Once upon a time, when you accepted an invitation to a wedding you also accepted the responsibility of looking for a wedding present. Something suitable. Something beautiful, useful, something hopefully that they would like to have and you wouldn’t be embarrassed to give. However well intentioned the wedding guests, the combatants could still end up with two table lamps, three toasters and an optional piece of kitsch, according to how many aunties and uncles they had mustered for the fray. But this was okay. It came with the territory. It even afforded some amusement, some light relief to the solemn occasion. And it filled the loft with things that would bring back memories of the happy day. Sadly the element of chance that caused the fun has all but disappeared.
Nowadays you get wedding present lists. Lists of staggering complexity. Cross-referenced to avoid duplication. Grid-referenced to the closest M & S with catalogue numbers and colours and sizes and even, praise the Lord, prices! This precludes any opportunity for a free spirit to purchase a deep and meaningful gift that might say a little bit more about the personalities of the happy couple and a lot less about the current top ten favourite ‘Herbgreen’ or ‘Rosetrellis’ patterned dinner service.
It also seems that the size of the box reveals the size of your heart. The size of your bank balance just doesn’t cut it with these guys. And if you’re finding it difficult to care at all about the joining of these two acquisitive souls in financial harmony it can cut a wound in your conscience even deeper than the swathe it cuts through your cheque book.
Being older than thirty-something probably has a lot to do with my predilection for a festive feast. I do enjoy a wedding. Well-worn gatherings of well-worn friends to mark another turning point in their lives enormously enriches the old familiar pattern of mine. Bearing witness to ritual publication of sworn fealty between two souls (and sometimes also God) whilst wearing nice frocks and trousers – has been known to cause me to pause and ponder about what I believe in and why. I’ve worked out that, though I’m not completely convinced about the validity of the exercise, I do like the cake.
And as I journey through the aforementioned vale, it seems there’s increasingly more opportunity to indulge in a bit of dressing up and ceremony. Old friends marry new acquaintances, their divorced other halves take up with young things who’ve been lying to their families about the state of their living arrangements. With all this cross-country shuffling of partners comes an increasingly larger band of sons and daughters. And these sons and daughters start to marry as well. They too have weddings. I may have to pay lip service to relationships that are tenuous and new partners who are tedious. I may find my lip curling sometimes, driven to ‘observe the niceties’ and desperate to avoid them, but I still enjoy the cake. And I’m still happy to come to celebrate your happiness even if it’s only one of you I know or care about.
There’s just one thing I need to get sorted out please. I’ll gladly come to sing holy chants or file past the previous entrants to wedded bliss in the local registry, but can I make up my own mind what to get as a gift? You’ve invited me because you like me (hopefully) and I like you. My invitation’s not a credit card voucher for your new kitchen and I don’t want to be made to feel I’m paying for my wedding supper. Let me be the judge of what I find appropriate to bestow to mark this union, preferably with something that has a longer life span than a slide-top bread bin with non-slip feet, and more loving than an overpackaged set of freezer-to-microwave with a grouping of lurid vegetables rendered on the side. I hope you’ll be happy, I really do, but I’d like it not to depend on frilly sheets or talking bathroom scales. Don’t send me that list. I’ll reach deeper into my pocket, and faster, when I think you’re not expecting anything but my very best wishes for your future.