Once more into the breach

A brief history of modest marriage proposals and the responses to them.

Peter Warland

“It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage.” Jane Austin

My friend George always claims that he never proposed to his wife, Felicity. In fact, he is not quite sure why he married her, but a shotgun was involved — his mother’s.

Harry grins and tells me that he laid down conditions concerning where they might spend the next few years before he actually popped the question to Jessica. Obviously, she went along with these complications, which involved going to live abroad.

Bonnie told me that her Will planned a trip into the Rockies with her on a bright sunny summer weekend. He’d purchased an expensive ring in preparation for the proposal but the weather broke; it rained buckets and so the two of them plighted their troth in his pick-up at the foot of the trail and, although she accepted readily enough, she didn’t really like the ring; they exchanged it later.

My own proposal of marriage in 1950 should have been simpler but fate stepped in. I popped the question; the lovely young lady said ‘yes’ and kissed me soundly but, as I found out later, she hadn’t heard the proposal.

Geoff had a similar problem. He tells me that he proposed by phone, long distance, but his young lady obviously didn’t hear. She said, “What are you saying, Geoffrey?” He had to go through the whole rigmarole again, as did I.

In my case it wasn’t a bad line; it was one of those rubber bathing caps a lot of women wore whilst swimming, back in those days. Jean, called Jimmy, and I somehow or other ended up that weekend in Stratford–on-Avon and, at the moment of my proposal of marriage, swimming in the Avon River and Jimmy was wearing a bathing cap.

Anyway, after the trauma of that proposal and after we’d changed out of our swimsuits — Jimmy sneakily under her bicycle cape — we had wandered up the road and come to Anne Hathaway’s cottage. This home of William Shakespeare’s abandoned wife is a nauseatingly quaint tourist attraction, but I surged by.

For one thing, I, like most English school-boys, had been taught by teachers who were specially trained to make us hate all English authors, especially Shakespeare. With the war going full tilt, those teachers turned us into potential killing machines. An officer would be able to have us charge, screaming, into the face of the enemy merely by uttering something like, “Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears.”

I was also concerned that Jimmy, after accepting my proposal of marriage and giving me a monstrous great kiss in order, I assumed to seal the bargain, had said not a word more about it. Women are mysterious, but her lack of reaction to the momentous occasion was disturbing. We moved on up the street, probably in search of a café where we could find sustenance without incurring poverty.

I also wasn’t sure why I’d popped the question. Jimmy and I had been rock-climbing, caving, mountaineering and hitch-hiking together for over a year and naturally, there had been a great deal of ‘snogging’ but marriage had never been on the agenda, as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t see why any woman would want to be tied to me. But, one weekend in the mountains of Wales, I was walking with an old friend when he turned to me and asked, “When are you going to marry  your Jimmy?”

I looked at him askance, which is hard to do when you are battling a nor-westerly gale and the rain is coming at you in buckets and you have the hood of your anorak up. Anyway, I shouted back that the idea hadn’t occurred to me; but it must have afterwards because, a couple of weeks later, I did pop the question.

And her ladyship hadn’t heard the right question so I was forced to have another go and was told, “Oh! Of course I will, silly.” And that’s how I felt afterwards: silly.