16 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 16 March 2011 in Diary |

Today  is our 48th wedding anniversary. Last year I alluded  to my Autobiographical notes, where the full story of the event which led the girl who said, after I have proposed to her, if you were the last man on earth I wouldn’t  marry you, is recorded. As I have recounted this extraordinary love story many times before to my friends I believe, now is the time, to tell my readers, for in itself, it is inspirational, if no other reason to demonstrate how tenacity often wins out in the end. To be honest I had intended to wait until my dear mother-in-law was no longer with us as the last thing I would want to do was to upset her about the way her husband behaved on that occasion. However, as she is now fast approaching her 100th.birthday and will probably outlive me, added to which as there is no danger of her reading this blog. I feel this is probably right time to tell this love story, whilst I am still able

In my Autobiographical Notes I included a short account, addressed to my eldest grandson Fred, of how I met his grandmother and subsequently married her. Here is what I wrote

…..so to the time that I met your grandmother, Alice.

She came to Aden, in the southern Arabia – where I was living at the time-  for the christening of her nephew William Garton-Jones. Major John  Garton- Jones, married to Alice’s sister Mary (Mouse) had been posted there and were living in the Ma’alla straight.

My first sight of Alice was when she appeared down the steps of a small twin engine turboprop aeroplane at Aden airport. Smoke from the engines drifted away to expose this slim angelic blonde creature in a safari suit . My heart missed a beat and I knew there and then that we were destined to have some form of relationship, possibly marriage.  This vision appeared the following Saturday, at the Polo club, on the arm of one Captain Bob Ackworth – a friend of mine to whom I lent my Alfa Romeo for the duration of this young lady’s visit. 

Three weeks later, after attending a farewell party on board ship, I found myself standing next to Alice on the quayside waving Bob’s regiment off to Hong Kong.  The least a gentleman could do was to offer this poor girl dinner, which I did and our courtship started there and then. Having said that, despite a number of romantic excursions, my advances were in vain. Indeed, when I proposed a week or two later, the dear girl said that ‘if I was the last man on earth she would not marry me’.

 She then she returned to Kenya, where she was working at the time, and I continued my courtship by audiotape, speaking to her every day on my tape recorder with classical music playing gently in the background only to swell up from time to time when I ran out of words.  This creature was so unimpressed  by my heartfelt communications that, I learned much later, to my chagrin, that having no means of her own to hear these tapes, they were played, each Saturday morning, to the amusement of all and sundry, publicly in the local record shop.

When a final fling two-week Safari failed to win her over (see under Travel & Excursions.) I began to get the message and to lose heart I suppose it was six to nine months later that I found myself in London for a few days before I went on a long anticipated three-week skiing holiday.  I went to the Albert Hall to purchase tickets for a concert. 

I then remembered that Alice lived close by, in Albert Court Mansions, and decided to call. She was living with sister Victoria and seemed pleased to see me.  After exchanging the usual pleasantries she said how sorry she was that we couldn’t spend time together as she was about to leave for  the weekend to go home to North Wales. She then asked me if I would care to go with her. I could think of no good reason why not as I was not due to go skiing until the following Friday.  I hired a car and off we went. 

When we arrived at Llanfendigaid, her parents home in Gynedd, Merioneth, North Wales, Alice insisted that we went straight out over the fields, down to the sea, for a walk.  Her parents were out so there was no need for the usual courtesies and nothing to stop us going straight off.  I pointed out that I only had my tropical suit with me, having come straight from Aden. There was a fierce  icy wind blowing.  Alice told me to help myself to a hat, coat and scarf from the pegs in the hall, which I thankfully did.

We had our walk and when we returned and found the parents were still out I went up my room to unpack. A short while after I heard a strange noise coming from the downstairs hall.  I peered cautiously over the back staircase and saw, what I believed to be a red-faced goblin dancing and chanting in the front hall. I had never been to Wales before that but had heard strange stories about Celtic folk. I called Alice and told her what I had seen. She went  to check and returned to inform me that the goblin, as I put it, was her father Col. Edward Nanney-Wynn.

Apparently, the Colonel had returned home and, having a particularly sensitive nose, had detected tobacco smoke. He followed his nose to his favourite cap which stank from the smoke from my pipe which I had smoked on our walk.  He was so livid that he had thrown the hat  onto the floor and was stamping on it, chanting “bloody tobacco” .

 You can imagine that I was devastated.  I had not even met the Colonel and yet have managed to severely upset him. I told Alice that I clearly could not stay and I started to repack.

A few minutes later the Colonel came up and we were introduced; we made our peace. However, the atmosphere was somewhat strained, particularly over dinner that evening

After the Colonel and Mrs.Nanney-Wynn had gone to bed after supper, Alice and I adjourned to the study where we sat, until the small hours, chatting and listening to music. At around 2 a.m.  the Colonel burst in demanding to know “ What on earth is going on here”. Did he expect us to be up to no good, I don’t know?. However, so put out was Alice, that she said “It’s alright Daddy, we are getting married”.  “Is that right”, asked the Colonel, ”Yes sir,”  said I, equally nonplussed.

The Colonel left to inform Mrs. N-W. When he was out of earshot I admonished Alice  but all she could say was “I had to say something”. That much was even clear to me. After all here was a man who could stamp on his own favourite cap over a little tobacco smoke.   However, I was not entirely comfortable with this sudden unexpected turn of events. Alice then said “ You still want to marry me, don’t you?” “,Well”, I said, “I suppose I did, but I had rather given up on the idea”. When both dressing gowned parents returned to offer their congratulations and inform me that the announcement would be in the following day’s Times, it seemed churlish to voice any reservations.

When the excited parents had left once more I told Alice that it was fine by me but there were certain problems. For example, I was due to go on a long anticipated three week ski holiday, desperately needed after a long spell in the heat of the Yemen. The only day we could get married would be Saturday 16 March, the day after I was due to return to the UK. The reason for this was that I had to be back in Aden early the following week  in order to pay my staff. Un-phased by this, the lovely girl said fine she would organise everything and we would be wed, as I suggested in three weeks time. It only remained, at least for me,  to draw up my list of guests.

We returned to London early the following week during which the Colonel arranged a small dinner party to which my mother was invited. It was on this occasion that the first hint of indecision manifests itself.  Your grandmother burst into tears and fled from the dining room. The Colonel followed her only to come back some half an hour later and say that the wedding was off. This was the first of a number of similar scenes over the next few days.

 So much so that before I left to go skiing the following Friday I made it clear to Victoria, Alice’s youngest sister, and my best man Quentin Seddon that I would be back in three weeks time and if the  wedding was still on we would get married on the Saturday, if not well, sobeit. I did return, as promised only to be told that Alice had had to be restrained on more than one occasion from sending a telegram informing me that the wedding was off. 

The wedding was due to take place at the fashionable church in Brompton Road, Holy Trinity, Brompton  and even to the point of taking our vows Alice’s family were not certain that she would ever go through  with it.

 Indeed I have pulled my mother-in-law leg over the following years because she never even bought a new hat for the occasion. However, Alice did say yes at the vital moment and we were wed. It was a wonderful wedding.  How it had all been achieved in three weeks I’ll never know. There were four adult bridesmaids, were in yellow gingham tops with yellow velvet skirts, and two two-year olds,  William Garton – Jones as a page boy, paired my goddaughter Amanda Prytz. The theme was spring and the bridesmaids and William were dressed in daffodil yellow gingham and velvet.

After a thumping good reception at the English-speaking Union in Charles Street, to which something in the order of 300 guests had been invited, we flew off for a very short honeymoon in Cairo and Rome.

 I could only spare three days as, explained earlier, I had to be back in my office on the following Tuesday in order to pay the staff.

Poor Alice, it must have been a bit of a shock even to her system to be suddenly whisked from the high life in London to Arabia. For example, when we arrived back at my flat in Khormaksar, my ‘boy’ (servant), Ahmed open the front door and, seeing me, fell to his knees wrapped  his arms round my legs and kissed my feet.  If the truth be known this was because he had once before been deserted by an expatriate. and I believe was genuinely pleased to see his meal tickets back.  However, I waggishly  suggested to my new bride that now she was in Arabia this is the sort of welcome it was my right to expect!

So, that was 48 years ago. I will not pretend that every minute of it has been marital bliss. I think the first 10 years were the trickiest, however, after that things have only got better and better and now I cannot imagine life without ‘my lovely’. I love her more than I did the day I married her, and I am only too aware that I fail to say so often enough and in my eyes, she is as beautiful as ever she was.


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