For me, fear can neatly be summed up with the following scenario…
I’m a passenger on a transatlantic flight, cruising at 35,000ft and enduring back-to-back Robin Williams films on a Gameboy-sized screen in a headrest. After sitting through Dead Poets Society and Jumanji – and with the opening titles to Patch Adams beginning – I jokily pray for explosive cabin decompression. However, at that very moment, the pilot’s tinny voice crackles through my headphones and regrettably informs the passengers and crew that, due a massive technical failure with the aircraft, we should immediately adopt the fiery death position.
From that point on, apart from loudly soiling myself and shouting to god that I’d gladly watch Bicentennial Man if he’d just let me live, I’d also scream to the point where my uvula would detach, shoot out of my mouth, and splosh into my complimentary cup of orange juice, like a Disprin.
Yep, that’s still a very real fear of mine. It sits on my ‘Greatest Fears in Life’ list next to nuclear war and the possibility that a BBC commissioner might one day have a change of heart about recommisioning Big Top. But after a holiday in France last week, I can now cross something off the list that was only recently added; a terrifying act that would certainly carry the acronym F.E.A.R. (if it didn’t already have the acronym A.M.G.F.I.I.C.M.H.D.): asking my girlfriend’s father if I can marry his daughter.
I’m a traditional chap at heart, so when the time to propose to my girlfriend arrived, it was always part of the plan to seek approval and permission from the patriarch. And a holiday to Normandy with her family presented me with the perfect opportunity. But crikey, I was terrified.
I’ve known my girlfriend’s father for nearly seven years now, but aside from being a genuinely lovely, friendly, generous and funny man, he can also occasionally be quite fierce and formidable. He’s worldly wise, with a long and distinguished career behind him, and a CBE…and a moustache. I, on the other hand, have a failed career in television production behind me, an equally failing blog that no one reads, sixth place in a photography competition, and my Bronze Arrow and Conservation badge from Cub Scouts. Would I even be considered good enough for his daughter?
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I finally managed to ask my girlfriend’s father if I could marry his daughter while we were walking back to the car together after lunch in Villedieu-les-Poêles. At the time, he was explaining the French word for “blind” to me, which I think led to my cracking a truly abysmal joke about an armed blind woman. But when I spotted a brief lull in the conversation, I decided to leap in with both feet…and my question: “Speaking of armed blind women…er…can I marry your daughter?”
OK, admittedly, I didn’t phrase it quite like that (in fact, at all like that). However, the truly random segue into my question about marriage did seem to catch my possible future father-in-law by surprise. As a result, the fatherly embrace and blizzard of celebratory confetti failed to materialise. Instead, his face contorted into the serious expression of concentration that hostages wear when they’re marched into a bank at gun point and instructed to act normal. He then informed me that he’d discuss it with his wife and chat to me again later in the day.
The next three hours were a total blur. I could only have felt more insecure about myself if I’d been stripped naked and placed on the Fourth Plinth by Antony Gormley as a living, breathing mockery installation, with an unending procession of beautiful women being craned onto the plinth to prod and jiggle my man boobs and point and laugh hysterically at my willy. (To be live-streamed on the Internet, with a highlights package broadcast nightly in the Eastenders slot.)
Anyway, to hack this story down some more, my girlfriend’s father eventually calmed me down and had a man to man chat with me later that day, just as he’d promised. And in spite of the scariness of the actual situation, he didn’t ask anything that I wouldn’t ask my own future daughter’s boyfriend before giving my blessing. Ultimately, though, he was happy for me to propose.
There’s not much to say about the proposal itself. Before we left for France I’d had a ring designed, so I took an A4-sized colour printout of it with me. I wanted to propose and then present my girlfriend with the picture to check that she was completely happy with it. I’d then call the jeweller to instruct him to start making it.
But for anyone who’s interested in the details, I proposed late one night as my girlfriend was reading in bed. I basically presented her with the colour printouts of the ring and said: “I’ve designed this ring for you. It’s my way of asking if you’ll marry me.” My girlfriend’s expression was one of pure bewilderment. She later told me that when I produced the pictures of the ring, she thought I was merely showing off my Photoshop skills. “The ring picture is great, sweetheart, but I prefer the one you did of the giant kitten destroying the Houses of Parliament,” she thought.
Anyway, the headline news is: she said YES.
Admittedly, it would’ve been great if I could’ve trained a dove to swoop through the window of an expensive restaurant to delicately drop a ring onto her finger, before gently directing her gaze to a squadron of jets from the Armée de l’Air skywriting a message of my undying love in the cerulean sky above us. (Followed by an announcement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that ‘proposal day’ would now forever be recognised as a global public holiday.) Still, I did my best.
So that’s it. I’m getting married…at some point. And in a few weeks my girlfriend will have a ring on her finger to prove it. Next stop: months and months of nightmarish wedding planning.
In fact, my girlfriend bought her first wedding magazine on Saturday, which had a free supplement inside called ‘Celebrations Plus’. It was like the Innovations catalogue for slack-jawed simpletons in search of the gaudiest, tackiest weddings imaginable. It had everything from inflatable centrepieces for tables to bespoke branding irons (so that brides and grooms can permanently scar their wedding guests with their initials, as a memento of their special day). A real eye opener.
It was confirmation that I’m entering a bizarre new world. But thankfully, my girlfriend finds it as bizarre (and occasionally laughable) as I do. Sorry, I should’ve said “my fiancée”. That’s going to take some getting used to.