Over the last three years, both my children have wed. In experiencing these events I gather a lot of material which I, in part, fictionalised for this blog. I’ve now turned those posts into a novella, The Diary of a Trainee In-Law. The final version is about to go to the editor before publication; in the meantime, if anyone wants to read it and let me know their thoughts, I’d be delighted to share with you. To tempt you, perhaps, here are the opening two entries to that diary…
Wednesday, April 21st
11.04 am: I have been trying to distract myself by creating the monthly summary of new business opportunities to be pursued – usually this work of fiction comes naturally to me – but today my mind is in something of a whirl. My discombobulation is the result of two phone calls, the first from First Born:
“Dad, you free for lunch on Saturday?”
“Have you asked your mother?”
“And we are free?”
“Then I’m delighted to accept. At yours?”
While this might sound like a cheek, her flat is on the miniscule size – you even have to sit sideways on the loo – so I’m happy we are catering.
“Mum says she wants to know why.”
I have been married for three decades and more and recognise a certain maternal neurosis. Her Pre-Eminence tends to the disaster end of any spectrum so an unexpected offer of lunch must, in her mind be accompanied by appalling news: imminent death; an intention to move abroad, or north of Watford; or a determination to vote green and/or embrace veganism.
“You know what she’s like.”
“Can you tell her not to worry?”
I am stunned. That is the worst thing I could do. And, more to the point, First Born knows it.
Hence my anxiety…
The second call is from Her Pre-eminence.
“Have you spoken to her?”
“She said for you not to be.”
“You’re being silly…”
“OH GOD!” Pause. “Find out what’s going on.”
That, of course, is easier said than done.
Saturday, April 24th
1.07 pm: Her Pre-eminence’s suspicion – that something is up – turns out to be correct. Her Pre-eminence and I are called into the garden. She grips my elbow as a peckish python might its pry. First Born is in tears, the Boyfriend is grinning manically and the Male Heir is looking like he’s found out who his real father is, and he’s very, very rich. This is all rather confusing.
Her Pre-eminence has been insisting I do something since the calls last Wednesday and while my default is to suggest I take a time out at the pub (my go-to solution to all things emotional – for the men, only, natch; the girls have their own quasi-masonic rituals for these sorts of circs into which we on the male side do well not to pry) I have managed to avoid doing anything. Now, it seems action must be taken. “What’s up?”
First Born wails and flails. This is not a good sign as she is usually the epitome of calm.
We all hold our breaths.
“I’m engaged.” It seems the flailing is to display a bit of sparkly grit that’s been embedded in a gold band on her left hand. I make approving noises and offer, “Who’s the lucky fella?” to lighten the mood when I realise Her Pre-eminence is also in tears. Floods. Tsumanis.
I lead her to a garden seat, proffering sympathy. When out of sight of the happy couple I am belaboured* about head with her weapon of choice, viz a handbag. “Why didn’t you tell me? You’ve been hiding this from me!”
When I admit I didn’t know it was coming, I’m left to watch her return to the happy couple and transfer the belabourings to the Boyfriend (though from now on it seems he must be upgraded to The Fiancé). “Why didn’t you ask our permission?”
He points at me. “He said not to. He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to keep it secret.”
The belabourings return to their original target, viz me as I try and explain I thought it was just his joke. When the Male Heir confesses he knew, it is no surprise that the belabourings continue about my person while he is forgiven his trespasses.
1.22 pm: First Born whispers something to Her Pre-eminence at the same time as giving me a side-eye that tells me not to ask what is happening. They go indoors, Her Pre-eminence leading the way in the manner with which the Male Heir’s school teachers became familiar if they had the audacity to impose any sort of detention. Through the French doors, we mere males watch as a flip-chart and spreadsheet are magicked from somewhere and marker pens are uncapped. While Her Pre-eminence takes centre stage and begins writing, First Born sits as a supplicant might.
The Male Heir has the best eye-sight. “Is that a date?”
The Fiancé shifts uneasily. “It’s tentative.”
The Male Heir scoffs – he has perfected a range of scoffs, this one suggests he’s not that gullible. “Mum’s scoured it into the paper. Looks pretty settled to me.”
While the younger males compete over what she has actually written, I catch her eye. There’s something suspiciously like uncertainty in Her Pre-eminence’s gaze which bodes badly.
While I try and damp down my fevered speculations, hands rest on my shoulders. The Fiancé and Male Heir ease me away, like I’ve been staring at a car smash and I should know better. In unison they say: ‘Pub’. Who am I to dissent?
1.47 pm: On our way it occurs that 1. I should know better than to try and second guess Her Pre-eminence – generally guessing will only extend or increase the pain; and 2. I am now the Father of the Fiancéed, or is that the Affianced? A FOF. Or a FAF? That actually feels quite good.
Male Heir ruins the moment. “You’ll soon be an In-Law.”
I exchange a look with the Fiancé. I think we both know who out of me and Her Pre-eminence is going to be the Lesser of Two I-Ls.
*I would like to assure the reader that the actual belabourings are not some version of abhorrent domestic violence but a vague sense that the waved hands, bags etc which might cause damage if ever the intent matched the ability of the belabourer to deliver a blow are merely for show; happily Her Pre-eminence is to Mixed Martial Arts what my disco dancing is to a Strictly winner’s display of grace and coordination.