When I married in 1977, we didn’t have a wedding gift list. Starting married life in a rented flat, we were grateful for everything we got – and the usual pots and pans, towels and tea-towels, bed linen, cooking utensils and ornaments of varying degrees of taste soon adorned our first home. I still use a couple of the trays and I think much of the cutlery is of late 70s vintage.
When I got married again in 1987 (this was the last time, I didn’t made a habit of it every decade), we had all the essentials. We both had our own homes for many years. On this occasion there was a vague sort of list – I remember that we specified a particular range of china and asked people to buy a plate or a dish (it was the era of the dinner party, after all).
But it still felt rather embarrassing to have specific gift requirements – as though we were engaged in bartering for a place at our nuptial celebrations. I remember my husband-to-be refusing to tell his colleagues at work that we had been sent a wok when they suggested they would buy us one as a present. So we ended up with two woks (well, it was the era of the stir-fry dinner party). But having a surfeit of woks still felt better than turning down their kind offer and pointing them to a list.
How times have changed. Last week we were invited to a wedding (evening reception only, in other words we are the also-rans) which was accompanied by a twee little verse, which tells us that, because the couple has lived together for 'quite a while', they 'don’t need homely gifts' but they would really appreciate 'a bit of sun'. In other words, we are being invited to contribute to a honeymoon. But this is no modest week in Austria (my first honeymoon) or Portugal (my second). This is exotic writ large – a honeymoon to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore that the wedding guests, included those invited only for the post 7.30pm curled-up sandwiches and flat fizz, are expected to fund.
The list is a long one. We can make 'a contribution' to their flights and accommodation, or we can buy specific items such as a Thai massage, a snorkelling experience, a sailing trip, a jungle trek, breakfast in bed, a candlelit dinner on the beach, cocktails, even, for goodness sake, a taxi ride. Do people not fork out for any of their own pleasures these days?
For £199 I could buy them a complete wedding package in Gretna Green, offered on a website last week. For less than £200 they could have overnight accommodation in a four-poster, dinner with prosecco, a religious or civil ceremony (better not forget that bit) and even their own wedding planner! I am sorely tempted. It may be that or a couple of tea-towels.
But perhaps these outrageous demands are not new. My husband just reminded me of a wedding list we received several years ago when a work acquaintance specified, among other things, original items by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Wonder how many she got?