As I mentioned, daughter three and her Alex got married two weekends ago, and I made a speech. I understand that it already being quoted and of course misquoted on Facebook, so I have been encouraged to set the record straight by publishing the full authentic text.
Here it is.
This is the point at which, as the bride’s father, I am expected to regale you with cute but embarrassing tales of her childhood and a few sentiments on the institution of marriage.
Unlike my other three children, whom I met at the age of nothing in Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital, I met Nastasha at the age of thirteen in Balthazar, the restaurant in New York. She was determined not to like me. She ordered a large plate of oysters, which she proceeded to demolish. I think that it was to put me in my place. It certainly succeeded. I had never seen so many oysters eaten with such aplomb by one so young.
Later we got on better.
So I have no reminiscences of her childhood. And that is why it was right – indeed, essential – that Anthony could be here today. Anthony was a huge part of Nastasha’s life before I came on the scene and he still is, and so is his family; it’s good that his sister Attracta is here too, come specially from Ireland.
Eleven years ago I persuaded Dasha to join me in London and Nastasha came too. There was I hope something in it for Dasha, but very little for Nastasha, who was being asked to leave her adopted country, her school, her home and her friends.
But she entered into living in London with a very good grace and she became an enthusiastic part of her new family, a sister to Emily, Will and Rachel and a loving grand-daughter to my mother.
We moved into a new house together a few days after they arrived. I remember it well. It was a nightmare. Dasha got flu and stayed in bed. Nastasha and I scuttled around packing things and unpacking them again and Dasha, who had to be carried bodily out by the Pickfords men, directed us from her bed, in a caring way.
So there were three of us and then, in the wonderful way that these things sometimes happen in families, there were four. The Dog was the fourth. You will have seen him in the church. Unfortunately he cannot be with us here for reasons of health and safety.
In the fullness of time Dasha and Nastasha became subjects of Her Majesty. The Queen was so pleased that she sent a lady called the Deputy Mayor of Islington to welcome them and give them a paperweight. In those days you didn’t have to do the quiz – which is just as well as they would both have argued the toss.
So I missed Nastasha’s childhood, but when she got to London she decided it was time to have her adolescence.
And I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. As most of you know, she is the most loyal of people and the kindest of people and the best company. Again in the way of families, she was often my ally, and sometimes Dasha and I picked on her and more often they both picked on me.
I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and then she went off to Manchester University.
And there she met Alex.
His immediate appeal to her was of course that, like the Dog, he came from Staffordshire.
To the family he had different qualities: two in particular.
One was being able to fix the computer most of the time.
The other was his habit of arriving for the weekend in enormous borrowed Bentleys and making the neighbours green with envy.
I was glad to discover that Alex loved music and was an occasional music critic. It is important I think that in a marriage at least one of the parties should be able to carry a tune.
Alex is of course an engineer. In many years of professional life I have formed a huge respect for engineers. Like the best lawyers they cut through the bullshit and identify what really matters. But unlike even the best lawyers they can also make things work. I am very proud to have a son-in-law who is an engineer, just as I am to have an engineer father-in-law.
People have asked if I have any advice for Alex. Not really; after all this time he probably has us sussed. But one thing occurred to me. A friend of mine married, as Alex and I did, into a family full of women on whom assertiveness training would be wasted. I asked him how he coped. This was his reply, changing the surname:
When I’m uncertain, I just go and find a female Philippov and do as she says.
I pass it on for what it’s worth.
Finally the institution of marriage. In the church Jonathan and I attempted to play an old Irish song called My Lagan Love. I wanted to play it because it is a lovely tune and I used to play it years ago. I Googled it to remind myself how it goes, and as is the way with Google I found all sorts of stuff that I hadn’t asked for, in addition to the tune, which I hope that you will agree we had under control.
There was a site with music for weddings. There it was on the list, along with For Gawd’s Sake Get Me to the Church on Time. It was marked ‘Very Suitable’.
This was encouraging, so I decided to find out why. Another site has the words, which of course you didn’t get in the church. This is the story:
A man is staring besottedly at a woman through the window of her cottage. She is prodding morosely at a fire of bogwood. You can hear the sound of crickets chirping in her hearth. The crickets are important. Remember the crickets.
So he is a stalker. She is something much worse. She is a leanán sidhe, a malevolent creature of Irish folklore. According to the commentary, the leanán sidhe would make slaves – zombies – of the men who adored her. Finally the man would waste away and die and she would get another.
Why on earth is that ‘Very Suitable’ for a wedding?
It’s particularly unsuitable for Alex and Nastasha, where, so far from any enslaving going on, I know that they divide the household chores between them meticulously.
But the commentary on Google goes on to say that the crickets are a good sign. When people got married, it says, the couple would take for their new hearth crickets from the hearths of their parents’ houses. Now I don’t know whether Tony and Julia have any crickets to spare from their hearth. Islington Council doesn’t allow us to have them, on the grounds of health and safety.
There are some old Wisdens if they’re interested.
But whether crickets, Wisdens or not, from both our households goes much love.
So please raise your glasses to Alex and Nastasha: a long and happy life together!