedding outfit, it’s not attire, it’s a costume) was only ever worn one other time, during a subsequent school trip to London to take in some musical theatre, because it was quite literally the only semi-formal thing I had to wear. I looked every bit as foolish sat in the audience of Grease and Miss Saigon, as I did at the wedding. Where do you even BUY clothes like that in the West of Scotland???
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the cigarette. No I wasn’t smoking this, someone had made me hold it for comic effect, as if I needed more. Common as it was where I grew up for boys to be on 40 a day by their teens, I didn’t start smoking till my 30s, after the smoking ban came in. We all rebel in our own ways…
Moving on, in the intervening years, I’ve been supposed to go to quite a few other weddings, but been prevented from attending by various factors entirely outside my control…
- Couldn’t find an outfit
Now, due to lifestyle changes, canine lifespans, and the familial proximity, only one of those factors was a potential risk for my little sister’s wedding. You can probably guess which, and I … what’s that? I mean I don’t normally take interruptions from the crowd when I’m writing … you want to hear more about those previous weddings? I suppose it’s not like me to be sparse with detail. I did recently get an entire 3000-word anecdote out of the time I made a workman a cup of tea. But I will let you know that thanks to your curiosity I had to go away and painstakingly research timings and which wedding was which. I’m not going to name the person who uploaded a wedding photo to Facebook three years after their wedding day, I will just say they set my investigations back by some time.
- Dog-sitting – this was my elder sister’s wedding (still going, no interruptions); I mean, someone had to look after the dog and it made a lot of sense to me at the time, but I suspect part of the decision here was to avoid a repeat of having to shop for another dainty waistcoat and bowtie as ludicrous as my previous costume. Just writing that down, having to miss a sister’s wedding because one of us had to dog-sit does sound ridiculous. To be fair we were not really a family with the kind of means to splash out on weddings and outfits and hotels, so in this respect I feel I have turned out the perfect son.
- Drunk – this was my friends Thomas’ and Dave’s wedding. I feel that has not come across right. Thomas and Dave were not marrying. Thomas and Mark were marrying. Dave is a different wedding (Ruth if you must know, I’m not starting to include partners and kids in this it was supposed to be a simple comedy list of reasons which has rapidly gotten out of control). Thomas’ was very nearby but I had been drinking quite heavily into the night, and indeed the morning; it’s not that I would have caused a ruckus, rather that I may have vomited on one or both of the grooms, and may have passed out as soon as more alcohol was served. Dave’s was back in Scotland but I was ill due to the booze and may have been drunk when I thought I booked travel. There’s was 50% less likelihood of vomiting on a groom at the wedding, but still, it was risk.
- Forgot – my old housemate Kath? I think? I didn’t forget on the day, I just forgot that I had been invited and had also forgot to book transport and accommodation, and many other things. I also forgot how much I hate travelling to things. Also this was in my early years of not drinking and going to big parties alone seemed like it might be awkward.
- Couldn’t find an outfit – my friend Gillian, although a big part of this one too was the awkwardness of being a single non-drinker at a wedding. But it’s the first occasion where I specifically remember being shaken by the prospect of buying a suit. More on that later.
- Uninvited – This was Kat, my former colleague, and no relation to Kath from above (though why you might think that ancestry is a sequence of adding or removing “h” at the end of names is beyond me). I definitely RSVP’d but as the time approached I was increasingly becoming agitated by the necessity to find something to wear, again, and I was having second thoughts. I was also trying to save for a house, something set back many months by the prospect of spending huge sums on fancy attire I would never wear again (someone did suggest Moss Bros but I thought that was an urban myth). Anyway, eventually with the cajoling of some other colleagues I was convinced to sort it out and redouble my efforts to attend. Shortly before our shopping trip, I got a message from Kat saying she’d assumed I wasn’t coming and I wasn’t on the list anymore. I think I had RSVP’d the wrong way, there was a website or something for the wedding, it was all getting quite hi-tech for the type of person who can’t even buy a suit.
Anyway, where was I. Right … then Dougie turns to me. “So Alan, are you the youngest then, or the second youngest?” I mean, even Gerard Butler and James McAvoy, who I’m frequently told are my doppelgangers, don’t get mistaken for twenty-seven. Good old Dougie.
So, Laura’s wedding – let’s start with my contribution in planning this monumental occasion.
I’ve always wanted to be a wedding planner. In the sense that it would be interesting for five minutes, not because I’m qualified or well-suited for the job. It’s like thinking “oh I’d love to be a brain surgeon”. In both cases, were I to actually do the job I would find I am not remotely cut out for it, but not until after chaos has ensued and many lives have been lost.
Many years of intricate organisation went into this affair. My involvement was mainly focussed in two areas; food and outfits. I know what you’re thinking; it’s so nice of me organising all this for my sis and taking some of the huge atlassian (and admittedly self-inflicted) burden off the shoulders of my slightly younger sibling. I have however made a rather broad, and some would argue grotesquely flattering, use of the words contribution and involvement.
On the food, I contributed the word “chicken” in a WhatsApp conversation.
It was in response to the question (for the ninth time, and from the third person) “can you please let us know your menu choices”. My reasoned and well thought out reply (some weeks overdue), was essentially me repeating back the only word on the menu I understood. Actually, I thought I understood that it was chicken served with cafe au lait sauce; but I was clearly mixing up my French because I thought – don’t laugh – that cafe au lait was French for coffee with milk – which on a chicken would be fucking mental. Oh actually can I have the sea bass please, smothered with Robinson’s lemon barley water, you don’t get a michelin star by over-diluting that stuff.
In an effort to not cause fuss, I said I was ambivalent towards starters and dessert. This ended up causing enormous fuss, as on the day I ended up being the only person in the fucking room NOT having a starter or dessert. Like a particularly unique sort of food allergy which caused havoc amongst the waiting staff.
OK so maybe this was more of a hindrance than a contribution. Where I did bring value was in sorting the most complex outfit to be worn that day.
Yes, my own.
Make no mistake, anyone who thinks choosing a wedding dress or a bridesmaids dress is a long, drawn out process, hasn’t tried tagging along with me trying to buy a suit.
This was not like my old days at the software company, where I had to wear a suit every day to work. None of those suits fitted me, but I didn’t care, because I was made to wear a suit by WORK, and it was ultimately their fault that I looked so ridiculous in one. That my business smocks reflected badly on the company was my revenge for them making me wear it. As long as it was technically a suit, they couldn’t discipline me for breaching the dress code.
When I started working for a normal company my need for suits evaporated. In fact, I had enormous fun some years ago tearing my old work suit to shreds as part of a zombie fancy dress.
And aside from weddings I didn’t end up going to because of drink, dogs or memory loss, what possible need would I have to get one?
Well, what about if somehow – and I don’t quite recall how – the man who once convinced dozens of colleagues he was Bosnian, got invited via a friend to an event at the Bosnian Embassy in London. I would have the chance to convince actual Bosnians I was Bosnian. I would be able to see if my flawless routine of “I know things about Bosnia, I have shoes the colour of the Bosnian flag” would cut the (blue & yellow) mustard in the presence of His Excellency. Alas, my zany shoes were not to be worn, this would be a suit and tie affair. And for the first time in many years, I needed a suit.
It was early on a Tuesday afternoon, a few days before the event. I had told my boss about my upcoming brush with diplomacy, and he immediately saw what my old company had missed; that if I turned up at the Bosnian Embassy looking like a spiv, and the Ferrero-Rocher-muching Balkan elites found out where I worked, there would be huge embarrassment for my employer (admittedly in fairly niche circles). “Come on,” he said, “I know just the place, we’ll be back in half an hour with a perfect suit for you.”
We left the office, our Central London office, our office behind Oxford Street, our office within walking distance to hundreds of top retail outlets, with the intention of quickly grabbing me a fitting suit. By the time we returned, merely to pick up our bags, the cleaners were in.
If anyone from work is reading this I’d like to point out we felt morally obliged of course to retrospectively book a half-day’s annual leave for this unexpectedly lengthy personal shopping trip (I know for a fact the HR system does not go this far back, this CANNOT be disproved).
But the big question. We got the suit right? Did we fuck. We came back empty-handed, exhausted and drained of any hope that there is reason in the world. We could not find a single suit, in all of our retail utopia environs, that remotely fitted me. Arms too short, arms too long, shoulders too big, shoulders too small, won’t close, too baggy, “looks just odd”, too tight at the wrist, too baggy at the elbow, too long looks like a dress, too short looks like a crop top. The list of soul-destroying woe goes on. I had lost interest in this and any hope of sharing canapes with Mr and Mrs Ambassador about 40 minutes in. For my boss, it was a mission. It can’t be impossible to buy a human employee a suit in Central London. He knew dozens upon dozens of “perfect places”. We went to all of them. We returned broken, vowing we wouldn’t set foot in a suit shop again if we were being paid (which on this occasion, we actually were, by the company we were supposed to be working for).
In the end I had to make an excuse and bail on the Embassy, doubly disappointing as I was going with an unbelievably hot Spanish girl (fans of the blog might have spotted my usual use of terms like Spanishes to describe Spanish girls. I was once told off for this, by the specific girl referred to here, so I have written it in it’s full unabbreviated form).
Fast-forward to two years ago (mere weeks before the back-breaking incident covered in my last post), there was an industry awards ceremony that afternoon and our team were all going. I was in a simple black shirt and not too casual jeans. And shoes. In the intervening time I’d successfully bought shoes. To be honest there’s a story behind this too, but for another time. I spoke to my boss (same boss) in the morning, and he said a suit jacket would top off my look perfectly.
And … as if nothing had ever happened, as if he’d forgotten about “that last time”, off we went.
We were minutes into our ill-advised jaunt. I had protested, partly because I had a shit load of work to do that morning, and partly because I didn’t think my morale could survive another fruitless shopping trip. I was getting texts from colleagues “where are you – you’re supposed to be in this meeting?” Um, our boss has taken me on a short business trip? Come on, buying formalwear with your boss must be able to be considered business, right?
Largely we encountered the same challenges as before. Nothing fitted. Thirty minutes turned into ninety, one dash into the “perfect shop” became a frustrated traipse round nine. In the fourth shop, we enlisted heavily the help of staff. This was memorable for the moment when the assistant, having just unsuccessfully tried shoehorning me into about the seventh suit jacket, turned to my boss and said to him “What’s wrong with his body??” I WAS ACTUALLY STANDING THERE. It would have been hugely offensive were it not for the mounting evidence that my proportions were all fucked. I looked at both of them with a shameful nod.
But in the last shop, where we had tried to ask for help from various assistants and they had basically told us to fuck off and look on the hangers (which has almost made my boss storm out), we struck gold. Black gold. An actual fitting suit jacket. We were at the checkout and out of there before I could even suggest that we buy seven. Just in case.
So I’m halfway there for Laura’s wedding right? I’ve got a lovely jacket, I have shirts that can be convincing placed underneath, I even have shoes that work. Some black trousers and I’d be set.
“Have you sorted out something to wear yet?” my sister chased, probably assuming an outfit was going to be as much of a chore as my menu choices. Before I could reply that it was all in hand and with the mere speedy purchase of a pair of gentleman’s trousers and perchance a belt, I was sorted, she added “Just so you know, all the rest of the guys are wearing blue,” before attaching various pictures of the blue suits being worn by my brothers.
I couldn’t go through this again. For a start, my boss was on holiday.
I was on my own. I did the only thing I could. I put it off. I decided to try to sort everything else out and leave the suit till the last minute. Sensible right, given all you know about how this stuff works out for me?
I got my hotel room sorted, the last room they had available, which I was fortunate to get since I waited till the week before the wedding to book it. A family room. Two double beds. Space for eight arms and eight legs with a price tag to match. Bizarrely my first thought was “oooh, handy if I get lucky”, as if the definition of getting lucky for me was finding someone to sleep in a separate bed from me…
Trains were booked. Two things left on the list and one day before I leave for Scotland. Haircut. And suit. There’s only one thing I hate more than suit shopping and that’s getting a haircut. So off I went, at lunchtime, to try to get a suit. I went in to Marks & Spencer, quite literally next door to the office. Actually next door. And walked out twenty minutes later with a perfectly fitting blue suit.
I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I told no-one, and hid it when I got back to my desk. I didn’t want to jinx it, I wouldn’t get my hopes up until I got home and tried everything on again in real conditions, maybe it was a trick of the mirror in the shop. But no, there were no surprises, it was perfect. I really had gotten lucky.
The elation was overwhelming. I was actually going to this wedding. With the things that other people have, like a hotel room booked and a suit to wear. What a life.
But my hair was a fucking shambles and it was too late to fix it. Or was it. And there was the small matter of a speech. This is all in Part II…Jump to Part II