Traditionally, a best man's speech contains sordid details of the stag night, shocking stories of youthful indiscretions... I'm going to deviate from this for two reasons: the first is that I'd have to invent them, because as far as know Archie doesn't really have a very shocking past. The second is that he's already looking pretty nervous, and I'm worried that he might actually die. So, I'll stick to the unvarnished truth.
I first met Archie in Oxford. It was the second year of my maths degree and, for reasons I won't go into, I was in need of a new tutorial partner. My previous partner and I were not kindred spirits. He had been a bluff, hearty chap, who'd regularly turn up to 9am tutorials, fresh and alert, having spent two hours' rowing on the river. I was praying that this time I wouldn't be assigned someone who was anything like that. You can imagine my relief when I met Archie.
I don't know if you've seen Brokeback Mountain. If you have, please try to keep it from your mind, because it certainly wasn't anything like that. That said, we hadn't spent much time together before we realised that we shared certain... feelings, feelings that we were afraid to acknowledge to each other, perhaps even to ourselves, for fear of where they might lead.
Of course, as we spent more time together and our friendship grew, we reached a point when we had to get things out in the open, and discuss these unfamiliar emotions. Primary amongst them was the feeling that maths at Oxford was really hard. We also shared a growing suspicion that even if we did get very good at maths, we were unlikely to impress many girls with it. Once we'd acknowledged this, it was like a dam broke, and soon we were frantically exploring alternatives...
They were heady days. DJing, stand-up comedy, radio and TV sitcoms, self-help books, even drug deals... we planned them all. We've still got those plans knocking around, just waiting for us to have the burst of dynamic enthusiasm and organisation that would be required to actually put them into practice. I even recently found a plan to gain such enthusiasm, but being as how it began 'Get up in the morning', you can get some idea of the level at which we were starting.
Probably least successful of these schemes was the drug-dealing. We listed the things we'd need...
...realised that we had absolutely no idea how to acquire any of those, and then moved on to more appropriate plans.
- cash register
Most successful was the stand-up career, if only because it was the only wheeze that involved us actually doing something other than planning it. After a mere few weeks' of intensive work, we produced a 5 minute script, and took it to the stage. The stage in question was at the Catweazle Club, a sort of hippy open-mike night without the mike. In retrospect, perhaps our edgy piece on lethal invertebrates in second-rate horror fiction was never going to fit particularly smoothly in between earnest poets and mimsy singer-songwriters. We were met with less than rapturous applause. In fact, we went down like a freestyle digeridoo player. That's not a euphemism; there was a guy on after us who sounded like someone having an asthma attack down a drainpipe, and he got about the same level of polite applause as us.
Though all these plans have (so far) come to naught, perhaps, in a sense, they were successful. After all, the ultimate plan was always to impress girls, and, thanks in part perhaps to the skills we both honed at college, we both ended up doing so. And that is, of course, what we are here to celebrate today. It's strange to think that Ellen would never have visited on that fateful first occasion were it not for Archie's fan web-site to science fiction author Michael Marshall Smith. I was musing on this fact when I suddenly had a thought:
'Who better to toast the happy couple than Michael Marshall Smith himself?'
[Pause. Look towards entrance.]
...and then I thought some more.
'He's a busy man these days', I thought. And,
'He'd probably feel kind of out of place in such an intimate setting'. And,
'To be honest, he hasn't actually written anything that was any good since 1999. He's part of their past, not their future.'
So in the end, I decided to do the toast myself:
Archie, mate, I'm really pleased that you've found someone who's smart and pretty and nice, and who seems to have energy enough for both of you. So I'll raise a glass to you and say 'Congratulations, my friends'. To Archie and Ellen.
* Not the band.