Oh no, my wife has just come home and plonked an envelope on my work-desk. It's not a bank statement and it's not junk mail (I only wish it was) One glance at the familiar scented, pink envelope tells me all I need to know. It's an invitation to a Thai wedding. And there's no way I'm getting out of it.
I don't want to come across as an old grumpy boots, but words can't express how much I hate Thai weddings. Apart from the fact that it's the union of two people whom I barely know, it's the sheer depressing predictability of it all.
Weddings are always held on a Saturday night, which means I don't get to see the Premier League football. They are always held at some non-descript three or four-star hotel in the most ridiculous and inconvenient locations. The last Thai wedding reception I went to - just four months ago - was at a hotel in the middle of Pratu Naam, quite possibly the most congested area of Bangkok.
I don't know what the bride and groom were thinking, but I couldn't fathom out the logic behind making three hundred wedding guests have to negotiate a maze of small sois and some of Bangkok's worst traffic to be present and correct for the six ‘o' clock start.
So after numerous wrong turns, you eventually locate the hotel in the middle of nowhere, wake up the security guard and he directs you to a neglected and unloved floor of the multi-storey car-park - and all the time you are muttering and moaning because it's far too hot to be ‘dressed up to the nines' and choking in a collar and tie.
You park the car and make your way to the elevator. No, that's the storage bay. Ah, here's the elevator. Press the button for lobby or reception. Well done! You've taken those first steps on the journey to getting hopelessly lost inside the hotel. You approach the reception desk, enquire about the wedding you've been invited to, and after checking reams of computer printout paper, the receptionist announces that the wedding party is on the 16th floor. So it's back to the elevator again.
You emerge from the elevator to find yourself standing on the periphery of the main function room. This is the area that's been decorated and festooned with pastel-pink bows and ribbons and the air hangs heavy with the overpowering scent of some sickly-sweet perfume. Here we go - once more into the breach dear wedding guest.
Thoughts gathered, it's time to approach the wedding reception table - and that carefully-selected group of family members who are there to welcome you, hand you your little wedding souvenir, make sure you write a comment in the wedding book, but most importantly, make sure that you hand over your monetary contribution in the invitation envelope.
Oh, did you think you were invited just so you could eat your fill, down copious amounts of free whisky and then just disappear into the night?
Then of course it's time for a photo. Every guest has to have a photo taken with the bride and groom as the nervous couple stand stiffly under an archway of pink roses or something equally ostentatious. Those are the rules. Aunts in pastel-coloured dresses, uncles in shiny suits and cousins with ridiculously over-gelled hair, all line up to offer the happy couple their best ‘wai' and barely audible congratulations.
It's usually at this moment I cast a quick glance around the room to see if I have a ‘soul-mate' - another foreigner that I can smile at or nod to, simply to acknowledge that we are two kindred spirits suffering the same ordeal. Alas, once again I am the only person lending the occasion an international flavor. I am alone - the only farang in the house.
I put on a brave face, pose for a photograph and offer my best wishes to the B and G. They smile back, there's a blinding camera flash, and I walk off-stage as the couple look at each other and wonder who in God's name that foreigner was?
The rest of the evening's events are formulaic to say the least. You know exactly what's coming. The sit-down meal will be what's referred to in culinary circles as ‘Chinese table' - eight or nine courses of disappointment that I can't be bothered to list - all washed down with watered-down whisky and soft drinks that have long lost their fizz.
Table conversation among strangers is limited to either passing comments or awkward silence.
At some stage in the proceedings, there is usually a large-screen ‘wedding day' video that springs forth from a cluttered computer desktop, with Lionel Ritchie's ‘Three Times a Lady' as the musical accompaniment. And there will be a couple of speeches from gentlemen, each with a distinct lack of personality and charisma, and possessing all the comic timing of the speaking clock.
Mercifully, once the cake has been cut and all the guests have stood up to raise their glasses three times, the younger members of the audience start running around playing kiss-chase (or whatever children play these days) and it's a signal that the event is winding down and one can safely slip away unnoticed and without effusive goodbyes.
Judging by the manner in which you have to squeeze into the elevator at the end of the night, there are clearly plenty of guests with the same idea. Never outstay your welcome - that's what I say.
The most disagreeable aspect of the whole charade - and I'm going to allow myself a little dig at Thai culture here - is that these weddings are seldom planned with the marrying couple in mind. They are organized and paid for by the couple's parents purely to keep relatives and friends of parents happy. It's not unknown at these wedding events for the bride and groom to have not the slightest inkling of who a large percentage of their guests are. And this is supposed to be the happiest day of their lives and all that jazz!
I've probably been to about 20 weddings during my time in Thailand. There isn't a single one of them that stands out. I'll see a photo of my wife's friend on Facebook and my wife will say "don't you remember we went to her wedding at such and such a hotel. She married a doctor with glasses" The hotel, the doctor, the glasses - to me they're just 20 forgettable nights when I would have rather stayed home. And I'm sure the 21st will offer nothing different.
I got married ten years ago. Or is it eleven? But one thing is for sure - I was the luckiest man on earth to marry a Thai woman who hates all of the above even more than I do. When we sat down to plan our wedding day, we had clear objectives in mind right from the start. We wanted an informal wedding day that would be attended only by people we cared about - and an occasion that everyone would remember.
I'll admit that my wife's mother wasn't too happy with our decision - she's a traditional Thai to the marrow - but when it became clear it was either our way or no way, she quickly came around to our way of thinking.
To cut a long story short, we drove down the coastline between Petchburi and Cha'am and looked at several possible venues before choosing the Dusit Polo Club. And for 120,000 baht (probably a tenth of what a decent wedding costs now) the Polo Club laid on a room for the wedding ceremony, gave us a dozen guest rooms at the hotel and organized a magnificent afternoon buffet right next to the beach. By 5pm it was all over and everyone was in their cars heading back to Bangkok.
We didn't ask people for money or donations to help pay for the event. Our wedding album was a large framed cartoon picture of my wife and I (which people signed and now hangs in our house) Hell, we didn't even have a wedding photographer. Ask me to show you a photo album and I'll reach into a drawer and pull out a biscuit-tin full of unsorted photos. But it was a brilliant day and all the guests agreed that it was the best Thai wedding they'd been to. It was quirky and fun, we knew everyone there (my family flew over from England as well) - and yes, we'll also treasure those memories forever.