I should admit that I don’t buy the JC every Friday. There’s really no point because it is exactly the same every week. Without fail, there will be at least one article about Ken Livingstone, something about resurgent anti-Semitism in Hungary, a recipe with a terrible pun for a headline (“Flan-tastic”) and the usual smattering of provincial synagogue tittle-tattle. You could save yourself a fortune by just folding the paper up on a Saturday night and keeping it in a safe place to read the following week. It’ll be 90% the same as a new copy.
But the Social and Personal page is different. It’s an institution in itself. You can gauge the stage of life you’re at by which column you read. Once you hit your early 20’s you head straight for the Forthcoming Marriages. After a couple of years your eyes veer to the left to check out the Births, and later, hopefully much later, you start reading the Deaths. The best column by far is the Births. Initially you read the Births to see which of your friends have had kids and later, once you start having them yourself, to check out the names. It simply isn’t Friday morning until someone has screamed “Milo Patrick!? What kind of name is that for a Jewish boy??” There is also some fun to be had (albeit in terrible taste) in seeing which death has provoked the most announcements. (The record so far is 22. Which I think is a tad excessive. Nobody is THAT important.) My late grandfather outlived most of his friends (I suppose you would if you live til you’re 90) and he would always comment on the age of the deceased. When I was younger this was understandable. “Chap in the JC today, died at 52. Terrible”. But by the time he hit his late 80’s it was harder to sympathise. “Dear God” he’d say. “Hymie Blimie died. 87 years old. That’s no age!”
Be that as it may, you cannot get married in North-West London without placing an advert in the JC. It’s the rule, apparently. And, since we don’t want to rock the boat at this stage, YKW and I happily agreed. The truth is that YKW’s parents were especially keen. This is because their son is now in his [very] late 30’s and the only time he’s ever been in the JC was when they published a photo of him wearing a bra over his t-shirt for a breast cancer charity event. A very noble thing to do, but not exactly what any Jewish mother intends when she dreams of reading her son’s name in the JC.
Placing the announcement has turned out to be more problematic than I anticipated. You would be staggered by how many emails, phone conversations and dummy texts need to be drafted purely to tell everyone that he and I are engaged. You would think that “YKW and R.X are delighted to announce their engagement” would suffice. But no. A whole morning was spent, sending drafts back and forth before we finally pinned down the exact wording for this grand opus.
The parents favour a traditional wording. Something along the lines of “X and Y together with A and B are thrilled to announce the engagement of their children YKW and R.X”. I am not one to wilfully find fault. But I took exception to the phrase ‘their children’. YKW is nearly 40 (as I may already have mentioned) and, to put it politely if bluntly, I’ve been around the block a bit myself. I’m not sure that either of us can accurately be described as children. So that had to go.
Once all interested parties had agreed on the text I submitted the announcement online and pressed ‘send’. I then panicked. Had I spelled all the surnames right? Did I remember to mention my parents? Did I send it to the Forthcoming Marriages page? I decided I’d better phone up to check. The internet is all well and good, but in the end, you always end up having to speak to a human being.
“JC Personals. [pause] Shirley speaking. [pause] How can I help you?”
Now Shirley is clearly a clever woman, who spends the best part of every day talking to people who are either sleep deprived due to the arrival of a new baby, grief stricken by recent bereavement, or giddily in love. But Shirley doesn’t know when she answers the phone which personal occasion the voice on the end of line has called up to announce. So she speaks...very...slowly...and...clearly until she’s ascertained whether I am calling about a hatch, a match or a dispatch. As soon as I tell her that I’m phoning to announce my engagement her voice rises an octave, she starts jabbering ten to the dozen and refuses to let me get a word in edgeways. In fact, she seems so delighted that for a moment I suspect that she might know me. Or my mother. (Exactly how many people HAS my mother told the good news to??)
“How lovely. That’s wonderful news. Mazal Tov. Let me take down your details”
I tell her that I’ve already submitted the wording of the announcement online, together with my date of birth, credit card details and email address, and that I am merely phoning to check that the submission was received and that it’s all right for printing.
“Let me just bring it up on the screen for you. Did you choose a ring yet?”
“Erm, actually, my fiancé chose it. He gave it to me when he proposed.”
“Did he really?? How wonderful. How did he propose? Was it romantic?”
I decide not to tell Shirley the entire Boggle story. I just reply “Yes, it was very romantic”.
“Okay, here we are.” Shirley then mumbles the announcement under her breath. “That all seems fine dear. Only you haven’t mentioned any grandparents. Most people mention their grandparents.”
“Yes, well, er, the thing is we both left it rather late and neither of us have any grandparents left.”
There is a slight pause which I only realised afterwards was the time it took Shirley to scroll up the screen to find my date of birth.
“Yes, I see. Well, never mind. I’m sure they are with you in spirit.”
“Thank you. I’m sure they are too”
“And your mother must be very relieved. Better late than never.”
“Erm, yes, she is”
“Okay, well the announcement is absolutely fine. You did the right thing to call though because you don’t want any mistakes. After all, you only get engaged once”
“Actually Shirley….Oh, never mind….”