A few reflections on a very happy day...
When the chiefs at Nasa told Neil Armstrong he would be the first man to stand on the moon I am sure the toes on those feet of his which would soon take such a historic step trembled with excitement.
But tell me, which is the greater honour? Planting a plastic US flag in some grey moondust and then jetting home or getting to stand beside Michael and Alex in the heat of the Technicolor drama of their wedding day?
This is a moment of take-off! Today we have gathered at the Cape Canaveral of 21st century matrimony. The booster rockets are firing and before us we see the spectacular launch of a coalition which will eclipse in wonder, beauty and panache any tango move performed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the Rose Garden.
No spaceman has ever set foot on a star, but – Mike and Alex – today you are two luminous lights whose combined brilliance can be seen even in the darker neighbourhoods of Alpha Centurai.
The moon is just a round object which orbits the earth. Yet for so many of us here today, in our lives you are a pivot of joy, around which spins fun, adventure and the incandescent delight of decades-spanning friendship.
When I arrived in the city of Aberdeen in the final years of the Major Government, Scotland was draped in an ink-black winter. The comet Hale-Bopp was in the sky and in our now-demolished student hall there were greater opportunities to indulge in the consumption of lard than at any previous moment in my life, but such phenomena were poor compensation for the comforts left behind on the far side of the Irish Sea.
Yet before I set out for Scotland, I heard rumours of another Ulsterman who was about to make the crossing. While I was selling shoes in Ireland’s oldest footwear emporium, people of good standing and intelligence took me to one side and told me to look out for Michael Waring, using tones of voice usually employed only to describe Mother Teresa or Frank Sinatra.
When I first encountered this great man he was standing at the top of a flight of stairs leading out of the carbohydrate haze of the dining room. With hair hanging to his shoulders and a fine cardigan sashaying to his knees, he appeared a Moses in the age of Britpop, a seer and a sage with the panache and pizazz to lead even Aberdeen into a promised land of vitamins and Ingmar Bergman box-sets.
And later that evening, as we waited to go to a ceilidh where great-hearted Scottish women would thrash us about like kittens in the grip of tartan rhinos, I turned to him and said, “I hear you’re into films? Who’s your favourite director?”
Michael cocked his head and said: “I think it has got to be Woody Allen.”
In the Hebrew scriptures there is a moment when a woman spontaneously volunteers to water a herd of camels for one of Abraham’s servants and is immediately identified as perfect marriage material. In a world in which Steven Seagal’s Navy Seals received an order of veneration to rival Citizen Kane, it was a moment of wild, camel-watering relief and happiness to encounter someone who shared a delight in a New York filmmaker in whose movies beautiful women fall in love with funny little guys with a line in self-deprecating humour.
When Mike writes you a letter a tapestry of wit and pathos that would wow Woody Allen on a Thursday tumbles into your lap. But Mike is no Cyrano de Bergerac who can only woo with the written word.
At a time in life when most of us were trying to impress womenfolk by growing goatee beards that made us resemble the results of illegal genetic experiments in cloning hamsters and aardvarks, Mike had the gliding grandeur of a matinee idol; it was as if Dean Martin’s younger brother had come to Scotland in search of the Famous Grouse. Did he need a Sammy Davis Jr?
There are men who can play bagpipes, and women who can throw knives at remarkable speed, but Mike’s greatest trick is not his ability to wear outrageously colourful shirts of crushed velvet that would dazzle a peacock or even his skills at constructing a chocolate cake by stirring Jack Daniel's and butter; rather, he knows the phrase which instantly puts anyone at ease, brings shining humour out of the murk of the everyday, and sprays curiosity and a scent of adventure in every direction.
It is true that during two very cold but consistently interesting years in which we lived in a subsiding tenement building that had once been the childhood home of Annie Lennox he would sometimes put on a pair of angel’s wings after eating a jelly prepared by a future medical negligence lawyer, but conversation with Mike takes flight without any dietary requirements.
This has inevitably led many women on different continents to fall into advanced states of besotedness with our dear friend, and I understand an animated series featuring Mike eating different types of cereal is still big in Cambodia. But a little over half a decade ago, while watching Happy Gilmore, a comedy about the golfing exploits of a sociopathic hockey player, I gained the distinct impression that he might have fallen for a marvellous woman on the same sofa whose four-letter name straddled both ends of the alphabet.
The correct spelling of Alex is an important point in this story. As the third year of our studies rumbled towards its end, Mike and I decided that our CVs needed proof that we had used our time at university to do more than meditate on the psychedelic glory of level one of Mario Kart. We made a bee-line to a pub where the sophisticated ladies of the English Studies society were on the desperate search for new committee members.
In the darkness of this tavern the bright eyes and gleaming cheeks of a girl from the distant and near-mythical city of London glowed liked Edward Hopper’s lighthouses. We tried to give the impression that we would run across the Arctic dressed as voles if this would further the cause of their society, but, actually, we wanted to understand this mysterious damsel’s uranium-bright joie de vie, even if it meant learning French.
When we stumbled back into our flat on Hutcheon St – and there is no other way to enter a building in which each room slants at a 30 degree angle – a future intellectual property lawyer who could identify 30 types of light sabre looked up to ask how our evening’s adventure had progressed. “It was good,” Michael said. “But there was a really hot chick called Alice.”
It took weeks to discover we were half-wrong about her name, but in the subsequent years the qualities which scorched Mike’s eyebrows to cinders that night and the treasure trove of subsequently discovered delights have blazed true and deep and it has been a blessing of a Himalayan-high order to know her kindness, hospitality, loyalty, wit and warmth and eat her outrageously good pasta.
In the song Shelter from the Storm, the poet of Minnesota, Bob Dylan, tells the listener to “try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm.” I don’t need to. I’ve sat in front of roaring Christmas fires in Michael’s homes in first Ballyrashane and Cairnlough and then Coleraine, and spent some of the most contented afternoons of my life in the garden of Alex’s family home in Streatham.
Jim Waring, Michael’s dad, is the man we all wish would be US president. But if his ancestors had boarded the Mayflower Northern Ireland would have lost a cracking badminton player, a pastor with a message of love and eternal life who has sufficient reserves of wisdom, compassion and encouragement to fill the Gulf of Mexico, and an extraordinary father of three amazing children.
In the opening moments of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, we hear Ray Liotta’s character say: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” But if Ray Liotta had met the Waring clan he would have encountered people bonded together by something stronger and more wonderful than a Mafia oath and then there would have been no need for him to enter the witness protection scheme and nobody would have got whacked.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved this family. An evening with Jim, Stephanie, Phillip and David is more exciting than any bank heist and their company sparkles brighter than a haul of diamonds.
When I started coming to London for job interviews and whatnot, staying at Alex’s house was a jump into a magic cauldron of food and family and laughter and debate.
In a metropolis famed worldwide for capitalist bustle and can’t-stop-to-chat urgency, it was a tonic and joy to be seized by Alex’s mum Susie and bear-hugged by her brother, Ben, and charmed by his great friend Sara. As so many of you will know, together they cook up a magic potion that fills you with a confidence which makes you think you can take the globe for a Michael Jordan dribble and slam-dunk it through life’s most challenging hoops.
Alex’s grandmother, Margit - who is a paragon of elegance, a dynamo of inspiration and a true veteran of courage - told me: “You’ll get a job because you’ve stayed in this house. Everyone who stays in this house gets a job.”
I’ve now been happily living in Wales for almost a decade so I don’t think I got the job I was going for – and Michael knows the last time we played basketball I ended up sprawled on the court with a broken fibula – but in the two houses of Mike and Alex, which are today united in love and hope, you can discover something much more important than monetary employment.
Generations of love, forged in the fires of the trials and turbulence and pain and promises of centuries, have fashioned families which throw wide their arms to embrace and transform us.
We are indebted to you for this, and such love is already burning bright in the lives of Mike and Alex. I’ve seen them take this magic to places as far apart as New York, Vancouver and Bushmills. Wherever fires can be lit and cardigans may be worn they will bring the crackle of life at its most exciting, laughter at its most illuminating and friendship at its most warming.
On the first morning of the second millennium and the 21st century I woke up on a mattress in a very narrow space in a Belfast bedroom into which had been squeezed a future James Bond-double, a dude with the most fantastic purple dungarees and the man whom a decade later would win the hand in marriage of Alex Romeo. Now, in the first year of the second decade of this century, a new chapter has opened.
May your mattresses be soft but expertly sprung, your love strong, your children happy and your memories of this day as darn fantastic as you look together right now. Mazel tov!
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- Genesis Through Wordle
- I could have been a lesbian living in Sydney
- Strike While It's Still Hot
- Eye Times and Misdemeanours
- Seizing the "Not Yet"
- The Wedding of Mike & Alex
- You're Jolly Well Joking aren't you?
- Encountering Edward
- A Hostage to Trifle
- Plaid @ 85
- Is Christianity Relevant?
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