Dear readers, but particularly those from St. Columba’s, some of you have asked about my brother’s wedding, and more specifically about all the stories I had the opportunity to tell in the course of giving the best man’s speech. So for those of you who know Philip, and who were sadly unable to attend the wedding in Northern Ireland, here is that speech…
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends and Family, Philip but most particularly Sara; it is my responsibility at this point to tell you a little about my brother. And on this occasion it’s not just a responsibility but a positive pleasure. So I thought, Sara, that as you begin your life in the company of this…this, I would highlight certain characteristics that, provided you bear them in mind, should ensure that Philip’s behaviour comes as no surprise.
The first is Philip’s insatiable curiosity. Philip loves asking questions. And he loves receiving the answers to those questions. Philip, for instance, asked the question “What happens when I stick this stone up my nose?” and received the answer “You get taken to casualty.” Philip asked the question “What happens if I eat all the sweeties in the packet labelled ‘Paracetamol’?” and received the answer “You get taken to casualty.” Philip asked the question “What happens if, when travelling at high velocity on my toy car, I turn the steering wheel sharply?” and received the answer “You get flung off…and taken to casualty.” And if I can interrupt myself for just a moment, it’s wonderful to see that Philip is such an extraordinarily fast learner that only last week, a mere twenty years after that incident, Philip passed his driving test!
Occasionally Philip’s questions have provoked slightly different answers. The answer to the question “What happens if I eat my nappy?” was “Once he stops laughing, the chemist assures you you’ll be fine”; and the answer to the question “What happens if I throw my brother’s raincoat into the fire?” was “The fire brigade are summoned to put out the resulting blazing chimney.” Well done, Philip, for at least managing to vary your questions sufficiently to invoke a different emergency service. But as should now be clear, Sara, my family considers you a true answer to prayer. Not only because you are a smart and beautiful woman who clearly loves Philip very much; but because you have received extensive professional medical training. Philip needs you.
The second characteristic is Philip’s desire for the unambiguous presentation of information. It does not matter whether this is presented orally or visually: there must be no room for confusion. Even under circumstances where no one else would have considered confusion to be possible, Philip finds a way.
For example, Philip was with the rest of the family on a small boat when an airshow was being held over Bangor Bay. My father, keeping a careful eye on the sea ahead, called out a warning: “Big wave, everybody; big wave!” My mother held on to a handrail. My sister Alison held on to a handrail. I held on to a handrail. Philip let go of everything and waved both his arms in some lunatic semaphore at a bemused Spitfire pilot.
And like I say, visual confusion is equally probable. I don’t think anyone will forget the family lunch we had at a carvery in England when Philip was allowed to select what went onto his plate. We hadn’t time to warn him that those looked like very odd Yorkshire puddings before he’d taken an enormous forkful of his profiteroles-and-gravy. So Sara, when talking to Philip, or leaving him a note, or in fact communicating in any way at all, make sure that he understands exactly what you mean.
Otherwise, he might be surprised. And Philip’s startle reflex is exceptional. Although he is alone in the family in suffering no phobias – an occasional terror of low-flying bananas notwithstanding – he will jump. And he will jump further, and cause more havoc in doing so, than anyone else I know. Do not let this man be responsible for holding the popcorn when you go to the cinema. Philip’s startle reflex is so strong, in fact, that when he was living in Aberdeen the sight of Shelob the Spider, in the third Lord of the Rings film, caused him to somersault backwards off his bed, land with a crash and a shout on the floor, and summon his landlord to the bedroom door to see if he required prayer.
Finally, Sara, one characteristic that I don’t think has been mentioned by anyone – Philip’s sleeping habits. When I was small, and Philip was very small, he used to creep into my bed and sleep there. And what an exciting range of postures and positions he made use of! His favourite, I recall, was a sort of capital-L shape, with his head on the pillow and his backside pointed heavenward. He could sleep like that quite happily all night.
Actually that’s…that’s not entirely fair. That’s not entirely true. Philip wouldn’t sleep like that all night. Philip would sleep like that for thirty seconds. Then he would find some equally improbable contortion and avail himself of that – all without waking up. So Sara…good luck. Oh, and later you should really ask him about his ‘party clothes’. His answer is likely to be quite revealing.
Now perhaps, ladies and gentlemen, Philip and Sara, you’re thinking that this all seems a little one-sided. A little along the lines of ‘let me tell you some of the many, many ridiculous things my little brother has done.’ You would be right. We’re pushed for time and these are stories I have been waiting literally years to tell. But more importantly, they are all true. So, having established my bona fides, my position as a reliable narrator, let me finish by saying I wish there were more time for other true stories. I would love to tell you all about Philip’s extraordinary kindness. His servant heart. His Christian witness and his love for his friends and his family. But since there isn’t time now, Sara, I am delighted to remember that you will have the rest of your life to learn these things for yourself.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends and Family, please raise your glasses for I give you – the bride and groom.