Howard Croft column: Suited and booted for a magical family occasion

The happy couple ' Michael and Chloe Foley pictured on their wedding day.
The happy couple ' Michael and Chloe Foley pictured on their wedding day.

About ten years ago, when I retired, I threw out all my suits except one, declaring it to be my funeral suit. Mrs Croft mistook my intention, which was to dress respectfully on solemn occasions, and believed that it was my wish to be dressed in this outfit when my turn came to be boxed up. Neither of us has viewed this suit in quite the same light since. The result was that I was taken into York to buy, under close supervision, a suit for the wedding of our nephew Michael, whom I tried with a dismal want of success to train how to blow his nose. Luckily, he had mastered this complicated task in time for his interviews for a place at medical school, but it was close. His new wife, Chloe, is also now a doctor. How will that work, I wonder – a household in which no diagnosis goes undisputed?

It was a prolonged affair, extending over three days, but the central events took place in the premises of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Bloomsbury Square. It is a grand building and we had the run of the whole of it, moving from floor to floor as they reorganised behind us. The legal bit was unremarkable and familiar as laid down by law, but slightly odd was the manner in which the couple were led through their vows and assertions. They were told to repeat after the Registrar the form of words, but the dictated segments seemed to be limited to no more than three words and with no reference to meaning. It was as if she was coaching a couple of five-year olds with special needs, but I am sure it all sounded magical to them and to the weeping witnesses.

The drinking started at about two in the afternoon, a fine sit-down meal at four and then – the high spot: the speeches. In my experience, speeches at weddings are either inaudible or execrable and always too long. Not on this occasion. They were all good and one, the groom’s, was outstanding – wry humour, a bit of self-deprecation (always a hit with the powdery aunts). For me, the most affecting touch of the day was noticing that Dr Foley was sporting a tie pin representing the caduceus, a rod entwined by a snake. This tie pin had been the property of his grandfather, also Dr Foley, whom he never met; to wear it was a charming nod over his shoulder to an earlier generation. It is always worth reminding doctors that the caduceus was in ancient times said to protect gamblers, liars and thieves. Just a thought.

Having lived and worked in London for many years I always enjoy revisiting and noticing changes. Cyclists are not only more numerous but also more lawless and obnoxious – sailing through red lights, mounting footpaths and scattering anxious pedestrians. Those cyclists who are not talking on their mobile ’phones while all this is going on assert their air of entitlement by snarling at mere pedestrians. They are to be congratulated on their low consumption of fossil fuels, but this is not a consideration that overwhelms all others and a little civility would suit them. I am more fearful of them now as a pedestrian than I ever was of cars when I was a cyclist and motorcyclist. Perhaps their power to intimidate is what fuels their self-admiration – that and the creepy lycra outfits they are clearly very fond of.

One improvement I spotted was ten-second countdown displays to alert pedestrians at crossings how long they have before the green man goes red. I found this very useful, although you still need to keep a wary eye out for drunk drivers, terrorists and, of course, cyclists who think that life is a game of skittles and they are

It was good to get home on Sunday. Trains on time, connection made at York with thirty seconds to spare and a friendly taxi driver at Malton Station. Bliss.