On a sunny Saturday afternoon precisely 50 years ago, in a parish church half a mile outside London, my Mum and Dad got married. It was a very typical Sixties wedding, by all accounts. The bride was radiant in white, the groom wore a smart but unfamiliar suit, and friends and relations came together to spend the entire day smiling. Photographs of the event show aunts and uncles looking impossibly young, cousins looking unbelievably cute and fashions looking frighteningly dated. A special day for all concerned, so I'm told, and the start of something very special.
I don't remember my parents' 10th wedding anniversary, because I was only six at the time. That's the age where your parents buy the greetings card themselves, then get you to scrawl your name inside, lick the envelope down and give it back to them. I'd have spent the day at school, then probably come home all full of myself rather than celebratory for them. There would have been food, a bit more special than usual perhaps, then I'd have gone to bed early and they'd have had the evening to themselves. Ten years down, and already much to be thankful for.
I do remember my parents' 20th wedding anniversary. I was now of an age where "sorting out the gifts and card" was my responsibility, but I left it all a bit late. I ummed and ahhed my way round Watford town centre the day before and ended up buying two large mugs (one brambly, one apple-y) from Timothy Whites. But that left me with insufficient money to buy a card, so desperate measures had to be taken. The following morning my brother and I delivered fresh mugs of coffee to the parental bedside, which saved wrapping them, along with a homemade card I'd cobbled together the night before. What they made of my cheap construction with its "dangly twenties" I hate to think, but they were far too polite to be openly unimpressed.
My parents' silver wedding fell while my brother and I were at university. They took the opportunity to go away together to Norfolk, destination of their original honeymoon, but this time to a rather nice Broadland cottage rather than an austere prefab on the coast. There being no mobile phones in those days, I never got to say "congratulations" on the day, and could only keep my fingers crossed that my proper shop-bought card had reached their remote letterbox on time. I wonder now if it was that trip which spurred them to move to Norfolk permanently, although it took from silver to pearl to make it happen.
As for the 30th anniversary, that was a Monday, so we all celebrated together the day before. Mum drew the short straw by having to cook Sunday lunch, and then served up my favourite meal (roast beef, lemon meringue pie) rather than hers. After the washing up we watched the last ever episode of Dallas - more to my Mum's taste, that, so Dad escaped and dug things up in the garden. This was the week I finally bought somewhere of my own to live, so my special parental gift was to box up all my stuff and leave them an entire extra empty room to live in. And on the day itself, yes, they both went out for a slap up meal at the Harvester clone down the road, and raised a glass to thirty years as one.
We pulled out all the stops for their 40th. Three generations flew across to Guernsey for a ruby wedding long weekend, which should have been great, but didn't go well. On the first day the hotel served up the worst meal we've ever experienced - forgetting we'd booked, relocating us to the conservatory along with "Joyce's birthday party", forgetting to bring drinks, serving up the wrong food (slowly), then trying to kick us out so some Saga holidaymakers could do a quiz. My Mum was very annoyed, very calmly, which was very her. Then on the anniversary itself it rained for most of the day, so we abandoned the beach and sought refuge at the local sports centre. I had to leave early to fly back in time for work, but my plane was delayed for three hours by a storm so I ended up sitting a mile away at the airport while the rest of the family suffered an anniversary meal in the proper hotel restaurant. An absolute fiasco of a weekend, all told, rescued only by the sheer joy of spending it together.
Today ought to be my parents' golden wedding, but it isn't. One of them's made it this far, but one didn't quite, so the great 50th anniversary never happened. If nothing else it's saved me from having to organise a surprise party - the sort of thing where you pretend you're taking them out for a quiet meal but have instead invited every living relative and all their friends to hide in the village hall with the lights off surrounded by several plates of sandwiches and a specially-decorated cake. But wouldn't that have been lovely, to celebrate half a century of coupled coexistence with a mass gathering of people who recognise how rare and special that is. It didn't quite happen, but I wish it had, and I give thanks that it so nearly did. Maybe not today, but fifty years ago for sure, together they struck gold.