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A Ridiculous Custom

Our resident dad Gav McCann shares his thoughts on the 29th of February….

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress
Photo by Jasmine Carter on

When you think about it, it’s a strange idea, the 29th February – a day that only exists when it feels like it (okay then – once every four years but that’s still downright lazy if you ask me) and – ignoring minor details like earth’s orbit around the sun and all that, has only two apparent purposes:

1) To mess with our calendars and cause annoyance to people born on that day
2) To provide the world with another bizarre and arguably unnecessary ‘custom’

The latter seems to be getting more and more attention these days – the first conversation I heard when I awoke this morning was between radio show hosts talking about ways for men to avoid being ‘caught by the question’ – as if the 29th February is going to turn every unmarried but partnered-up woman into a rabid ‘must marry’ proposing machine. In my case, I hadn’t even heard of the custom until 10 or so years back and even then it seemed a bit far-fetched. People don’t really do that kind of thing and it wasn’t ever likely to effect me.

Until, on February 29th 2008, I became the victim of an unmarried proposing machine.

It was partly my fault – I’d gently teased Chelle beforehand that here was her window, and she’d better get in there while she can. We’d not been seeing each other all that long (less than 3 months in fact) but we’d quickly entered into ‘crazy loved up’ territory. If you’d dumped us in a hotel in the middle of Vegas, rings and vows would be inevitable, after an equally inevitable amount of wine and beer. However, while on some level I thought she *might* ask, I didn’t really think she *would* – not least because I’d spent the 28th back in my old home town with friends, and my plan for the day itself was to be at work in London before getting back to Brighton tired and exhausted for the evening.

As it turned out, sickness beckoned so I didn’t actually make it into work (absolutely nothing to do with the previous evening, I assure you) and I spent my morning and early afternoon at my parents’ resting on a bed. I was enjoying my rest and was avoiding email or texts, in case I got embroiled in anything that would distract from my slumber.

Eventually I had a call, which I missed – and when curiosity made me check who was calling, a text was also sitting there from Chelle asking “when are you going to check your mail?” I replied that I was off sick, and in turn got an “ohhhh okay – I’m forwarding something to your hotmail…”. It seems appropriate now that someone who would go on to be a guru of social media should choose a medium like e-mail on which to propose. However, I for one didn’t see that coming, so gave no warning of where I was. When she e-mailed my work she found herself waiting some time for an answer.

Equally unfortunately, Chelle is also someone who, when she cares about something passionately shares it. Even if she was going to use a ‘distant’ method such as e-mail as a way to propose, she made sure to copy in as many people as she could to make it as special and as public a show of affection as possible. People in her office, friends of us both, relatives as far as Australia had all been included in what was fast becoming the kind of tense cliff hanger you get in soap operas.

Of course, I had no idea of any of this – and so went to the living room at my parents’ to look at my hotmail, hoping she’d gotten some interesting gig tickets or had some juicy gossip. And there it was. I was part surprised, but part not surprised at all. I read it and was full of happiness, and slight confusion as I started to clock how many people were on the CC list. I read the mail out loud to Mum and Dad, whose natural reaction was to ask “well?”. The answer was immediately obvious to me – even at that stage in our relationship it seemed inevitable that we were going to be together a long, long time. So, it turns out my parents knew before Chelle – and all the others waiting around the globe – that my answer was very much a yes.

I’m not going to share the exact contents of the mails back and forth, but they were suitably lovely, and we still have printouts of them as well as the many follow up congratulatory mails from the online onlookers. Four years later with a marriage and daughter to show for it, I hope Chelle’s as glad she sent that mail as I am.

Still. Ridiculous custom, eh?