It not just unbelievers who have the pleasure of undergoing pre-marriage instruction. In order to get married by the Catholic Church in Ireland, the hopeful couple must undergo a pre-marriage course. At the time we were engaged, there was a fair degree of choice in the courses that could be undertaken and, crucially, the length of these courses varied a great deal.
Faced with 2 hours a week, thirteen week sessions with the local priest we began to panic.
We were to be married in the Chapel in Trinty College Dublin, a beautiful choir chapel shared between four faiths in one of the oldest universities in the world. In order to be married there, one of the couple must have graduated from Trinity within the previous seven years and Karel happily qualified being both smart and a forward thinker.
Actually, Karel was lucky to be still considered Catholic at all – my father was technically ex-communicated from the Catholic Church for attending Trinty in the 1960’s. Trinty was (some would say is) one of the last great bastions of Protestantism in the Republic and until the 1970’s if you were Catholic you needed permission from your bishop to study there. Dad asked for this dispensation, was refused and went anyway which was an automatic ex-communication. So much for his immortal soul.
Our desperate research revealed that we were entitled to attend a two day course in Trinty, held on a Saturday & Sunday. We signed up fast as places were limited. Having already lived in sin for a couple of years we were dreading the fateful weekend. We turned up on the day to find the standard room with plastic seats, a table at the top behind which lurked two pleasant looking middle aged women and not a priest in sight.
Adhering to my childish insistence of always sitting at the very back when faced with any kind of meeting or lecture I don’t want to be at, we took our seats beside a girl who seemed to be on her own and was thus looking both out of place and a little lonely. It turned out that her husband to be was flying in from London and was thus unavoidably delayed. “Oh, that’s a pity” we said. “Lying, lucky bastard” we thought.
The room slowly filled up with couples mostly in their twenties, but some older. The two ladies behind the desk introduced themselves and the festivities commenced. It quickly became apparent that there (as with any group) was a number of different types in the room. The keen, eager, always look on the bright side, this may be a valuable lesson sort (sitting at the front of course) who are to be destested on sight and possibly should be allowed marry but on no account should be allowed to breed. The indifferent, quietly resigned to our fate, you want me to get on this train sheepish types (sitting where they’re told) who are just plain frustrating and finally the oh dear God, life is too short for this, get me out of here I’ll pay you whatever you want types (sitting at the back where else?) who are godlike and wise in all things.
The course commenced. I can remember very little about it in detail except for early on each couple had to fill out a twenty question form about their relationship and then see how many of their answers tallied. We got 19/20 and we’re promptly accused of cheating. “Did not, now fuck off” I wittily countered, putting an end to any argument, also pointing out that the reason we got one wrong was that it was competely irrelevant to us. In fairness, some of the couples failed so miserably to agree on even the most basic questions (side of the bed stuff etc.) that we began to wonder what on earth made them think they would successfully co-habit their little bit of the multiverse. Karel and I and our new friend the singleton quickly began a “guess whose marraige will fail quickest” competition, which based on the evidence unfolding turned into a “whose relationship is not going to make it out of this room” competition as couples began to bicker, tell each other shut up, talk over one another and reveal deep, fundamental differences in their worldviews. Still, thankfully we were having great fun at their expense.
Our new friend’s fiance finally turned up, sat down and introduced himself. I asked them where they met:
“At Glastonbury as it happens” Glastonbury is in England and is famous for hosting a big rock concert every year.
“Oh, at the rock concert?” See what I did there?
“No, actually we met at the summer solstice, we’re both in the same coven”. Glastonbury is also allegedly the site of the Isle of Avalon (q.v. King Arthur etc.) and has been a major centre of occultdom, druidism, hippiedom etc. for a long, long time.
“I’m a Warlock” he added helpfully.
“Excellent” I replied, and meant it.
As an aside, and in the interest of fariness and accuracy, I maintain that this implies she was a witch but Karel maintains she was not.
The course proceeded with us and our occult friends sniggering away at every opportunity. Another highlight proved to be the discussion about finance. Many of the couples, and all of those who were not living together, had clearly given this little thought. The suggestion of joint bank accounts produced looks ranging from horror to bewilderment – What, share my money? I don’t understand.
Karel then completely flummoxed them all by announcing that we’d had totally joint finances from the day we moved in together. She failed to mention this was because I had no money and thus merging our finances simply meant her not getting paid back the money I owed her, but this would have been lost in the sea of indignation and incomprehension with which this policy was met.
“How can you have your independence?”
“You mean keeping secrets, don’t you?”
“No I mean the right to spend on what, and where I wish…”
“Without your partner’s knowledge of what you’ve done?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point…”
Their partner is by now wondering what it is they don’t want them to know (hookers? drugs?) & Karel sits back to survey with pride the deep suspicion and paranoia that has now been embedded in their relationship.
Karel went on to further ingratiate herself during the “name your hero” section, don’t ask me why we had to do this – I’d no idea then and I’ve no idea now. The participants one-by-one chose “My mother” “My father” or “Mother Theresa of Calcutta” and the moment of truth slowly advanced upon us. Karel calmly looked at the pitiful assembly and said “Richard Nixon”. I followed by saying “Nobody, really”. The looks ranged from aghast to condescending.
The two days dragged on and we bunked the Sunday afternoon session, foolishly having already been given our certificates of attendance at lunchtime, and we were happliy married a couple of months later.
At one point during the course the following Q & A occured between the two women giving the course & one of the participants:
“Are you both married?”
“I’m separated” replied lady one.
“I’m divorced” replied lady two.
“Excellent”, I thought and meant it.