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Something unremittingly happy

Ashley and Ivanka's weddingI am often, and probably fairly, accused of being something of a grump. Well, we all need to be good at something. So just for a change, here’s something that is 100% positive, cheerful and uplifting.

Last weekend I had the joy of being part of Ashley and Ivanka’s big fat Ukranian wedding in Manchester, taking up the dubiously titled role of best man. As my good friend Matt has so eloquently blogged, weddings can be somewhat trying affairs, especially for us singletons, and all the more so when you have responsibilities including getting up in front of a room full of strangers and trying to be funny. Obviously one is always happy to see their friends celebrate their union, but let’s face it, weddings can be ten-a-penny when you’re in your late twenties and early thirties.

So here’s the thing… it was lovely. From start to finish. Even though I didn’t have a clue what was happening for a lot of the time (there was a lot in Ukranian). Starting with the rehearsal and dinner on Thursday, the quiet night in with Ash’s family on the Friday, to the big day itself. Having been so busy worrying about all the things that needed to be done and remembered, it suddenly hit me that actually what this was all about was my two friends getting married.

There was of course the added pressure of the speech – I think it went reasonably well, people seemed to laugh at the right places and nobody walked out. A few people who weren’t there have asked to read it, so I’ve reproduced it below. Apparently some of the stories turn out not to be 100% accurate, but why let the truth get in the way of a giggle.

With that out of the way, it was time to let the hair down. By which I mean get riotously drunk. I don’t think I disgraced myself, but it was great to spend an evening laughing, dancing and generally being daft with good friends. I finally got to bed at 4:30… which given I had to drive from Manchester to London the following day probably wasn’t sensible. But screw sensible for once… although if anyone has video of the midnight performance of the Macarena, I want all copies destroyed.

The hotel was stunning, and there’s nothing quite like staying in a hotel where you’re part of the wedding party – nothing is too much trouble. Pot of tea at 11:30pm? No problem. Although I was alarmed by how easy it was to get a key to the honeymoon suite at 1am! And I’m sure they judged us for the 3:30am room service call for more champagne: “No, we don’t want anything to eat with that!”.

There are some pictures on my (new) Flickr account, although I’m sure others will have many more that are far better – I can’t wait to see the official ones. And just down there is a little video I shot at the reception of the Ukranian dance troop that Ivanka was once part of, trying to teach Ash some moves. Note I was hiding behind a pillar, for fear of being roped in myself!

And surely, someone, somewhere must have been able to take one picture of me that I actually like. Well, not so far. Shit, this was meant to be unremittingly positive wasn’t it.

The speech

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m James, the questionably titled best man. 10 years ago in the corridors of Imperial College’s computer science department I met a shy, cantankerous, geeky young man with a receding hairline and for both our sins we’ve been friends and drinking partners ever since.

Before we get down to business, I must first reiterate the groom’s compliments to the bridesmaids who have done a wonderful job and look absolutely amazing, and on their behalf thanks to Ashley for his kind words. On any other day these bridesmaids would have stolen the show but of course that accolade belongs firmly to the beautiful bride – Ivanka you look stunning, and I think we can all agree that Ashley is a very lucky man.

Can I also say a big thank you to my fellow groomsmen Matt and JJ who haven’t scrubbed up too badly themselves and have proved invaluable in the run up and the course of today.

Finally on the list of thank yous, on behalf of I’m sure everyone here I would like to thank Ashley and Ivanka for inviting us to be part of their special day. It has been truly magical and it has been a pleasure for us all to share it with you, so thank you for having us.

It was an honour to be asked to be Ashley’s best man. Being the awkward modern man that most of us are, the invitation wasn’t exactly moving – I seem to remember Ash’s exact words were “Ivanka says I should ask you to be my best man”, which I think sets the scene quite nicely.

Of course the answer was yes and it is a pleasure to be here now, but I must admit to some anxieties as the day approached. Of course the main worry for any best man is the speech – what if they don’t laugh? Well I’ve sorted that, so if the dozen or so people I have bribed to find everything I say hysterical would like to come and find me at the end, you can collect your five pound notes. (Alright, I’ll make it a tenner).

The other big anxiety was the sheer complexity of the wedding ceremony and the proceedings surrounding it. Not being familiar with the Ukranian traditions I have been keen over the past year to get my head around all the customs that would form part of this special day, but to be honest it’s all been a bit of a blur. All I kept hearing about was lots of sacred cloths, lots of candles being passed back and forth and a fair amount of vodka. The whole thing sounded to me like something of a fire risk.

Of course a fire risk would be appropriate since our lovely couple met thanks to their involvement in the College Motor Club which maintains Jez, a 1916 Dennis Brothers N type London Fire Brigade appliance and now mascot of the Royal College of Science (is that right?) which you may have seen over the course of today. Many decades old, prone to regular breakdown and in need of constant care and attention, Ashley spent many an hour in the Jez garage, which is where he met Ivanka. Eventually Ashley summoned up the courage to ask Ivanka on their first proper date. As we’ve already heard, Ash is a master of the sincere and touching invitation, and I think us singletons could learn a thing or two about the art of enticing that special someone out for a romantic evening. So what were the words that Ivanka could not resist? What was it that finally melted her heart and persuaded her that Ashley was worth the time of day. Pens and paper at the ready gentlemen, here they were:

“I’ve got a 2 for 1 voucher for Bella Italia, fancy going dutch?”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ivanka may not have recognised the significance of this invitation. Either that or some kind of automatic defence mechanism meant her brain refused to process the concept of a date with Ashley, so she perhaps thought this was just a friendly invite from a mate, and not a romantic gesture. As a result, her response was not quite what Ash had in mind:

“Sure. Let’s invite JJ along too.”

Ashley was, as you would expect, heartbroken. Because as all good spend-thrifts know, a 2 for 1 voucher with 3 people is not maximising the saving.

So with that in mind, I have a little something for our happy couple… a 2 for 1 voucher at Bella Italia! So you can recreate that special evening – with or without JJ, it’s up to you.

Despite this initial hiccup, eventually the seeds of love were sewn and 6 years later here we are. The fact that Ashley proposed shortly after finding a discount voucher for suit hire is, I’m assured, completely coincidental.

When I came to write this speech, I thought I should include something about why Ashley and I have been friends for so long. I thought long and hard about this…. but came up with nothing. Fortunately being a compulsive geek, I have kept almost every email I have ever sent and received so thought I would go back and see what Ashley and I used to talk about back when we first met, and there I found the answer as to why he has been such an invaluable friend. For what I found was dozens of emails of him answering my annoying questions about how to do various pieces of coursework and programming exercises – I knew there must have been some reason why I put up with him!

But what I also found was that Ashley tended to use email mainly to forward jokes to his friends. And one in particular caught my eye – in total honesty Ashley sent this to me on 16th December 2001, and I would like to share it with you now. It’s called “Romance Mathematics” (yes, we really were that cool). According to this formula, a dumb man plus a dumb woman equals a one night stand. A smart man plus a dumb woman equals an affair. But a smart man plus a smart woman equals romance. Is that what we have here today?

Of course there is one more combination left… a dumb man plan plus a smart woman. And that ladies and gentleman, equals marriage.

Another traditional element of the best man’s speech is of course the tales of drunkenness and depravity involving the groom. Unfortunately as Ash and I were both born middle-aged – although in my case only in mind-set and not hairline – there was not much to tell. I had hoped that the stag weekend would throw up something revelatory, but alas I made the mistake of appointing JJ the head of debauchery and the best he could come up with was a shaving foam pie in the face. I’m reliably informed that won’t happen today, though Ash if you’ve got the 2 for 1 voucher for the dry cleaning I’d keep it handy.

There were however some snippets of conversation that I think warrant sharing… obviously it would be indiscreet of me to disclose too much, so I shall remove all context and just give you with the following three quotes from the groom himself:

  • “A camel is much more useful than a woman.” (someone might be getting the hump)
  • Referring to Chris, his sister’s boyfriend: “I’d swap Ivanka for Chris”. Look out Stacey.
  • “If I’m going to wake up with face full of shaving foam then I want JJ’s sausage afterwards”.

I’d like to tell you that these were less disturbing with the benefit of context, but they really weren’t.

Stag night aside I did try to seek out embarrassing stories from Ashley’s past – I even asked his little sister for any stories of his younger years, but nothing was forthcoming. Which can only mean that he has a completely clear record and has led a life of purity, integrity and decency. Or, more believably, that he has had anyone with anything to tell sworn to silence through bribery, blackmail or, most likely, sinister threat. Nobody, it seems, dares mess with Dr Brown. In fact after the cheap shots about his hairline I’m half expecting to find a horse’s head in my bed tonight.

But enough of his Lordship here, what of our beautiful bride? We can all see how beautiful she is, but what you can’t see with your eyes is that she has a beautiful personality to match. Always with an infectious smile on her face, always up for a good chat, always interested in other people, even those she’s just met – she really is one of the friendliest people I know. And knowing Ashley’s exacting standards, she must be doing something right to have won him round.

It’s almost 10 years to the day that I’ve known Ashley, and I can honestly say that the 6 he has been with Ivanka have been his happiest. He’s gone from being that geeky boy that I met in a corridor in 2001 to being the charming, successful man who has achieved amazing things, albeit with less hair.  And I’m sure his success and happiness has been more than partly thanks to his other half.

Ivanka, all joking aside, you’ve got one of life’s good guys, and I’m sure he will spend the rest of his life loving and supporting you and doing his utmost to bring you every happiness, as I’m sure you will him.

And if all else fails, at least he can always fix the computer.

Ladies and gentlemen that’s me done, so all that remains is for me to ask you to be upstanding….

And raise your glasses to Ivanka and Ashley, the bride and groom.

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Categories: Life Tags: ,
  1. 11 Sep 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Whilst it is good to see you happy, please don’t make it too much of a habit or we’ll have nothing to talk about! Thanks for the link.

  2. 21 Sep 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Oh! You’re back!

    This is an excellent speech written with all the eloquence and kindness we’ve come to love you for.

    @

  1. 03 Jan 2012 at 11:03 am

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