The Giver of Gifts
A well-chosen godparent can be the best mentor and confidant a child can ever have, if your parents appoint one out of love and not expectation...
By Sophia Money-Coutts
July 25 2019
The idea struck me, as it must so many, while sitting at the bar at Boisdale. Squinting at the bottles lined up along the wall, I asked my drinking companion if he had any contacts at Sandeman. He squinted ever so slightly because we’d had a few by then. “You know, they make port,” I elaborated.
He scratched his ear, said he might, and then asked me why I needed to get in touch with them. “Because I’m off to Portugal next week, and my godfather is a chap called George Sandeman who lives over there, but I’ve never met him,” I said.
Odd, you might think, to have a godfather you’ve never met. His brother was my father’s best friend but sadly died not long before I was born, so George was asked as an honourary representative instead and accepted. I suspect he knew he might not be around that much and he couldn’t come to my christening, so sent a string of Cartier pearls as a present instead and then disappeared.
The new godparents of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor don’t have much of an excuse to forget their godson’s birthday because the poor little blighter will be photographed in the papers every year, but buying an extremely expensive and generous present is a canny move if you’ve recently been asked to become a godparent and can already feel a sense of foreboding that you will forget all little Matilda’s birthdays. Get in early and disappear afterwards, obligation fulfilled.
Anyway, as if working on an extremely grand missing person case, the following day my Boisdale drinking pal put me in touch with the wine writer Henry Jeffreys. I explained the details to him – unmet Sandeman godfather – whereupon Henry furnished me with his email address. (It’s never that easy in TV dramas, is it?)
Cut to Lisbon a few weeks later when I met up for one of those lunches that will long stick in the mind. George, a tall, elegant figure in a linen suit, appeared at the table and for more than two hours, over vinho verde and bacalao, we talked about relationships and family and life’s high hopes and failed ambitions in a much more uncomplicated way than I ever could with my own parents. It didn’t matter a jot that we’d never met before. What advice could George have given three-year-old me? Far more useful to meet up in Lisbon when I, as an adult, could properly listen to his godfatherly wisdom. Also, at the end of lunch, George handed me a small bag in which was a delicate bracelet – three strands of pearls fastened with a small, glittery clasp. My eyes welled up, and I don’t think it was just the wine.
As someone who is terrible at remembering birthdays and whose friends have started producing small bald babies at such a rate I forget all their names, I took huge comfort from this lunch. I have four godchildren thus far and love them all, but I do not loom large in their lives. Every now and then, I nip over for a cup of tea with their parents and hand over a book about dinosaurs I’ve hurriedly bought in Waterstones. “Look, it’s Godmother Soph!” they tell their infant, encouragingly, since the child is staring at me like one of those strangers they’ve been warned about at school.
And there are all sorts of rules that come with being a godparent these days. “Feel free to Instagram him,” my friend told me recently, of her new son. “We tell that to all the godparents.” A social media policy on godparenting! I’ve also heard tales of WhatsApp godparent groups, which the proud mother sets up to keep the godparents constantly informed of how the five-year-old is doing in maths and PE, with photo evidence of homework and sports day. As if we all need yet another WhatsApp group in our lives.
George and I have since become firm email friends and I have decided he will be the model on which I base my relationship with my own godchildren. I’ll stick a tenner in an envelope for Christmases and birthdays for a few years yet, but once they’re old enough it will become long lunches and actual friendship.
Probably no Cartier gifts, though. On a writer’s salary – are you kidding me?