Walks and Talks with Daukes
We walked from Avington to Medstead and we were joined by Clendon and Camilla Daukes. It’s always a joy to have them with us if only because we make each other laugh until we cry. Clendon is a force of nature, a man of boundless energy and goodwill who can’t see a good cause without wanting to take it up. He doesn’t just talk about things, he really gets them done.
We spend the night enjoying the kind hospitality of Patrick Mitford Slade, who I know well from his work with the services charities whom we are privileged to partner in Zimbabwe. We meet Julia from Cornwall, who is a loyal ZANE supporter and she plans to walk with us today.
The Bride Bomb
As I walk with my friend we fondly reminisce about a memorable wedding we both attended many years ago – one where everything went disastrously awry.
It takes a certain amount of courage to continue with an event after the wheels have completely fallen off, and we both agree that our friends deserved a medal. The bride’s mum was a formidable woman with the manor and bearing of a regimental sergeant major. She had arranged for two bands and three sets of singers to perform, and there were enough flowers in the church to make an annexe to the Chelsea Flower Show. There were eight bridesmaids and groups of appointed flower petal throwers, and they had all been drilled mercilessly. The grandeur was on a scale usually reserved for Trooping the Colour.
Just a Cheeseball or Two…
The wedding was unfolding according to plan until the moment of the processional. The bride had been dressed for hours (if not days). No adrenaline was left in the poor lady’s body. She had been left alone in the church’s reception hall, and while the organ went on playing bits of Mozart she walked nervously along the tables laden with delicious goodies. She absent-mindedly started to sample the delicacies on display, from a vast bowl of pressed nuts to a selection of little pink and green mints. Then she nibbled some pecans and a cheese-ball or two, before gulping down a few black olives. Now she swallowed a handful of glazed almonds, a few sausages with frilly toothpicks stuck in them, a couple of shrimps shrouded in bacon, and some cheese biscuits smothered in liver pate. She washed down the lot with the help of a glass of pink champagne given to her by her father. Just to calm her nerves, you understand.
When the bride arrived at the church door, what everyone noticed was not her dress but her face. It was white, tinged with a light-green sheen. For what was coming down the aisle was not a bride but a walking time bomb, ready to explode.
Just before she reached the church altar, the bride threw up. And when I say she threw up, I don’t mean a ladylike “urp” into her little lace hanky. There’s no nice way of putting it, for not only did the bride spray her mother but she hosed most of the chancel – hitting three bridesmaids, the groom, the best man and the vicar too.
Only two people were seen to be smiling: one was the mother of the groom and the other was the father of the bride.
The bride pulled herself together though, and afterwards there was a much quieter, less ostentatious ceremony in the reception hall. And everyone cried, as people are supposed to do at weddings, mostly because the groom held the bride tenderly and kissed her lovingly throughout the whole ceremony.
There was an action replay 10 years later to celebrate the disaster and the event was displayed on three TV monitors – everyone laughed until they cried. Even the bride’s mum had long been able to see the funny side. But how could they enjoy the event when it had all gone so disastrously wrong? Simple. Because despite the unfortunate chain of events, this was still a loving wedding full of laughter and great fun. The whole episode is now safely archived away in the family’s folklore.
Of course, that sort of wedding is well over the top, and we don’t have to spend loads of money to have fun and celebrate. But as I’ve said before, there are never enough good parties to mark the important changes in life. Today we apparently have a new way of doing things: more relaxed and less formal – but with fewer opportunities for chaos, laughter and tears. I wonder if the new ways are as much fun as those of the old days?
No More Shame
One of my friends told me that his daughter Muriel has morphed into a “relationship” with Freddie, where she seems to have been stuck for some nine years. No one decided when her single state ended and her new “couple” role started, it just seemed to happen – and, of course, there was no party.
The problem is that Muriel’s “partner”, Freddie, cannot make up his mind whether or not to commit to Muriel. Muriel is now 35 and lives in limbo land with her biological clock loudly ticking. She is desperate to have a family but no one knows what to say to Freddie to get him to face up to his responsibilities as the old lines of family authority have been eroded to dust. Is Muriel still “in” her old family, or out of it? If she is “out”, when did she leave? My friend (Muriel’s dad) has been bracing himself for some time to question Freddie about his long-term intentions, but he is told to shut up by his wife (who will do whatever she has to avoid confrontation). Muriel has come to realise that she is not as marriageable as she was nine years ago, and she is fearful that if she presses too hard she faces the risk of being traded in for a new model. The question she asks at four in the morning is whether her present insecurity is better than the risk she faces of potential loneliness?
If this is the new way of living, then who are the winners? Both sets of parents are increasingly flustered, and Muriel is frightened and miserable.
Today, we seem to have done away with shame. Once it was a very potent emotion and it governed people’s lives long after the ducking pool and the stocks were abolished. Shakespeare mentions “shame” 344 times in his plays and guilt, which is a far more personal emotion, only 33 times. A mere 100 years ago, society expected people to behave in a certain way and if they failed to conform then they were humiliated. Carl Jung calls shame a “soul-eating” emotion. It destroyed Oscar Wilde with hideous relish and finality; single mothers were ostracised and illegitimate children were stigmatised: unpleasant hypocrites and gossips had a great time. My grandmother was deserted by her feckless husband in 1905 and the family – lower middle class, southern Manchester – was traduced by the community for bringing shame on itself – an even worse social crime than ruining one’s own reputation. There was little allowance for redemption then. It’s easy to see why the British rejected shame in the second half of the twentieth century, for it was seen to be a singularly destructive and corrosive emotion.
But isn’t there a need for some shame? Perhaps we need to differentiate between good and bad shame; for example should the likes of Freddie be allowed to get off without critical comment from any quarter? All Muriel’s family want is to ensure that the interests of their vulnerable daughter are protected, for we are all more vulnerable than we pretend to be.
Poor Muriel thought it was so much fun when she started out on the relationship when there were no social rules to bother herself with. But it’s a cold, hard world out there and loneliness is peeping round the corner.
Over the years, the default position of our UK authorities – both local and national – has been to create an atheist society, and they appear to be well on the way to succeeding.
Today it seems that social workers no longer work within a clear framework of right and wrong, or with reference to a higher power. Well we can see how this is working out in Oxford where underage girls were recently raped by a group of men. Although our local authorities as well as the police were informed of what was happening, they chose to do nothing to stop the abuse because they did not want to be seen as “judgemental”. So the rapes continued unabated for some time. It would seem that the police and the local authorities operate today in a state of moral drift.
It’s not as if we couldn’t see this coming. George Orwell, the author of 1984 was a noted atheist. Before he died, he pondered the loss of religious faith in Europe that he had once applauded, and he was honest enough to express dismay at the results. “For two hundred years,” he wrote, “we have sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than we had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded and down we came. But unfortunately there has been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all but a cesspool of barbed wire… It appears that amputation of the soul is not a simple surgical job like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.”
Oxford’s raped girls are a testimony to that. And don’t forget that Orwell wrote that 50 years ago. I wonder what he would be writing if he were alive today?