Friday 20 September 2019

Campbell Spray: 'I will, I will, I will; I do, I do, I do: my troubled road to redemption'

After a lifetime of complicated relationships, with trust abused and boundaries broken, Campbell Spray is full of hope that his third marriage will prove he can be lucky in love

NUPTIALS: Campbell Spray with his dog outside the Dublin Registry Office where this week he will be married for the third time. PHOTO: David Conachy
NUPTIALS: Campbell Spray with his dog outside the Dublin Registry Office where this week he will be married for the third time. PHOTO: David Conachy

Campbell Spray

This week a mere handful of us will gather in a room of the old Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital on Dublin's Lower Grand Canal Street. Somebody will press 'Play' and after Sinead O'Connor sings the uplifting and totally appropriate 4th and Vine, we'll sit down and the registrar will start the marriage to my partner of more than 17 years.

Our dog is to don a bow tie while I and my son will put on tweed waistcoats from Kevin and Howlin. I don't know what my partner will wear but I won't be disappointed. People say that apart from her choice of men she has great style.

It may not be the pink dress of which Sinead sings, but her hair might be "up tight" and although I have blue eyes instead of brown she will sing along "I'm gonna marry my love". And I'll join in with the "I wills" and "I dos". I know that she is "gonna look real nice".

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The new Mrs Spray, although she won't use that name and for her professional reasons I won't be giving her real one here, has been getting quite excited about the whole thing.

It has been wonderful the way she has become rather enchanted and emotional about the day.

The postman has been bringing a continuous stream of parcels to the house. Websites have been scoured and rails of clothes thumbed. Maybe we should have made it more of an occasion.

What started as a legal formality to get over awful inheritance issues has become a funny and rather frisky emotional journey. We jig and jive to Sinead's song and plan our one-night honeymoon in the Shelbourne.

Yet the day will be tinged with sadness; the new missus will have no family there. Her father doesn't stay in touch, her Alzheimer's-suffering mother is a permanent resident of a care home and her brother isn't in a great place in his life so can't attend.

In a country of large families and massive numbers of cousins and friends, the new missus is a relative rarity having come here by herself in her early 30s after a childhood started in another country and finished on a continent at the other end of the world.

And as for me?

Well, there is so much past. While the missus comes into marriage anew, for me, hopefully, it is third time lucky.

There is a trail of broken trust, lost dreams and deceit in my wake. I first was married while at college when 22; and then my second came 13 years later, exactly six years after I had arrived in Ireland. There were two children from each. Three survive; Daniel, the one who didn't, died from a heroin overdose four years ago. He would have been 43 at the end of last month. I always think that some of his demons got instruction from those of his father.

But then I had good teachers, too. My years of deceit were kindled by a childhood with an absence of boundaries. My wonderful mother lapsed into years of alcoholism.

Drink blighted our family - it became a world built on lies, abused trust and betrayed love. And, of all places, we were living in a hotel where everything could run riot. I could escape three terms a year from the awfulness of this drink-strewn, so-called family life throughout most of the 1960s to a highly academic boarding school.

What started at home got finished there. All boundaries had gone.

By the time I finished college and began work in newspapers and public relations, it was like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank. This young man embarked on a series of affairs.

Friends, relations, neighbours and colleagues and then those close to them became part of my prey. And if then I had only one wife, I did have many wives. I am not proud. Eventually it was good to leave one country for another, but old habits die hard. It was only through a gradual copping on, too late for much of the hurt I did, and some great therapy and doctors, that demons began to be faced. And that's where the new missus made a vital intervention.

For some it may have been too much - had my wildness and spirit been snuffed out? But others, more knowing, credit her with saving my life.

We met when she came looking for a job, having arrived carrying excellent references and an invitation to stay with the wonderful, big-hearted journalist Philip Nolan and his wife Sharon Plunkett.

I have always had good jobs on newspapers, yet in many ways her talents were too good for what I could offer then.

Having asked her to critique some work, she came back with observations which shamed me and some of my colleagues.

She rightly picked up work elsewhere in the building and industry.

Late one night, I bumped into her in the pub and, emboldened by some pints, tried the charm and we chatted.

Self-indulgently as ever, I perhaps did most of the talking, recounted some of my story and said I was beyond redemption. And then she replied with some words that perhaps should be engraved on the inside of the rose gold claddagh ring I will slip on her delicate finger later this week: "But Campbell, no one is ever beyond redemption."

"Well if that is the case," I replied, "will you have dinner with me?" It took three days for her to reply. We will dine together again this week but this time it will be in the Shelbourne after we get married and there will be no drive home.

I hope I will be a better husband than I was in the past. I will be loyal. And I hope this old dog, some 20 years older than his new missus, can learn to hold and kiss more, love and cherish.

We have had years of practice for this event. But I think there will be something very different after we leave Sir Patrick Dun's.

I have been reading Lisa Taddeo's epic tale Three Women which has informed me so much of what I missed in my decades of selfish lust used to serve my physical and emotional needs.

Taddeo's masterpiece, likened to Capote's In Cold Blood, gives a raw and searing picture of the real needs and desires of women told in an unflinching way. It makes me shudder for the years of my life that I have abused cherished hopes and dreams. I think reading it can only make men better. Not at sex, but love and understanding. A kiss is not just a kiss.

My new wife does tell me I am too hard on myself - that my years of apparently selfish lust and desire for constant emotional rewards were likely serving to bury whatever childhood scars I carry. She does a lot of good for some damaged souls, so I should probably take her counsel on board.

But I do feel I have married two wonderful women already, both probably too good for me and one possibly too indulgent.

They are and were good people who didn't deserve what I did. I can at least be happy that we are still friends. We have all cried together and sat alongside each other at Daniel's funeral.

My children are honest, forgiving and fun. Laura, my daughter in England, has given me three grandchildren. I hope next month in Center Parcs Longford I can be the grandpa they deserve.

This week, having begun our wedding in the registry office with Sinead and 4th and Vine we - together with my son Marcus (travelling from London), daughter Rachael and two friends of the new missus - will leave to the sound of The Beatles singing In My Life: "There are places I remember... Though I know I'll never lose affection. For people and things that went before. I know I'll often stop and think about them.

In my life I'll love you more..."

I feel loved and can love again. You don't need a marriage to do this but I think it will be good to do it this time, "I will and I do".

Rather like Bob Geldof when he decided to marry again a few years ago, it is time to replace 'partner' in conversations with wife and husband.

It's not too late. My father lived to 93 and smoked (which I don't) to the end, and on the day he died drove out for a drink. If I am lucky, I have yet to begin the final quarter of my innings.

So this week I'm "gonna marry my love, And we'll be happy for all time". It is up to me to deserve that redemption from my beautiful bride.

Campbell Spray stepped down as an executive editor with the 'Sunday Independent' earlier this year. He started work for the paper in 1984.

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