Last week I was best man at my friend Mike's wedding in Southport, near Liverpool. This was my speech. The titles were my outline. Luckily I was trying to be sincere rather than funny, because the groom's speech brought the house down, and I had to follow it. By the end of mine half the audience were in tears.
A wedding party is a fairly easy audience!
I found the speech-giving a lot less stressful than standing in the church with the rings hoping not to drop them, but someone said that my left hand was shaking throughout, so some part of me must have found the experience terrifying. As far as my conscious mind was concerned, I enjoyed showing off in front of all those people immensely.
Hi, I'm John. I'm a friend of Mike's from College and ever since. We shared a house in Cambridge for a while.
I think it's fair to say that Mike is the man who's left the most plates of half-eaten pizza in my life.
On the other hand, PG Wodehouse said that the friendship of David and Jonathan would have been tested had the one persistently dropped catches off the other's bowling.
And I think it's fair to say that we've met that test full on, and emerged unscathed.
I'm a Yorkshireman, having grown up just the other side of the Pennines, so I was a little worried about coming to Lancashire.
But luckily, by a terrible accident, I was actually born in Manchester, which I'm told is like a magic passport to friendship and goodwill in this part of the world.
Thank John Evans
Obviously it's a huge honour to be asked to be someone's best man, and also a tribute to one's organizational abilities.
And so from my point of view it's unfortunate that that honour went to John Evans, Mike's brother, who's done a fantastic amount of work behind the scenes, at one point driving, what was it, 350 miles?
To play Dungeons and Dragons. This being Mike's last request as a free man.
We made him pretend to be a pixie, or something...
So the first person I want to thank is John, for all the effort he's put in.
And for saving my ass when I was out of fireball spells and that werewolf sneaked round the back of the old temple.
Why am I giving speech then?
So you might ask why I'm giving this speech, in which it's traditional to let slip the odd secret.
For some reason, it was thought that it would be better if it were someone who hadn't known Mike at school.
I have no further information.
And my price is traditionally quite high.
Thank bridesmaids or respond to groom's thanks
I'm sure that Isabelle's wonderful bridesmaids would like to respond in person to Mike's kind words earlier, but tradition dictates that I should reply on their behalf.
(As camply as possible) Thanks!!!xxx!!!
And of course I think we'd all like to thank them for so gloriously decorating the occasion. Well done girls!
Thank whoever paid for the wedding for inviting everybody
Also on behalf of all of us, I'd like to thank Lucien and Christine for inviting us all to share this great party that they've organised to celebrate Isabelle and Mike's special day.
You have really pushed the boat out, on a scale I believe was last seen for Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the classical world.
An appropriate comparison for Isabelle, I think.
Hint at Stag Night Debauchery
It's traditional that at this point, I should say a few words about the stag night.
I'm afraid that I have little to report, since the Succubus-o-gram failed to turn up, despite our most earnest pentacles.
But on a personal note, is the gorgeous Swedish bird with the Errol Flynn moustache here?
See me later young lady.
As I mentioned earlier, I first met Mike at college, an establishment founded in 1441, and dedicated to the spiritual life and the advancement of religion.
The full name of the place is the King's College of our Lady and St Nicholas, and it's famed throughout the world for its Santa Claus and Virgins parties.
Mike was always a true son of the place, a saintly figure in fact.
Ever since I first met him, when I tripped over his duvet.
In the college bar.
At three o'clock in the morning.
After that I don't think he ever put a foot out of place.
(pointing in vague direction of Cambridge contingent)
And it's at this point that it's traditional for people not to shout 'That's never a foot', because that joke always falls a bit flat.
As a scholar of the college, which means that in a haunt of very clever people he stood out as being particularly clever, and so they gave him a book token, Mike would have had to swear to 'devote himself to the studies of the university'.
A vow which I know he took just as seriously as everyone else.
Joking apart, Mike is a frighteningly clever and curious man.
I think in fifteen years, for at least two of which we shared a house and played almost every night, I've beaten him at chess what, three times?
(At this point, Mike shouted 'twice' in a stern sort of way, which got a huge laugh)
Quantum Mechanics, which baffled and confused Einstein and caused the great physicist Feynman to say 'If you think you understand this, then you really haven't understood the first thing about it', was Mike's specialist subject.
I once heard him say 'I never really got Shakespeare at school.' I said 'Well it's not all drivel', and read him the famous speech from Julius Caesar.
I must have done a fair job, because a couple of months later he told me he'd signed up to do a degree in English Literature.
He's a man with a desire to understand the world around him.
But actually his intelligence isn't the most important thing about Mike.
He has a gentleness, a kindness, and a tolerance that is very rare, and very precious.
Men like him are few and far between. Well found Isabelle.
I haven't known Isabelle for nearly as long. In fact from my point of view it was a bit of a whirlwind romance.
One day Mike called to say 'Hi John. I'm coming to Cambridge for a few days. Is there any chance of a game of cricket, meet up with some old friends?'
In my innocence I suggested that we meet up at a favourite cafe in one of the few bits of town that, instead of having a statue of Isaac Newton or a fifteenth century gargoyle arrangement, has an excellent view of the dual carriageway and does a good lunch.
And it was at this point that he introduced his new girlfriend, who'd clearly been been enticed along with talk about punt trips and old colleges and a walk along the famous backs.
Now when I was a lad, girls hated cricket.
Of course nowadays, what with women's liberation and all that, it's all completely different.
These days women hate cricket.
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I mentioned that indeed the old friends were a man short for our Saturday game tomorrow, against the Pembury Arms, and that there might just be a few seats left on the train, as it happened.
Isabelle, bless her, pretended to be absolutely delighted to watch her new boyfriend demolishing a small pub in a park in North London. The city they'd left not twenty-four hours earlier.
At the after-cricket poker game she delightedly extracted all our money, to show there were no hard feelings.
As they used to say in the Old West, never cross a mathematician when she's in reach of a deck of cards.
Anyway I felt a teeny bit guilty about all this, until the second communication from Mike, which was a text saying. "We're in Venice and I asked Isabelle to marry me and she said yes!!!"
So maybe she really does like cricket.
Fortunately there's no game organised today.
At any rate I think she's displayed a tolerance, a good humour, and indeed a financial acumen that will serve her well in the days to come.
Describe their Relationship
An old piece of advice often said at weddings goes 'Find in your partner a lover, a friend and a teacher'.
I can't help thinking that what with Mike having done a PGCE and Isabelle actually being a teacher, this might be being taken a tad too literally here.
What I do know is that they seem ideally suited. They finish each other's sentences.
Apparently they fell in love at school, but they were both too shy to mention it.
By the time they met up again, some fifteen years later, obviously one of them had managed to pluck up the courage to say something!
Toast to Bride and Groom
They say that we bachelors know more about women than married men...
That's why we're still bachelors.
Be that as it may, I've been made very jealous by this beautiful ceremony that we've been privileged to witness today.
I'm jealous of the courage it takes to make such a commitment, before your friends and your family and God.
I'm jealous of Isabelle, for having found this clever, funny, kind, gentle man who loves her.
I'm jealous of Mike, for his beautiful, bright, tolerant, smiling wife.
I'm jealous of the years of contented happiness that stretch out before them. Of their shelter from the storm with each other.
I wish you long life, health, wealth, happiness and children, all those things.
But most of all I wish you... I wish all of us, love.
As Auden told us: We must love one another or die.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the bride and groom.