Wedding Vows & Atheists

My parents are, in little over two weeks, renewing their wedding vows after their 40 years of marriage. Quite a nice touch, really.

My younger brother’s marginally opposed to the plan which the vicar has in mind of demonstrating the Offspring Skill-set. His reason: sound’s a little bit Von Trapp. He’s not wrong.

Big Brother will be playing the guitar. Little Brother might be dancing (I don’t actually know because I never really pay attention and this is what led to the Von Trapp statement) but he’s definitely doing a reading. I am … carrying a candle.

Over the course of the weekend, when I was busy being antisocial and studying between reading a few magazines and papers whilst listening to the football, I saw my little cousin going for the bread knife, baguette in hand. I leapt to my feet and raced over to the table to stop him. No no, says I, I don’t want your blood on my hands! He pleasantly requests I make him a sandwich, and as I put blade to baguette and give one mighty push, I hear the words, “Quinn, why don’t you do a nice bible reading?”

The blade, thankfully, did not make contact with bone, thanks to my diamond-hard nails, and I stared dully at the slice in my thumb. After a few seconds of thinking how strange it was that it takes some time for the blood to notice it finally has an escape route, I found a plaster decorated with maggots, blood and pus (children really have some disgusting plasters available for their increasingly dubious entertainment), cleaned myself up a bit and said a belated, “No thanks.”

I’m not that much of a hardcore atheist that being in a church is hypocritical for a purpose such as my parents’, but walking past one on a Sunday makes me feel like I’ve been covered in acid and will die if I enter it. I didn’t always feel like that. Probably until I was ten I would happily go with my grandad to the Catholic church a mile down the road from him. I wouldn’t enjoy it because I’m not convinced I even believed in God at that age either, but I think I wanted to.

Reading a passage from the bible, however, is out of a question. They then started pushing me to write something for my parents. My mum kindly had my back on this and said I had done, but I wouldn’t read it. That, by the way, was this:

We were never the easiest of children, I suppose. I can’t speak for the boys, really, but one thing that I noticed was the creativity and drive instilled in each of us.
I used to be a quiet and outgoing girl. Of course, that changed in my teenage years, and there were some unpleasant developments.
At some points, it would possibly have been perfectly understandable to me if mum and dad had just given up on me. For some reason, however, they didn’t. My main problem is that I have a tendency to hide things from people, and that’s a trait that hasn’t left me, but through it all, I had their support. There were arguments, and it wasn’t always the happiest of times for any of us, but somehow they found it in them to stick by me.
This is what my mum and dad do. They support each other, they support us. They’ve spent a fortune on us with our education. They possibly would have been a little happier with our respective life choices had we become doctors, but they don’t show it. Instead, they’re more than happy to have a son who makes money from his incredibly talented feet, a son who has a career passing his guitar genius down to others who want to be able to play just as well as him—and sells a few fantastic paintings every now and again too—and a daughter who, although stuck in a rut, may just possibly have a less obvious talent. You wouldn’t know it to speak to her, what with her occasionally monosyllabic answers, but there’s a possibility that she has a way with words, even though she hasn’t found her niche yet.
Yes, I was difficult. I wasn’t happy with some choices that were made, such as Ballroom dancing. Sure, I can cha-cha and waltz like it’s nobody’s business, but I have the finesse and grace of an elephantine ballerina. I wanted to take Craft, Design and Technology, but they were concerned I would make a rabbit hutch like my older brother. I wanted to study Latin, back in the days when I wanted to become an archaeologist and swing from whips, but my parents thought German would be more useful. Well, what can I say: Ich spreche nur in England Deutsch!
There were three things about me and education: I bit off far more than I can chew, I’m easily distracted, and I resent studying for anyone but myself. This, obviously, led to a few more arguments, but once again, they would accept my decisions, no matter how bad they were. I could argue that my bad decisions were revenge for theirs, but on the other hand, there were some decisions they made that I deem wise. They normally require saying “yes”, and result in objects with heartbeats.
When I was 19, I came home and hovered in the kitchen for a moment before saying, “Hey, mum—how would you feel if I got an aquariumy-type thing?”
Mum turned and stared at me for a moment, her eyes narrowing, and I knew the answer would be “no”. She said calmly, “That depends. What do you want to put in it?”
I remember shuffling my feet a little and mumbling, “Erm… a Bearded Dragon…?”
The eyes narrowed a little more before the follow-up question was asked: “How big do they grow?”
Up came the hands, about a foot apart (I didn’t fancy trying my luck by including tail length) with a, “Erm… about yay big…”
That weekend, Dad took me to a pet shop where they had one remaining Bearded Dragon. Obviously, it was love at first sight for me, and while I was at work the following week, Dad went to pick it up. I got a call from him, asking something which he knew the answer to already: “They have a load of baby ones in now—do you want one of those instead, because the one you saw has a missing toe, a crooked tail and a problem with its eye.” Of course I wanted the defective one!
In many ways, I see the creatures nobody wants as adorable versions of myself. My parents have me because they wanted me. I, by default, want the animals nobody else wants. She didn’t live long, but I at least hope that every day I had her was a good day for her, where she’d be able to snuggle up on a shoulder, eat fruit, and run around to catch the crickets which had escaped and made a new home in the bathroom.
Moving forward ten years, I still have a love affair with animals, and my incredibly extravagant birthday present to myself was the greatest owl on earth! And he didn’t let me down, either. He would have been destined to find a home if I hadn’t taken him, but what I had was a bird who loved to watch TV, seemed insistent on damaging his beak, and loved my mum enough to try melting through windows whenever he saw her. Both Dad and I bear the scars of how loving he was, and if there’s only one thing to take away from his short-lived life in our family, it’s that Mum managed to get over her fear of flapping things.
I believe in dragons. They’ve never once told me they don’t exist. I don’t believe in Father Christmas—I saw Dad eating the biscuits one Christmas Eve—and I don’t believe that one day I’ll have a career doing anything that I’m remotely good at.
I don’t believe I will. Knockback after knockback, both personally and professionally, tells me I don’t have a right to believe in myself. But, for some reason, they do. They actually believe I’ll take my time about it and do the best I can, but I will land on my feet.
No, I’m not the most conventional of women. I never have been and perhaps never will be, but I know that, no matter how I end up in life, whether I’m the biggest success imaginable or the world’s most miserable creature going, I can rely on Mum and Dad to support me in every terrible decision I make.
So far, I haven’t really amounted to much, but I know if you were to ask them about me, you’d be told I’m a great writer, you’d hear tales of the legendary friendship between me and the astounding Mr Wicket, possibly about how much I love animals, but definitely about my apparent ownership of a heart so big it could swallow worlds. (And then, perhaps, how it is that they hope I fall in love and settle down so I can be happy!) To be honest, though, if I’m any of that, if I became any of that, it isn’t just through circumstance; it’s because I was raised by two people as devoted to each other as they are to their kids. I was raised in love.
Whatever good I do in my life, if that “lucky” man snaps me up, my written words raise a smile to the readers, or my birds are my friends and not pets, I hope they all remember to thank my parents for making their lives happier. Honestly, I didn’t have much to do with it.

So, there they are, my aunt and mother, standing off to one side debating whether or not carrying a candle will be good enough, and, despite the fact that it took 29 years of my life for my parents to discover my favourite colour, my mum knows me well enough to know that, if you were to put me in a group and make me speak, what you get is a garbled mess. Words said out of order, far too much coinage of new words, just plain, disgusting, verbal vomit.

To clarify, I did once do a reading in Westminster Abbey years ago, and that was brute force, thanks to the Sawbridgeworth Musical Youth Theatre. This was another of those things my parents thought it would be brilliant for me to do. I remember the day clearly: now old enough to come to terms with my beliefs, I could feel my entire body tensing up and my face turning a deep shade of red as I twittered on about some kind of heavenly host of angels blowing trumpets, or some such twaddle.

Yes, I was one of those brats in school who barely allowed their lips to move in time with the hymns we sang, and you know what? I’m not sorry in the slightest! Yeah, that’s right – I’m a rebel.

So if I can’t do the God Speak for my parents, what can I do instead? Beside the Mighty Candle Walk, that is…

Today, one of the sales team suggested that I do a stand-up comedy act. Eh, don’t think so! A guy I know who’s managed to get me drunk and on stage to sing at a gig or two of his suggested I sing. Sod off, mate, the church only stocks red wine and I’m not sure eventhat exists in a Protestant church!

In the meantime, I appear to be chief photographer for the day, which suits me down to the ground, and now I’m thinking so hard about this, I can’t help but notice that here are my parents, strutting off down the aisle for the second time, and none of us Offspring have even got a relationship, stable or otherwise, to speak of. Perhaps why my mother constantly moans about her aesthetic need for grandchildren, almost to the point where she’s trying to throw me out the door for a meaningless shag. Saying that, for the past few months she’s been hoping that I have it off with a friend of mine. My prude mother is just that worried about my non-existent sex life that she’s telling me that hopefully he’ll want to drag me into bed next time I see him.

I think it’s only my Big Brother who’s pining. Being so easily distracted, I know my NCTJ diploma would go down the drain the moment I have an active social life (IE, start seeing someone more than once a month!) and Little Brother is so pernickety about things when he’sin a relationship that I think he’s due a rest.

Wicket will no longer be flying something exciting down the aisle, which would have been a brilliant stunt by me – not that he was ever going to be: my mum would have flipped out at the owl eagerly making his way to her, he would have stuffed it up, and then he would have chatted all the way through the ceremony, bitten my eat, crapped down my back and visited a few heads. The pupsicle will be next door with her designated babysitter, and the catimal will be hiding in my bedroom. With me.

All that’s left if I won’t sing, won’t read from a book of blah, can’t dance as well as Little Brother and can’t flap a bird about is a candle. My life is to be summed up by by a glob of wax. Still, I suppose it’s appropriate for a pyromaniac, so I won’t complain.

In case you’re wondering how I’m going to cope with the hymn side of things, don’t worry – my anniversary present to them, thoughtful offspring that I am, is a choir. Because I love them, obviously…

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