memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

May 2008

Mandy is going to have a wedding. She has had her heart set on a white wedding in a church with flowers, bridesmaids, Reception in a posh country hotel with all the trimmings, ever since she can remember. The fact that neither she nor her boy-friend Mark can really afford it is not going to stand in her way.

She left school at sixteen and went to work in a local beauty salon; she lives with her mum Tracey and her brother Wayne, in a West London suburb in one those endless streets that you see flashing by as you begin your final descent into Heathrow.

Mandy works hard at cashing in on her best asset – her looks. She goes to the gym twice a week and spends a fortune on make-up, hair products and above all clothes. She buys all sort of gear, whether from Top Shop, Miss Selfridges or Zara in the shopping mall or on the market stalls on Saturday mornings where she picks up all sorts of tat. As for her face and figure, well, let’s just say that she makes the most of them; she puts her best foot forward as they say.

The furniture of her mind is sparse, being over-loaded and cluttered with a series of superficial images, clichés and sound-bytes derived mainly from the TV, magazines and the chatter of like-minded colleagues and friends. Like Sarah Palin, the Republican running mate for VP in the American Election, she would probably be unable to name any newspaper that she reads on a regular basis.

Her mother Tracey has aided and abetted her daughter in her quest for a suitable husband. Tracey and her daughter subscribe to the principle of instant gratification and buy now, pay later. As for brother Wayne, let’s not even go there.

What is rather more surprising however is that, while, the whole of the Western World is going into financial and economic melt-down, Amanda and Tracy seem to remain blithely oblivious to the situation and don’t even attempt to reign in or curb their spending habits, rather like a driver who, taking the same route to work every day, doesn’t slow down at a blind corner, on the grounds that I drive round here every day and there’s never been anything yet.

So far they’ve run up a credit card debt of over twenty thousand Pounds and the wedding will cost six thousand more; but it’s worth it – Mark is a real catch.

Recently everybody has been discussing darkly the financial markets – the Dow Jones, the Dax and the Taipei index; the pundits explain sagely about hedge funds, the collapsing housing markets, sub-prime loans, negative equity, toxic debts and so on; they worry about the various Governments’ bail-out plans – in short everyone has become an armchair expert. But the trouble is that there are no experts for this unprecedented situation: no one really has a clue.

Mark is, until recently at any rate, indeed a catch. He works in the City as a market trader, specializing in Futures, for a large Investment Bank, Lehman Brothers; this multinational octopus has its Head Office in Wall Street. Mark and Mandy met while out clubbing in the West End. He and his friends were celebrating a piece of adroit financial wizardry whereby, in few hours of buying and selling shares, they’d made over a million pounds. She was on a girls-only night out on a binge but always keeping an eye out for available men. They literally bumped into each other at the bar with Mandy spilling her drink all over Mark’s tie; it was instant attraction and, one thing leading to another, they ended up at Mark’s flat for coffee and sex.

The next morning Mark blearily staggered off to work, thinking that it had only been a one-night-stand and that was that. The calculating Mandy however had different ideas. She waited for a couple days and then phoned him on his cell phone (he’d drunkenly written the number on her wrist) suggesting they meet up for a drink after work. A couple of months later Mandy announced that she was pregnant and Mark did the honourable thing. They decided to get married as soon as possible.

FORMAL VOWS . PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

Meanwhile the world stock markets, first Wall Street, then the City, the Bourse, the Berlin and Geneva stock exchanges, and finally the Asian markets – Hong Kong, Tokyo and Beijing – all begin their catastrophic plunge and then go into free fall. Governments frantically pump in billions to shore up their failing economies. Central Banks struggle to contain the situation by lowering interest rates. But in the world markets, trillions are being wiped out every day. Whole countries, like Iceland and Bulgaria, go bust! And during all this financial turmoil, before the Western Governments, in desperation, step in to nationalize them, some of the huge Investment and Lending Banks, like Lehman Brothers, (Mark’s bank), go into liquidation.

Innocent of these stirring events, Amanda and Tracy are happily planning the wedding:

–              Look Mum, what do you think of this one?

–              Oh Mandy, It’s fantastic! And it suits your colouring too and the great thing is that you’re not showing yet …

–              No, that’s right! I couldn’t bear the thought of going up the aisle all fat and ugly and everyone knowing that I’ve got one up the duff and thinking, get her! Hope she doesn’t pod in front of the altar!

–              Yeah, that’s right! Now what are you wearing for the going-away outfit? Casual or formal?

–              Oh Mum! I mean, Hello! This is 2008 you know, Casual, of course! I thought maybe my new jeans with one of those great tops I bought yesterday … oh and my white, open shoes, you know, the ones with the heels?

–              Yeah, and after the reception you and Mark will be going straight to the airport?

–              Yeah, just think it’s only a two hour flight to Ibiza!

The great day arrives. Mark, now out of a job, is increasingly worried about their financial situation and has put out feelers among his contacts in the City. But times are hard; too many people are chasing too few jobs; besides, stock market traders are perceived as being responsible for the mess and therefore not exactly the flavour of the month. He has suggested to Mandy that they cancel the church and the Reception and put off the honeymoon until a later date when their finances are more stable. Instead they could have a simple ceremony at the local Register Office, followed by a champagne lunch at a nearby restaurant, attended only by family and close friends. But Mandy insists on going through with the original plan – the full Monty, the whole disaster! Not for the first time, he wonders whether or not his wife-to-be has got a screw loose.

And it is indeed a bit of a disaster. The only good thing about the wedding is the weather with a glorious sun shining all day in a very un-English way. More typically English is the way His family looks down their noses at Her family; the flowers in the church aren’t quite right either; the Vicar doesn’t seem to know who they are and, to make matters worse, the Bride and Groom have just had a whispered but bitter row in the lobby about money. So the ceremony runs its course; the couple exchange vows and rings, with stony faces, and kiss briefly before turning to progress down the aisle, to the strains of The Wedding March. What a hollow triumph for Mandy. What a disillusion for Mark.

At the church door, Amanda breaks away and starts to run down the path, casting a reproachful look back at her husband, (much to the delight of the official Photographer who manages to capture the moment).

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