A few background facts: Bink and I have been close friends for more than five years, and when we first knew each other our names were occasionally "linked" – I used to describe myself as Bink's "inappropriately older man" (being nearly 20 years her senior). We are exceedingly fond of each other, and this closeness is often mistaken for something more. I have also grown close to her family,
I have come to stay with the Atkins family in Bedford for a few days, with the intention of commuting over to Cambridge to show my face in the office. I mentioned a couple of times on Sunday evening that I had been called to an emergency meeting on Monday (a public holiday in the UK). Then after supper I said, "Shaun, will you be free in the morning? I'd like a chat with you, before I head off to this meeting. It's quite important, and I'm too tired to talk about it now." Shaun innocently agreed, and the stage was set.
On Monday morning I had terrible stage fright, but summoned up the courage and tapped on Shaun's bedroom door. In a highly charged and emotional five minutes, tongue-tied and blushing, I explained that over the years of our friendship Bink and I had grown very close, that I was very conscious of my many handicaps as a suitor (age, divorce, children), but that despite them I felt that I ought to propose marriage. Being aware of the value the family places on tradition, I wanted Shaun's blessing before I did so. Could he please speak to Anne about it today, and perhaps we could talk about it further in the evening? Only, I have to dash off right now to get to my meeting. KTHXBAI.
Knowing myself to be a terrible actor, I felt sure that Shaun would see right through this and the whole plan would be a damp squib. As we drove off to my fictional meeting, Bink and I were astonished and a little daunted, as this initial success meant that we had to go through with phase II. Obviously Anne and Shaun couldn't approve such a mismatch for their daughter, but how would they break that to me? And could we reverse their opinion with another bombshell?
We stayed out for most of the day, and equipped ourselves for the denouement. When we returned, we rather expected the gaff to have been blown and to face some dastardly counter-prank. But no: Shaun had been out all afternoon, and now they were both sequestered in (yet another) logistics conference for Serena's wedding. We had to wait until about 7:30 for Bink's turn. She asked her mum for a quiet word (on which I was able to eavesdrop using the handy intercom system the Atkinses need for communication in the vast warren of their beautiful house). How much had already been spent on her bridesmaid's dress? Wouldn't it be possible for Bink to wear a suit instead? She didn't want to wear the dress. She couldn't wear the dress! She didn't want to say why. She hates it when people stare at her. The dress wouldn't fit. Because, because, ... because she's pregnant! About 15 weeks, probably. Who's the father? Why does everybody ask that? Nick asked the same thing! Why does it matter? What was she going to do?! She couldn't bear to tell Shaun: couldn't Anne tell him?
Again, we had underestimated our abilities for deceit, and this news was taken at its shocking face value. Happily Anne suffered neither a stroke nor a heart attack, but as she fetched Shaun to break this news, and Bink excused herself to come upstairs, we were both genuinely concerned that we'd gone too far. The only way forward was to skip rapidly to the final scene. Bink donned the astonishing ring we had picked up in Claire's Accessories and we burst into the silent space between Anne and Shaun. They had each just broken their news to the other: were they facing a shotgun wedding? Twenty years of accelerated grandparent duties? Would Anne's career have to go back on hold for another decade? "Mum, I told Nick that I've told you and he's proposed! Look!"
The icing on the cake was surely that Anne didn't have her spectacles, so for several more seconds this, um, remarkable ring was all too convincing. It was only after Bink was enfolded in a maternal hug, and we were warmly congratulated, that the reality sank in and the air turned blue....