Wannabe weddings

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Let me come clean from the start. On neither of the two occasions I have been married has a church, a clergyman, an expensive reception or a honeymoon been required.

The first wedding took place at the British Consulate in Goteborg, Sweden.

My wife-to-be lived there at the time, thus taking care of the honeymoon.

The sole witness was her flatmate, Trudi, and, to the best of my recollection, the Consul did a workmanlike job conducting the ceremony. He may have been moved to brevity by the fact that one of my trouser legs was in tatters and I was bleeding copiously.

Inspired by the imminent nuptials, I had vaulted over a railing outside the Consulate, proving once again that ambition often outruns prowess, and reduced my new (and only) suit to rags, and my knee (one of two) to a gravel-pocked environmental hazard.

The second wedding was held in Whitby, North Yorkshire. We didn't live there, either, but were on holiday from our home in Dublin. Honeymoon sorted once again. The banks were on strike in Ireland at the time, causing a serious shortage of readies. My father asked to see the ring. I told him I hadn't got one. "Women like that sort of thing," he said and sent me off to the jeweller with twenty quid in hand. The best ring I could find, which could be altered to the right size in the hour remaining before we rolled up in front of the registrar, cost pound;9.

It made my wife's finger go green and she quickly abandoned it, remaining wedding ring-less to this day. The marriage was quick and efficient. The Red Arrows performed exclusively for us (and the Whitby Regatta, held, coincidentally, on the same day). The happy throng then went off to a pub for beer and pies.

In the 1960s and 1970s, unless you were religiously inclined, this kind of thing was the norm. Nowadays, I watch aghast, as friend after friend reels under a bill of pound;20,000 or so for meringue dress, rented morning suits, the first visit to a church in a decade, and satisfying the unbridled greed of some vile hotelier.

Occasionally I hear heartening talk of the splendid daughter who bought a very decent wedding dress from America on e-bay for $50. More often, though, it's the misery of forking out pound;1,500 for the cathedral choir and another pound;500 for the bells.

Where does all this daftness come from? Why do perfectly pleasant and otherwise sensible young people turn themselves into nervous wrecks for three months, preparing for an afternoon of rotten food and bad jokes about their private parts in the presence of 200 people they neither know nor like? Why do they pauperise their parents, who were just getting over the wretched university tuition fees?

I am afraid the answer lies in those twin monsters of meretriciousness, OK! and Hello!. It is the cult of celebrity. It is the ultimate silliness of believing, or even one-tenth believing, that Catherine Zeta-Jones and old whatsisname might be people you'd want to copy for a day. It is Andy Warhol's "Everyone will be a star for five minutes." It is Celebrity Love Island and Ant and Dec torturing people you half-remember having once seen in a soap, in the Australian bush.

Lest you think I am simply putting out a "keep off the grass" sign for my twentysomething son and daughter, let me assure you that, so far, the meringue and the "posh do" seem to hold no attractions. One lives with his delightful partner in a very pleasant cottage and spends his time and money on elderly machines. The other still lives at home, where grazing, stabling and a groom (her mother), are freely available. The most we seem committed to is a marquee and a hog roast one of these days.

No. Grumpy old man I might be but I am trying to make a serious point. For young people to start emulating idealised versions of the ceremonials they imagine were once practised by their grandparents - albeit with a side-helping of honeymooning in the Maldives - is a very bad idea.

Healthy attitudes in the young consist of regarding anything that happened before they were born as quaint and absurd. They should be shocking us with their avant-garde ways: not boring us by clasping on to stuff we thought we had flushed down the privy of history 30 years ago.

If all we old fogies are to be kept in some comfort, well away from a rest home in Bognor, the young need to be dabbling in the white heat of technology, not troughing indifferent champagne and sad canapes.

No wonder poor Gordon Brown despairs of our schools and our productivity.

The kids are all too busy thumbing through Hello!, Gordon, dreaming of being someone else! Perhaps the Government's new-honed reforming zeal should turn to magazine censorship and banning celebrity TV.

David Shnerlock is head of the Adult Learning Inspectorate

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