Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 12 October 2017

My presence at his daughter’s wedding with his ex-wife on my arm was bad enough; this might be a provocation too far

Low life | 12 October 2017
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Early on Friday morning I flew from the north of Iceland to Reykjavik, from Reykjavik to Heathrow, then I hopped aboard the night sleeper from Euston to Glasgow Central to attend the wedding of Catriona’s eldest daughter, held the next day at the Winter Gardens of the People’s Palace on Glasgow Green.

Three years ago, Catriona separated from her husband after a 30-year-long union. The separation was not amicable and is as yet unsettled. Apart from a glimpse at a graduation, the wedding was the first time they had been in the same room for three years. I was invited to the reception but not to the ceremony. As the new man in Catriona’s life, I imagined I would be a cynosure when I walked through the door that evening. And because they are labouring under the misapprehension (understandably enough) that your correspondent was the principle cause of the marriage’s breakdown, I also imagined I would be the object of his and his wider family’s hostility.

I had brought with me from Iceland a suit and clean shirt, but no shoes. I possess shoes, obviously, but nothing respectable enough for a society wedding, and I am in no position, this month, to afford to buy any. So I put the word out that if anyone had a half-decent pair of size tens they could lend me for the day, I’d be glad. And the groom, Andrea, from Como, kindly came forward and said that he had a spare pair and that if he could find them I was welcome to them.

It was typical of Andrea that, in spite of all the other things he had to think about, he made my lack of credible footwear his concern. The only problem was that the shoes he was offering were in fact Catriona’s former husband’s shoes. The symbolism of my attending his eldest daughter’s wedding with his ex-wife on my arm and his old best rhythm and blues on my feet would doubtless be considered by him, and by other hostile parties present that evening, as taking my colonialism a step too far. My simply being there was going to be difficult enough for him. For me to be there literally in his shoes might be a provocation too far.

But saving myself fifty quid on shoes was more important than any symbolism, whether deliberate or unwitting. Andrea located the shoes and showed them to me. The style was hideously conservative, designed exclusively, perhaps, for the Pentecostal-pastor market. Naturally, I imagined walking into the room and every eye swivelling towards the cad, and my image as a dashing and unscrupulous young player lying in tatters once the critical and in some cases hostile eyes had reached the ground.

So the evening before the wedding, I went shoe shopping in Buchanan Street, starting at House of Fraser, which, as everybody knows, is East End Glasgow slang for the local weapon of choice. The shoe department had a sale on: 50 per cent off selected stock. About 200 sale shoes were arranged by size on racks four tiers high. I searched among these with rapidly diminishing enthusiasm as a goodly proportion had a whiff of the orthopaedic about them. If you happened to be a giant on his uppers, or an impoverished midget, the selection was vast. Likewise if you were a top boxing impresario or the compère of Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

An elderly saleswoman all in black offered to help. She was one of those worn-out Glaswegian women who had seen it all and was under no illusions, but whose deadpan expression belied a sense of humour as black, sophisticated and alert as anyone could possibly wish for. I needed wedding shoes, I told her, for tonight. ‘No rush then,’ she said. ‘Anything here you like?’ she added, glancing towards the sale racks. ‘Not really,’ I said. ‘That’s a shame, hen,’ she said, her poker face indicating this to mean that I had better taste in shoes than my general appearance suggested, and that she was surprised by that. She led me over to the full-priced shoes and I walked out half an hour later with a pair of mirror-gloss Paul Smiths that cost more than my last two cars put together. In the hour I had to spare before leaving for the reception, I leafed through a tatty old copy of Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares, bought in a secondhand bookshop in Iceland. The chapter on the relaxation of muscles while under the spotlight was helpful.

In the event, I walked in just after the live band had started up. Everyone was so drunk and having such a marvellous time that nobody took a blind bit of notice of me or my shiny new shoes and I was straight on the dance floor to trip the light fantastic.