30 years ago. George Michael was flying high in the charts. Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister and Regan was President of the USA. The first Apple computer was just being created, a young lady named Diana was about to marry Prince Charles, punk was a thing and people had the worst perms you’ve ever seen in your life. And in a small town in Hertfordshire, at a stately home called Fanham’s Hall where, 30 years later, my sister would celebrate her own marriage, my parents got married. This weekend we celebrated their Pearl wedding anniversary.
30 years is a long time. In that time they’ve had two children and we’ve grown up, graduated university and moved out and got married and now my sister is about to bring their first grandson into the world. They’ve had three houses, one hamster, several goldfish and innumerable holidays (except they are numbered, neatly, in a folder kept by my ludicrously organised Dad.) They have lost four immeasurably missed parents themselves, and gained four now-grown-up nephews (and got to know an even-more-grown up niece). They have witnessed divorces and births, they have cried and laughed, had three new kitchens and at least two new bathrooms, eaten too much on endless Christmas days and spent too much on 29 of their eldest daughter’s birthdays.
I was thinking on Saturday as the family gathered together to celebrate their Pearl wedding anniversary with cake and prosecco how much has changed during that time even in my small world. If you went back to the day of my birth, the family is almost unrecognisable. People have left, some voluntarily, some taken from us like breath into the air. Their shadows fall across the grass, they are etched into the lines on my Dad’s face, the smile in my Mum’s eyes, my Aunt’s missing wedding ring. But the gaps fill – my cousin’s blonde, laughing daughter, new partners with new stories, my wedding ring, the bump in my sister’s maxi dress. Life renews and refreshes, the sun rises and falls and in all that time, with no clichés, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, my parents have come home to each other night after night.
I have learnt a lot from my parents’ marriage. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t wake up your wife if she’s fallen asleep on the sofa because she will deny it crossly, even if she is snoring and it’s interrupting Inspector Morse. Laugh often, but not if Manchester United have just lost a football game because that really matters and is not just a game. Stay out of the kitchen at the crucial moment of a Sunday roast. Replace pens in the study where you found them. Go out for dinner a lot, especially if your wife says ‘no, I don’t really fancy that for dinner tonight…’ Don’t walk mud in the hall. If your daughter asks you for something and it seems odd, Mum probably already said no. If a road diversion says a road is closed, it probably is, and nine hours into a car journey is not the moment to investigate further. Unbuttered rolls with chopped up bits of cheese on a freezing beach does not a happy picnic make, but add a hard boiled egg and a chocolate bar and everyone is happy. Spend a long time choosing a shed. Every problem can be made better with a cup of coffee and a scone at the garden centre. Have children because family is the most precious thing you will ever know.
And treasure these days - the stressful buffet preparation, the rainbow cake and the prosecco and the leftovers, sitting outside then running inside to hide from the rain and getting stuck under trees; some too hungover to function, some obsessed with DIY, some waffling on about Las Vegas in more detail than anyone would care to listen to but all still here, still yours. Treasure this above all because this is the life you chose, the family you have carved out of nothing, the love you have created from thin air – this is the product of those thirty years, this messy, irritating, crying, laughing, breathing life.
And hope that I am as lucky, that my sister is as lucky, that our children are as lucky. Because loving someone is about choosing them day after day, as constant and forever accurate as the ticking of your Swiss watch, stronger than everything, breaking through the chaos of this world the way the earth will always break through our patio steps. Because no matter how frightening, chaotic, wonderful and terrible this world might be, that love will be there every night to bring you home.