Last September, I wrote a post about my first experiences with that dreaded institution, the in-laws. Having been married three times, I’ve had the pleasure (?) of dealing with three sets of in-laws, all very different.
My next in-laws, or in-law I should say, as father had died before I arrived on the scene, was French.
I had by this time returned to UK from Australia, and was living in London, which is where I met my second wife. My social life was somewhat curtailed at that time, as I’d returned to UK with the eldest of my two young sons, who was six (it’s a long and complicated story). Still, I did get out and about a bit, and had a circle of friends who I’d known from before I left for Australia, so I wasn’t exactly a hermit, and did manage to have the odd liaison, one of which, obviously, turned into more than just a liaison.
Her father had been a Yorkshire miner, and had met her mother during the war when he was in the army. A dour man by all accounts, it was probably just as well he departed before I arrived. Mother-in-law, despite having been married to a coal miner, displayed that kind of arrogant haughtiness that the French seem to do so well. The ‘you’re not good enough for my daughter’ attitude suffused every meeting; and it was a sentiment that never really changed, despite my second marriage lasting about twenty years. She was a real battleaxe, albeit embodying the grace and elegance that French women (what is it about French women?) carry off with such aplomb. And I was on my best behaviour when I first met her, too. I didn’t get rat-arsed drunk and throw up all over her furniture, I didn’t swear, nor was I rude (I don’t think).
But she never liked me, and never missed an opportunity to point out my shortcomings. She didn’t like my drinking; she didn’t like my smoking; she didn’t like my friends; she didn’t like the way I dressed; she didn’t like my old cars; she didn’t like the way I moved from one job to another; she didn’t like my going into business for myself; she didn’t like me dragging her daughter and (at that time only) granddaughter off to Greece for over a year; she didn’t like that I wasn’t rich, or a professional something or other; and most of all, she didn’t like my being married to her daughter. In fact, in her eyes I didn’t have one redeeming feature.
Oddly enough, I rather liked her – an affection born of a grudging admiration for her bolshiness and her refusal to be browbeaten by anyone. And according to my daughters (her granddaughters), who still see her, she’s still the same at 102 years old. And by all accounts, still as sharp as a razor. I’d like to say that underneath her hard exterior, she had a heart of gold, but I’d be a liar if I did. She was a hard bitch right through to the core.
Fortunately, she lived in the Midlands, which although not a million miles from London and the South (which is the part of England I chose to live when I was there) was far enough to preclude frequent visits. I was always worried that I might overindulge and start saying things which I would regret later. I’m essentially a peacemaker, and prefer to avoid antagonising people unnecessarily, particularly if they are going to be around for the foreseeable future. And although my wife would tell her what she thought, if I were to do so, I would have got it in the neck both from mother-in-law and from my wife as well. So better to keep the visits to a bare minimum and just keep schtum. Damage limitation was the name of the game. I have a finely honed survival instinct, developed over years. Marriage has that effect on you.
So the years passed, the girls grew up, the marriage ran its course, and came to a predictably messy end.
I was by this time in my mid-fifties, and not getting any younger. I decided that marriage wasn’t all it had been cracked up to be and that I would be better off avoiding it – if indeed it ever came my way again. I also decided that it was time for a last hurrah, so for the next few years I made regular extended trips to Thailand (which I knew of old) and Cambodia (which was new territory for me) and immersed myself in the sort of unbridled hedonism which is just not available to a married man with kids. It was magnificent, and I revelled in it. I’m not sure whether I took years off my life, or added years on, but whatever, it was worth it.
But despite the course I was cleaving, paradoxically, I happened by chance to meet a Thai woman who was far removed from that furiously hedonistic lifestyle. An accountant, no less. How much more un-hedonistic can you get than the accounts department? She wasn’t even an accountant who moonlighted as a pole dancer. Just a straightforward, very correct, normal accountant who was the manager of a small accounts department in a small company in Thailand.
One thing led to another, and all my fine resolutions to stay single started to look decidedly raggy at the edges. Six months on, and they were just about in tatters. We were by this time sharing an apartment in Bangkok, and the inevitable was looming – the ‘Meeting the Parents’ scenario. My little accountant had by now completely shredded my fine resolution to never marry again, so it was decided that we would travel to the city where her parents lived and have a Thai wedding ceremony there.
Gawd, what had I let myself in for?