Unaccustomed as I was to public speaking (all ‘father of the bride’ speeches start something like that don’t they?) I wasn’t confident that I could pull it off. I was still suffering from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by the horrendous night a few months before when Hil died and was then brought back to life several times. I’d suffered several physical collapses brought on when something had caught me out by unexpectedly stirring up the memories. It was a real possibility that I would be rendered speechless — or worse — when I tried to confront my demons in front of a fairly large gathering. I was unanimously advised by friends and family: “Don’t do it.”
So of course I said I’d do it. I shake my head now at this foolhardy decision. I had an idea that it would be cathartic; that’s all I can say to explain myself. It was very risky, and really it was for little gain. As the date approached I started to feel a bit nervous. From previous public speaking engagements (daughters’ weddings) I knew that I performed in a much freer, more loquacious, more relaxed way, when I’d had a few. Of course it would be a disaster to overdo it; to go beyond the relaxed nerveless stage to the lugubrious, melancholic one. But it did seem that alcohol, if used with discretion, might be a big help.
I had to drive into town, so pre-loading wasn’t an option. However I could park some distance from the venue and drink as I walked. I had a pack of half a dozen small bottles of still water, of the size used for kids’ school lunch boxes, so on the morning of the event I took two from the pack and emptied about two thirds of the contents of one into the sink. I topped it up with gin. These two small containers went into my inside pocket.
The plan had been to sip from the gin-laced bottle as I walked from the car park to the venue, but in fact I didn’t feel even a little bit nervous so I didn’t bother. The adrenalin had started to flow and I just wanted to get in there and sock it to ’em.
So there I sat, in a very large room, huge portraits of the borough’s great and good peering suspiciously down at me. I was introduced, and faced my audience. Most people had refreshments of some sort, and on my lectern I had my two bottles. I looked at the assembled faces and came into my own. The show-off gene was activated. When I told of the moments when the ambulance people had tried, and at first failed, to restore Hil’s heartbeat with their defibrillator, I inserted dramatic pauses that wrung every last drop of tension out of the situation. You could have heard a pin drop. Yes, I shamelessly exploited my wife’s near-death for dramatic effect. It was disgraceful. Cliff was sitting at the back. I caught his eye. I can’t describe his expression.
As the event drew to a close I noticed that as people left their seats many of them left rubbish on their desks, so I decided to leave my two little bottles, which both appeared to be unopened. Afterwards I wondered if a cleaner had tucked them in her pinny, thinking, “Oh great! These will do for the kids’ lunchboxes.”
Afterwards Cliff came up to me. “You…” He was stuck for an appropriate word, then he found one. “…bugger! You bugger! You had them eating out of the palm of your hand! Brilliant!” We laughed like mad. What an uncle he was. You couldn't wish for better.