Can romance survive the National Wedding Show?

‘We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall, keeping us tied and true’
Joni Mitchell, My Old Man, 1971

I think we can say conclusively that Joni Mitchell, when she wrote the above song at the back-end of the hippy era, had not been to the National Wedding Show. Because if she had done, her lyric, if accurately rendered, would read something more like:

We need a piece of paper from the city hall, keeping us tied and true, and we also need a fantastically expensive wedding, reception and honeymoon which will cost a small fortune, to show that we love each other.

Yes, I took a trip to the National Wedding Show at Olympia at the weekend. This is the place where that proposal, that down on one knee burbling of, ‘will you, my dear?’ turns into reality. The place where romance morphs into budgets and colour schemes and timelines. Where men realise what they have let themselves in for, and the women say, ‘don’t worry, just organise the music at the reception, and leave the rest to me.’

I wasn’t there because of any upcoming nuptials on my part. I was volunteering for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, for whom I also work. The people who organise the thing had generously given the charity a stand to promote our good cause. We spent our time chatting to the people about the various pins we had on offer which could be alternative wedding favours.

To give you some understanding of my level of innocence before attending on Sunday, I didn’t even know what a wedding favour was. For the unenlightened, they are the sugared almonds, or similar, that you get on the table when you sit down to a meal at a wedding. In the weddings I have attended, I have clearly scoffed the little blighters long before ascertaining that they are a traditional gesture of friendship from the happy couple.

The Wedding Fair was a bustling place, mostly with business-like mothers dragging their daughter and groom-to-be around, looking at dresses, places to get married, places to have receptions, caterers, the lot. It’s a place to gather ideas and start to scope out what’s out there.

Some were floating around the place, excited by the possibilities of it all. Others were utterly bewildered, finding out that, yes, even trifling things like confetti and cup cakes have got to be bought. And if you think you might struggle into the wedding dress of your dreams, there was even a Boot Camp to get you into shape.

There was some wonderfully novel sights to be seen down at the show. Opposite us was a heavy-set fellow from Scunthorpe who had a stand called Amazing Smile. This was offering a kind UV light treatment to the teeth, to whiten them, with prices starting at £89.99. I never knew such a product existed, and thought it preposterously expensive. But apparently this was very cheap and prices are usually in the hundreds of pounds. He did a roaring trade.

The Amazing Smile stand drew some interesting characters to it. Some of the ladies getting their gnashers done were in what you might call the Silvio Berlusconi class. But the biggest (in every way) customers were the Dream Boys. These are hen party specialists, appearing at various locations across the UK to do their show. Needless to say, they were all getting their teeth done, some quite possibly twice. It appears that the dream these boys were peddling was that of a group of men, quite possibly from Essex, with gym-built physiques and unnaturally whitened teeth, stripping down to the posing pouch. The show has been running for years, so it clearly works.

One of the blokes told us they support a different cancer charity each year, and have given tens of thousands to charity, including Breakthrough. So it appears that everyone is a winner.

By the end of Sunday, it had been a hard few days for many of the people working there. I saw models who had been doing the catwalk show hobbling about. Some of the stallholders were on autopilot – dreaming of being at home with their feet up.

When we tottered out of there, I wondered whether this modern obsession with highly elaborate, highly expensive weddings kills romance stone dead. I needed some sort of affirmation that people who get married aren’t just burdened by societal pressure and financial strain. On the cab back to the office, I prattled to the driver about the wedding show. He told me that it was the day of his ninth wedding anniversary, and he was out working.

Economics conquering love? Not a bit of it. He was taking his wife out for a meal the following day, he told me with a smile. A heartwarming tale to end a good, but rather unromantic day.

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Short man Gattuso blows his fuse!!!

Last night’s display by Gennaro Gattuso was possibly the best example of a short man going on the rampage since Joe Pesci went at that poor unfortunate with the telephone in Goodfellas.

Infuriated by the beanpole striker, short man Gattuso goes after Crouch

Not only did he hand out this finger-wagging attack on Peter Crouch, probably just on account of Crouch’s preposterous size, but he sought out Joe Jordan, a jock known as hard even amongst his own rugged people, and dealt him a headbutt.

(A note on this headutt: while I fully admire the handing out of a headbutt by Gattuso on Joe Jordan, I cannot admire the execution. It was one of those half-hearted push-headed efforts which suggests that even this volcanic footballer was holding himself in somewhat. It reminds me of Zidane in the World Cup Final. I still can’t understand why he didn’t deal him the blow to the bridge of the nose rather than the breast bone. My philosophy – you should never waste a good headbutt.)

This takes me back to my own football-playing heyday when my pragmatic manager sent me out, week after week, to man-mark the tallest player on the field. There I would be, all furious because of the brevity of my physique, and take great pride in pulling this week’s giant to the ground with a succession of, shall we say, ‘committed’ challenges.

Occasionally, when it looked my nascent short man syndrome was not quite to the fore, he would suggest amiably that ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall’. That, it’s safe to say, was all that was needed to fire up the old Napoleon Complex and leave some poor gentle giant wondering why short men had such aggressive streaks.

Well, as Gattuso or Pesci would testify, there really is no explaining it. There is no saying why when I see a tall man I boil up in some sort of apoplectic rage. Is it genetic? Is it environment? Is it a complex mix of both? Hard to tell. It’s just the way it is.

And football is all the better for it. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Xavi suggested that Barcelona’s style of play was the most beautiful and, almost, that the result was secondary. Well, after we had watched the tedium of Spain’s succession of 1-0s winning the World Cup, I think the football fraternity is ready for a taste of an older style, that style of football where no one can be quite sure they are going to leave the field of play with all four limbs still attached.

Because, on the night that Arsenal play Barcelona, in what the aesthetes are calling a meeting of philosophers and artists, we should remember this: football began as a game being played with a pig’s bladder between working men who wanted to thrash a ball about and hurt each other after a hard day working in the fields. In an age when the two-footed, studs-up challege is anathema to many, we should rejoice in the behaviour of players such as Gattuso who are in it for the physical battle and as a legal way to unleash their psychotic tendencies.

From one short man to another: Gattuso, I salute you.

Notes: Gattuso is about 5ft 9ins. This is not short when it comes to the general population but in the world of sport people who are usually six feet or above, he certainly is. And what I always say when people are unsure if a man is truly short or not – you will be able to tell. With Gattuso, I think we can rest assured, in his heart of hearts, he is a short man and proud.

Joe Pesci keeping his short man syndrome nicely under control

A poem in honour of President Mubarak and other friends of the west

Mubarak and Barack Obama, the best of friends

President Mubarak has gone, despite the very generous $1.5 billion each year he received from the US to keep his people in the state to which they had become accustomed. Throughout the 18 days of protests the west remained unwilling to speak out too strongly against their friend and ally. Like Pinochet, he was a man with whom the west could conduct business.

So here is a poem in honour of

A good despot
 
People called him a dictator, a tyrant, a despot
I say: that is not the man I know
I know a man of learning, culture, principles
And say this world must have gone mad when
A man, a military man, can give 60 years
Of unswerving service to his nation
And be treated like a common or garden criminal

It was laughable to me, seeing those unwashed beasts
filling the streets with their tatty flags and odours –
Couldn’t you almost smell them through the flat screen tv? –
Bearing their rotting cavitied teeth,
and demanding, what? Some kind of idiot justice
and an end to the rule of a man, a friend to the west
A man who had done his duty and his exceptional best

They said he had feathered his nest a little bit
Well, did he not deserve that for playing such a
calm, considered role in the realm of geopolitics?
We are not talking about anything insidious,
We are talking about a man who
was steadfast in doing the right thing,
A man whose farthest thought was abandoning ship
 
He has gone now, sating the shameful need of
A nation’s children to be rid of their grandfather.
The next days will be hard, yet I feel sure
he will be wise enough to reflect that
He is merely the latest in a line of great leaders
who leave power quietly admired by the many
while loudly decried by the hotheaded few