Sunday, 30 April 2017

Making the appropriate contribution.

Here I go, having a Sunday morning rant about this and that.

The sultry-voiced Mariella Frostrup has a bit of an agony aunt column in the Observer. Today the headline question read: SHOULD I STOP MY UNHELPFUL SISTER BEING MY BRIDESMAID? Well, my first reaction was that just because someone is your sister that does not mean she is necessarily enough of a "best" friend to be bridesmaid at your wedding. Should the groom feel similarly pressured to have his brother as best man?

Okay, I am aware that there is only one best man, meaning that a choice has to be made. On the other hand, ever since Diana Spencer had about a zillion bridesmaid many brides seem to assume that half a dozen is the norm. This should mean that you can have your best friends, your sisters, even if you don't get on with them all the time, and your next door neighbour's four-year-old just because she is cute and pretty and will make for great wedding photos. Basically it's all a load of nonsense and if she insists on having bridesmaids each bride should make her own choice without feeling a family obligation.

Anyway, I skimmed the article and discovered that the sisters in question get along fine, or at least they did until wedding discussions came along. Then the bride assumed that her sister, as chief bridesmaid (there's another bit of hierarchical nonsense!), should organise the "couple's shower" and the "bachelorette party". Bridesmaid sister said that was not what she had signed up for; hence the description of the sister as "unhelpful" and the quandary over whether to let her continue as bridesmaid. Is life not enough stressful without making what should be a celebration into a major confrontational event?

I assume a "bachelorette party" is the "hen do", as I usually hear it referred to around here. I had never heard of such a thing in my youth. You used to hear stories of the groom's so-called friends taking him out to celebrate his last night of freedom by getting him so drunk that he had a monster hangover on his wedding day. Than I came to work in Oldham and heard about girls who worked in the local textile mills having their clothes decorated with streamers made from offcuts of the fabrics they worked with. Even their umbrellas were filled with scraps of fabric. They would travel home from work on the bus thus decorated, proudly declaring to the world that they were getting married the next day. Nowadays they go for a boozy weekend in Prague or Benidorm, wearing t-shirts with similar declarations on them.

As for the "couple's shower", I assume this is a party where they receive gifts. Isn't that what "wedding lists" are all about? Or maybe the happy couple receive gifts at their "shower" and another lot on the wedding day itself.

In the end Mariella advised a bit of common sense and choosing bridesmaid from among the people you really love and want to have close to you on the day. Talk about storm in a teacup! Maybe we should just go back to the idea that if the bride doesn't turn up then the groom marries the bridesmaid. That should stir things up!

On the subject of gifts, I read about a little controversy at the Tate. The current director is leaving at the end of May after 28 years of service to the gallery. The management has had a lovely idea for a farewell gift, something to help him to remember his time with them. They want to give him a boat because "Nick loves sailing and this would be a lasting and very special reminder of the high regard which I know so many of us have for Nick and his contribution to Tate". And so they have asked the workers to contribute to the surprise gift. It is undoubtedly a splendid idea. The trouble is that many of the employees are on zero hours contracts, some of them are not actually paid the London Living wage, and they were asked to make this contribution just one week after their canteen discount was taken away. Oops! Maybe a model boat from the gift shop?

And finally I come to the question of names: names of streets and buildings. The city of Bristol has been in the news because of a decision to change the name of a concert hall, the Colston concert hall. There are apparently lots of streets and squares and building and so on with the name Colston in Bristol. All named after the same Colston, a wealthy businessman. Unfortunately he made most of his fortune from the slave trade, a fact which is causing some embarrassment. And so the concert hall will eventually have a new name.

However, I find myself in two minds about this because there is another side to the story. All of these places were not named after Mr Colston in celebration of his ability to make money out of the slave trade but because he ploughed money back into the city, endowing schools and public libraries and generally making life better for the ordinary people of his city.

Of course we all recognise that the slave trade was fundamentally and morally wrong, however you choose to look at it. And saying that lots of other people and other cities made their wealth out of it, that it was an accepted activity in its time, does not excuse it in the least. And yet, a solution needs to be found that also remembers the good that people like Colston did in their lives.

We mustn't forget the bad in case we inadvertently repeat it. And we mustn't forget the good so that we can hold it up as an example to the wealthy of our increasingly selfish times!

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