When I got married to Julie, we had a nice ceremony, at a hotel in Kent. As the registrar pronounced that we were man and wife, my Mum, who was quite deaf, said in a loud voice,’ Third time lucky’. This was a source of hilarity to us all, mostly due to the fact that she was unaware that anyone had heard it.
Mum had said this, because it was my third marriage, obviously. So, what had gone wrong with the other two, that had ended with me in a hotel in 2009, exchanging vows once again?
The first marriage.
I had married for the first time in 1977. I had known my first wife for over two years, and we had often talked about settling down together, but not of marriage, or children. At the time, I was living with my Mum, and helping her to run the family Off Licence in Clapham, South-West London, as well as holding down a full-time job elsewhere. My Mum suddenly decided that she wanted to move away, and live in a quieter place. She thought that she would buy a smaller shop, in a country district, and get away from the long hours, and difficult trading conditions in London. This left me with the possibility that I would have nowhere to live, so we decided to buy a flat, and get married. It made sense in those days, as tax laws and mortgage providers favoured married couples.
Everything was easier in those days, or so it seemed, and we approached marriage with the same relaxed attitude. After all, we would have been living together soon enough, so why not make it official? As my future father in law was a churchgoer, we arranged a ceremony at a small local church, followed by a reception in the rooms above our shop. Nothing fancy, no need for a lot of expense. We had bought a flat on the good side of Wandsworth, just off the hill, near Putney. This would be handy for my wife’s job, and a pretty good place to live generally. The wedding was over quickly, followed by a weekend honeymoon in England, on the South Coast. As it was 31st December, many guests had to leave for other celebrations anyway.
My idea of ‘how to be married’, was steeped in South London tradition, and a male-dominated world. Even though it was the late 1970’s, it might just as well have been the late 1950’s, as far as my views were concerned. The man worked hard, didn’t mess about, and provided money for the home and housekeeping. The woman basically dealt with everything else; bills, paperwork, phone calls, arrangements, housework, shopping, cleaning, washing, and ironing. I saw nothing wrong with this at the time. After all, I hardly ever had a drink, always worked hard, and did not waste cash on any fripperies. I always came home after work, drove anywhere we needed to go, and I was pretty much completely harmless. I loved my wife very much, even if I never told her so. (That would hardly be manly). I remembered her birthday, always got her nice presents, and asked nothing more from life, than my evening meal, and clean clothes. Of course, I did not do any housework, or washing and ironing. In fact, I didn’t even know how to operate the washing machine, or how to iron a shirt. As for cooking, I couldn’t manage a lot more than a cooked breakfast, but never cooked one anyway.
My wife came from far more genteel circles than I could boast. She spoke well, and had been to University, as well as travelling extensively. I found her friends pretentious, and the occasional dinner parties something to be endured, rather than enjoyed. I was convinced that they all looked down on me, and was later to find that I was correct in those suspicions. My reaction to this was not to seek to improve myself. In fact, it was the opposite. I laid my South London accent on, nice and thick, and spouted my extreme left-wing views at any opportunity. I started to have my hair cut very short, and acted a lot like a gangster, in certain company. Yet still, I remained loyal, faithful, and a good son-in-law to my new extended family. I worked so hard, I had little time for anything outside domestic life anyway. On reflection, I was no doubt trying to keep my wife close, and out of the circle of her upper middle class friends. We had two good holidays a year, and I financed her return to college, so that she could get her teaching qualifications, and become a lecturer. Once she was established in this new career, I decided it was time for a change myself.
By this time, we had moved to a house in Wimbledon. This had been at my instigation, without even consulting her. She was away on a field trip, and I realised that the flat had increased in value, to a figure far exceeding any previous expectations. I put it on the market, and sold it, for the full asking price, to the second viewers; and all this in two days. On her return, I told her the ‘good news’, which I foolishly thought would come as a nice surprise. I had also seen an advert for a nice house near Wimbledon Park, and arranged a visit the following week. We bought the house immediately, and the whole process went through smoothly. The new house was fantastic, at least to us, with separate dining room, small garden, and original Edwardian features. It was also in one of the most desirable places to live, in that area. I thought that we had done really well, after being married for less than two years, to be in this position, and still not yet 27 years old. Much later, I was told of her resentment at not being involved, and the fact that I took over the whole process, with no participation from her. It never even occurred to me. I thought I was doing the right thing; the ‘man’ thing.
After some time in the new house, with her well established at a local college, I decided to change career. I was tired of making profits for companies, and felt a desperate need to do something worthwhile, and socially credible. I joined the Ambulance Service, and I really believed that this would make her proud of me. I wasn’t allowing for the huge drop in income, and the fact that she would now be the major earner in our household. There had also been talk of having children, but I had made the decision that we were too young, and did not need children to complete our life anyway. Then there was the shift work, the stress, and the fact that my entire life was overwhelmed by this new job. I soon became involved in the Trade Unions, and this added to my commitments. I saw nothing wrong with this. After all, it was a laudable career, and gave something back to the community. It also destroyed our social life, as I worked most weekends, as well as night shifts. When she took up jogging, which later became going to a running club, I had no intention of participating, seeing it merely as a diversion.
I shuffled on like this, through good times, and occasional lows, for another five years. The house was ideal; I was becoming experienced in the Ambulance Service, and she was also branching out, agreeing to work overseas, for the British Council. This was to be for some months during the summer, and India was the chosen destination. Without even thinking, I started to research the trip to India. I was certain that I would be going too, why wouldn’t I? I even enquired about extended leave from my job; I studied maps, places of interest, inoculations required, and planned what to do with myself, when she would be working. One evening, I presented all this research, pleased with my efforts. She told me that she would be going alone. I was outraged. What was I expected to do for six months on my own? The conversation went rapidly downhill from there. It all came out, and went something like this.
She no longer loved me. I had driven out the love, with my indifference, my overbearing attitude, and my inability to discuss our life. My blanket refusal to consider children, had created a rift that I was blissfully unaware of. I never did anything around the house, and rarely considered her job, and having to keep the house going, or prepare my meals. And we always spent time with my friends, rarely visiting hers. Her friends did not like me anyway, and had stopped inviting us to events, feeling that I was socially inept. I had never learned to iron a shirt, use the washing machine or cooker, and I never did any housework, of any description. I was inconsiderate, thoughtless, and only ever talked about my job, extreme politics, or holidays to places that I wanted to see. More importantly, although I had never given her reason, she was scared of me, and considered me to be aggressive, and hard to approach, so best left alone, and unchallenged. There were a few good points. She did concede that I was loyal and faithful, and that I had always worked hard. However, since joining the Ambulance Service, the poor salary had meant that I put little money into the upkeep of the home, and relied on her to provide most things. The fact that I had actually contributed the lion’s share for the first years of the marriage was written off as ‘old news’.
I was mortified. I did not get angry, or shout. I didn’t even argue back. I wanted to crawl into a hole, and never come out. All my oblivious misdeeds had come back to haunt me, rushing in like waves, breaking over my broken heart. But I didn’t show it. I couldn’t, I didn’t even know how to. She suggested a trial separation. She would go to India, and see how she felt after her return. I decided that if she did not love me, she was unlikely to change her feelings in six months. I felt it best to go, and told her that was what I wanted. She left the next day, to visit her parents, and ask them for the money to buy me out. They actually liked me, and spent a long time trying to persuade her not to do this, but when they discovered that I was keen to leave, they relented, and gave her the money. I bought a house in the newly developed Docklands area of South London, where I had started out from, eighteen years earlier. It all went through very quickly, and I was gone before she even left for the India trip. We said we would stay friends, but that never really happened. Even facing the abyss, of a broken marriage, the loss of thousands of pounds, and someone that I truly loved, I still determined to ‘be a man’, and do the right thing, whatever the outcome.
Before I actually moved, I asked her to show me how to iron a shirt, use the washing machine, and help me to cook a few meals.
It wasn’t until a long time later, sitting alone in my small new house, and thinking deeply about life, that I finally realised where I had gone wrong. I had to agree that she was right, and I resolved to never make a mistake like that again. And I didn’t.
After a year or so, she rang me at work to ask me not to contest a divorce. She had met someone, a ‘professional’ man, with a good job at the BBC, and a salary to match. They later had a child. I wished them well, and still do.