Monday 2 July 2012

Can you ever have too much sin?

16st 4lb, 4.5 units. We had our younger son James George Frederick baptised on Saturday afternoon.

It was a very happy occasion, even for Jamie, who smiled contentedly throughout. And it was followed by an afternoon tea featuring a cake that can only be described as exquisite.

No one had the slightest interest in listening to speeches, not least because half those attending were under the age of ten and were too busy wolfing down sandwiches and playing boisterous games of hide and seek under the rather rickety trestle table on which the food had been placed.

Nevertheless, Mrs Hann and I made speeches anyway, because it was our do and we could do what we darn well liked. Rather than devising some new words for this blog, a lazy man naturally feels that it would be simplest to reproduce them below.  Mine first:

Good afternoon

I know many people think that the only thing better than a very short speech is one that never starts at all.

But I’m afraid you can’t really expect that view to be shared by those of us who write speeches for a living.

On the plus side, my business is writing speeches, not delivering them, which is by no means my favourite thing. So this may not turn out to be quite as bad as you clearly fear.

Though, as you can see, there are a few pages to get through, and the more noise you make the slower I will read them and the longer it will take.

Before starting to think about this BRIEF talk, I referred back to the few words I said on the occasion of Charlie’s christening. I don’t suppose I should say this, but I was pleasantly surprised by how amusing they were. Which makes the pronounced absence from my memory of gales of laughter throughout their delivery all the more puzzling. My recollection is of silence broken only by random barracking from inadequately disciplined children – much like today, in fact – the blowing of tumbleweed and the tolling of a distant bell.

I had also completely forgotten quoting Maral’s words, when we were struggling to whittle down the list of Charlie’s godparents to the conventional three, and I pointed out that there was nothing to stop us having more than that. I am sure my good friend Rick the Ex-Vic will confirm that the Church merely specifies a minimum of three, with no upper limit.

To which I received from my dear wife the chilling response: “Oh no, we need to keep some in reserve for the next one!”

The next one I had no intention of having on grounds of age, infirmity and terminal idleness.

The next one we have just had the pleasure of christening today.

So, unsurprisingly, Maral got her way on one more important thing.

She also got her way on the matter of this christening, which I was more than willing to shelve indefinitely in my towering “too hard” pile when the Bishop of this diocese, in his infinite and no doubt God-given wisdom, pronounced that our dear friend Rick might NOT christen Jamie in his former parish church, where Charlie was christened and Maral and I were married.

It may strike some of you as ironic that this christening should have taken place at the insistence of someone who proclaims herself to be a Muslim. But then she does only come out with that line when she is trying to persuade the Jehovah’s Witnesses to get off our doorstep.

So thank you, MARAL, for that. Thank you RICK for baptising Jamie, and for indulging my old-fashioned wish to use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Much against the inclinations of the Rector of the church we borrowed for the occasion, who thinks that the old baptism service contains “too much sin”.

Some of us think you can never have too much sin. And I’m quite sure that it has not done any of us any harm to be reminded of it, and that the purpose of baptism is to wash it away. Thank you, in asbentia, Canon, for allowing us to use your church.

Thank you to our three splendid GODPARENTS. 

I hope that by now you have realised that you are not runners-up in the Hann godparenting stakes, but part of a carefully thought-through long term plan.

Though if there is anyone here counting on being called upon in our third round of godparent selection, let me tell you now that no such plan has been revealed to me.

Having said that, on past form I would almost certainly be the last to know.

And my thanks to ALL OF YOU for being here to support us and Jamie. It means a lot to those of us who are old enough to register your presence. And I am sure it will mean just as much to Jamie in years to come.

And rest assured, my boy, as a younger brother myself, that I will always have your best interests very close to my heart.

After the thanks, a toast. But first a couple of words of explanation.

First, you may already have worked out the answer to this one, but if you’re still wondering why anyone in their right mind would have a christening followed by a tea party 25 minutes drive away, the answers are:

(a) it is always a good idea in anything involving the Hann family to query that initial assumption of “in their right mind”;

and (b) this hotel is actually quite handy for Rick's old church, where we would have had the christening but for the helpful intervention of the Bishop. So thank you for that one, Bish.

Secondly, the names. James George Frederick. There was never any question that Charlie was going to be called Charles, because that was the name Maral had in mind for her son long before she met me. The fact that it also happened to be the name of my grandfather was an incidental bonus. Not that I can claim have particularly fond memories of Grandpa, given that he died in 1935. Of syphilis. Strange but true.

Since Maral and I both only have one name, we agreed that we should lash out and give our son a choice of several. And since my name was chosen precisely because it could not be altered (which must cause my parents to turn in their graves every time Maral calls me “Keitho”) we deliberately went for ones that can be mucked about with at will.

So Charles Henry (after my father, Harry) Danesh (Maral’s maiden name but also a perfectly good forename, which she tells me means “knowledge”).

My only niggling regret, as perhaps the world’s greatest fan of George Frederick Handel, was that we had missed a golden opportunity to bring into the world a George Frederick Hann.

So when the sonographer brought Maral and Charlie the disappointing (to them) news that we were having another boy, it seemed a bit of a no-brainer.

My first suggestion was that we call him George Frederick Xerxes, combining the name of the composer with that of one of his better-known operas, and also making a polite nod to the boy’s Persian heritage. For reasons still unclear to me, it did not go down well.

Then I tried George Frederick Darius, which went down much better, and that was our working title for quite a while. But it still didn’t seem quite right. There was something missing. Finally, the penny dropped. James. Jamie. THAT was the right name for this child.

It happens to be the oldest and most popular boys’ name of the lot in my branch of the Hann family. The very first person in my family tree, as far back as I can get, is a James Hann.

I had an uncle and two great-uncles called James. One, the elder brother of my grandfather Charles, died as long ago as 1891. Ironically drowned while swimming at Bamburgh in Northumberland not long after returning from a successful expedition to the most remote jungles of Dutch Guiana, about which he wrote a book. That’s pretty typical of our luck, but I’m quite sure it’s not an omen of any kind.

Secondly, and more importantly, because it is a name that has special meaning for Maral, too, and I know that she wants to say a word about that herself. Please don’t rush for the exits. I feel sure that hers will be a speech short enough to satisfy even those of you who don’t care for speeches. In fact, I can see from here that it only runs to half a page. It’s what Mrs Doyle in Father Ted would call a “micro speech”.

But before that, could I please ask to raise a glass to James George Frederick Hann and wish him long life, good health and much happiness. And if he proves handy at knocking out a tune, too – well, that will be a bonus. To JAMIE.

I paused for rapturous applause at this point, but there was just the sort of embarrassed silence you get after someone has loudly broken wind in church, so I handed the baton over to Mrs Hann, who spoke as follows:

As Keith has said, we’d agreed on George Frederick Darius Hann……..then he called me from Northumberland one day: ‘I can’t bond with George Frederick, how do you feel about James George Frederick instead? It would be a fitting tribute to your friend Jamie, don’t you think?’

I was really touched.

My friend Jamie died seven years ago and I hadn’t spoken to Keith about him much as they’d never met.

You see, he may come across as a grumpy old curmudgeon [quite rightly - Ed.] but he’s quite thoughtful!

A few words about Jamie Roddick then, those in the room who knew him would agree that he was devilishly handsome – his own words!

A real whizz when it came to boats and computers

Laid back, kind, funny, an amazing cook

Never too far from a bottle of Ameretto

And most of all good fun to be with.

So far our little man seems to be a laid back, happy chap who’s always ready with a smile.

Only time will tell if he develops an aptitude for booze, boats and parties!

One thing’s for certain, if he has half the qualities his namesake had, he’ll never be short of friends!

Please raise your glasses to absent friends.

Now that did get a round of applause, mainly because I led it with wild enthusiasm. Then we cut and devoured the exquisite cake, thanked the godparents, paid the bill and went home.

I meant to add at the time, but shall do so now as a footnote, that Mrs Hann is currently in training for this September's Great North Run, in which she is fundraising for Brain Tumour Research. Not least because it was a brain tumour that killed her friend Jamie. If you happen to feel like visiting her page at I am sure that she will be very grateful, particularly if you make a modest donation before leaving it again.

Thank you!