The first big decision I ever made on my own, without any influence or advice from parent, teacher or mentor, was also the one that set my course in life: the decision to ask my then girlfriend if she was willing to become my wife. I didn’t realise it at the time, but every big decision I made from that moment on would need to take into consideration the likely consequence for her – and, later, for our son.
I had an absolute certainty that it was the right thing to do. Some weeks beforehand I had an almost Biblical epiphany in which I became convinced that our lives would be forever entwined. I could no more imagine life without her than without limbs or vital organs. It’s worth pointing out at this point that a mere two years earlier I had scoffed at young men getting married immediately upon completing their apprenticeships. That was not for me. I wanted to see the world and ‘play the field’ before settling down to marriage. Love, if that is what it was, can make a man do strange things, including turning his mindset through 180 degrees.
I did not discuss the matter with anyone. Least of all my mother, who I knew would object as it did not fit with her ambitions and expectations for me. I did not even tell her until it was a fait acompli, when I presented the girl with an engagement ring on her 17th birthday.
The next big decision, described in my second ‘Monday Memories’ post, was to set the date. That is one I certainly would not take were I in that position today. Today it is normal for couples to set up home together without first tying the knot. Some never bother. Others do so only after several years during which they have produced a couple of children.
As someone who has never seen the point of sealing a relationship with a piece of paper and a public ceremony, I would certainly not have bothered, except for the prevailing culture at the time which frowned on those who lived together ‘over the brush’ as people used to say.
I still do not understand couples who spend thousands of pounds (or euros or dollars) on lavish celebrations, in luxurious surroundings. In my humble opinion such amounts would be far better spent on the practicalities of setting up and maintaining a home. We could never have afforded such extravagance and neither of us felt the desire to take such a step.
I never lost that feeling that this woman made me whole, that she was quite literally my other half. I can honestly say, 58 years after that first decision at the end of 1961, that I have no regrets on that score.
Of course there were times, especially in the early 1970s, when finances were stretched, when I felt trapped, wished I could walk away from the situation. But always, in the background, was that certainty: that being with her was my destiny. There were, too, opportunities that I turned down that, were I single, I would have grasped with open arms. I’ll have more to say about that in a later post.
The next big decision was buying our first house. This was made easy for us, in comparison with the situation for many couples today, thanks to the housing policy, practised by the local authority at the time, of building homes for sale on 100% mortgages. A policy facilitated by the UK government of the time, as it was, two decades later, when councils were urged to sell off their housing stock.
The mistake at that later time was that councils were not permitted to use the proceeds to build replacements. It is this foolish aspect of Thatcherism that I believe lies at the root of today’s housing crisis in the UK.