Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A Christmas Message from Ricky Gervais

New Humanist Magazine has come up with a great idea: an advent calendar of podcasts by well known commentators and comedians. Today's comes from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant The devil may have the best tunes, but the humanists have the best jokes.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

How to get in touch

I've had this blog for a while now but it's taken until today for someone to point out (very kindly, I may add) that they couldn't find out how to contact me.

It's very simple: just click on the 'view my complete profile' link, under the heading 'ABOUT ME', in the right hand column and you'll see a button that says 'email'.

Click on that, and it will generate a new email form in your mail programme. I look forward to hearing from you!

Credit Crunch Weddings

As the economy plunges screaming over the cliff, it would be reasonable to expect people to postpone their wedding plans indefinitely in the hope that "things can only get better". Oddly enough, that doesn't seem to be happening and hardly a day goes by when I don't get a call or an email from couples who've already booked a date sometime during 2009.

In the States, Big Fat Weddings are 'Out' and Elopements are 'In' - which in simple language means that people are skipping the expensive reception and opting for simple ceremonies where the focus is on the meaning of the promise between two people rather than the price of the dress. Sounds as though the humanist message is getting through there too.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Claire & Peter's Humanist Wedding at Prestonfield House

Some of the most touching ceremonies I do are those with only a handful of guests, like this evening wedding at Prestonfield House for Peter and Claire.

We wrote the ceremony together as always, but they both prepared secret readings for one other, which they gave before they exchanged their vows. It takes a lot of courage to speak at your own wedding and they did it beautifully.

Claire wrote, We would also like to take this opportunity of thanking you for conducting such a relaxed and wonderful ceremony. Everybody there commented on how special it felt. We have now come back down to earth and feel like doing it all again it was so good.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Love and Proposition 8: Keith Obermann's moving plea

"If you voted for this proposition, I have some questions for you," begins Keith Obermann on MSNBC and he goes on to say all that needs to be said about the right of gay people to marry in the USA: much of it applies here in the UK too. I recently interviewed former Bishop Richard Holloway for the next issue of 'Humanitie' magazine and he put it so simply and well - unjust laws have to be broken if we are to have justice in the world. At present, HSS celebrants can only conduct 'blessings' for people of the same sex. The society campaigned for fifteen years for the right to conduct legal, secular, humanist weddings for heterosexual couples; it's high time we put the same effort into achieving parity for all.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Deborah & Brian's Humanist Wedding at Edinburgh Castle

Every so often a large attachment hits my inbox - if I'm lucky, it's from a couple I married months before sending me some shots from their wedding. Back in freezing cold, wet January, Deborah and Brian chose to come here all the way from Cheshire and Connecticut to marry in the historic setting of Edinburgh Castle. I made the mistake of waiting on the esplanade to greet them and now I know why those army kilts are so heavy.

Sadly, Deborah's parents weren't able to be there due to illness, but Brian who understands words like 'webcast' and 'bit rate' rigged up an internet camera so they could be with us in a virtual sense.

They look great, don't they? And they're coming back to Edinburgh for their anniversary - VisitScotland should give them an award!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Jane & David's Humanist Wedding in the garden of Haddington House

One of the things that surprises me most about the ceremonies I have the privilege of conducting is that they are all genuinely unique. Every couple's journey is different and they way in which they tell their story is too. Jane and David's approach was intimate, open and honest and they chose a lovely spot, where we were surrounded by apple trees.

Sadly Jane's brother Michael and his family live in Australia and couldn't be there, but he sent a wonderful letter and two very thoughful presents that made us all laugh...

As you can see in these shots taken by Jane's nephew Cameron. My thanks to David's friend Gary Eunson for the first shot on this page; he doesn't generally do weddings, but he's a wonderful landscape and wildlife photographer and his site is well worth a visit

Monday, 29 September 2008

Face to Faith - Making Everyone Feel Welcome

Humanist weddings are non-religious but they're not anti-religious and I believe it's important that everyone feels welcome. It's a subject that comes up fairly often when I meet people for the first time and although many couples have no interest in religion themselves, I always ask them about their friends and relatives so if they are religious, we can make time to welcome and include them and respect their beliefs.

Victoria & John handled this delicate issue very sensitively in their ceremony at Dundas Castle earlier this year, and this is the form of words that they used.

"I mentioned at the start that this is not a religious service. However, many of you here today may have your own beliefs, and John and Victoria wish to acknowledge these during the ceremony. We will now take a moment to allow any of you to silently add your own thoughts, wishes, blessings or prayers to the happy couple."

I always give people copies of our leaflet 'Sharing the Future' to pass on to relatives or friends who've never heard about Humanism. If you'd like a copy you can download one from our web site by clicking here.

My thanks for the photograph to Mairi & Neill of Neil Fordyce Photography

Sunday, 28 September 2008

How much does a Humanist Wedding cost?

I suppose one answer to this question might be "much less that the dress" but it's an important question, so I'll be serious for once.

I've just spent a merry couple of hours trying to find out if there's a standard cost for a non-religious wedding in Scotland and I've come to the conclusion that there really isn't one.

It's true that you can be married during the working week by a Registrar in a civil ceremony at a Registry Office for £107.00, including the cost of a copy of your marriage certificate, but - if you want to marry somewhere else or at the weekend, for example - the variables start to kick in; the cost of a temporary licence for the venue perhaps, or additional fees to the Registrar, all of which you can read about on their web site, although it doesn't go into detail about the costs.

One of the many advantages of a Humanist Wedding is that the cost is straightforward.

As of January 2012, all celebrants of the Humanist Society of Scotland charge the same fee of £335.00 wherever and whenever the wedding takes place.

Our only additional charges are for travel, for which we charge £0.55 per mile and £50.00 for a rehearsal, which is optional and not always necessary. You can find more information about our costs and the way in which we all work at the HSS website here.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Sarah & Robert's Humanist Wedding at Linlithgow Palace

I love this shot of the vault at Linlithgow Palace; a now roofless masterpiece of mediaeval architecture, (deliberately set on fire by Butcher Cumberland en route to Culloden) it was a very atmospheric setting for Robert & Sarah's wedding.

Robert & Sarah's story was very romantic. When they were only in their teens, they both worked in the same supermarket after school. Robert even used to check to the schedules to find out what shifts Sarah was working, but they didn't actually get together for another 12 years.

They each wrote part of their vows in secret and read them out to one another on the day - this was very moving and really heightened the emotional tension, well captured in these shots by Kate Chandler and Callum Bennetts.

Juliet and I have worked out about eight different ways in which people can say their vows, but I think this is my favourite. It's often the first time the couples' voices have been heard during the ceremony and no matter how quietly they speak, everyone can hear how they feel, which is really what we're all there for.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Best Man or Groom's Men?

I don't know when this began to happen, but this year I've found myself surrounded by more and more blokes. Like the grey squirrel and cosmetic surgery, the tradition of 'The Groom's Men' has arrived here from the States and it's definitely catching on. There's certainly an argument for having a few guys to keep the bridesmaids company and it's always an honour to be asked to be part of somebody's big day. These strapping lads were there to support Billy in his marriage to Leanne earlier this year at the Capital Hotel, and my thanks go once again to Colin Kilgour for the shot.

Pam & Andy's Humanist Wedding at Orocco Pier

Orocco Pier is a boutique hotel in South Queensferry that sits under the Forth Rail Bridge, and even on an overcast day, it provided a dramatic backdrop for Andy & Pam's very chic ceremony. They were a delightful couple whose expressive, funny and loving words had their guests in tears almost from the start.

Somewhere under that spray of flowers is the marriage schedule. And somewhere under that hat is Pam! My thanks to Colin Kilgour who took these shots.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Louise & Bob's Humanist Wedding at The Point Hotel, Edinburgh

It must be at least ten years old now, but The Point is still one of Edinburgh's coolest hotels. It was designed by the late and much lamented Andy Doolan who topped it off with this minimalist glass penthouse that gives onto Edinburgh Castle.

I like this rather eerie silhouette of me, Bob and his best man waiting nervously for Louise to appear, but I hope the professional photographer sends me some shots so you can see how great they both looked. Read on for the postscript...

The Humanist Society of Scotland's magazine Humanitie has a 'Society Page' on the inside back cover, where we feature the best shots the celebrants are sent by the couples we marry. The new issue hit the doormat yesterday, which prompted Louise to send me this one of the three of us looking as happy as they still feel, almost nine months later. it was a great day and this brings it all flooding back - thanks, Lou!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Bob and Alison's Humanist Wedding in their back garden

Alison recently sent me this clip of her wedding to Bob last summer: I love it, not just because I'm largely out of shot, but mostly because it really does capture something of the relaxed and intimate atmosphere of the day. Thanks Alison!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Little touches

It's been a busy - if rather wet - summer, but now that the swallows are leaving our shores (at a rate of 3,500 an hour, according to the bird observatory at Portland Bill) I've had time to look back over the wedding ceremonies I've conducted this year and I'm not entirely surprised to find that I've done more at Dundas Castle than anywhere else.

Why is Dundas so popular? Well, it's true that there's nowhere else quite like their mediaeval keep, but I've a suspicion the real reason is something else entirely. I think it's this pen.

Every marriage schedule has to be signed, with a fountain pen, using black, indelible ink. Technically, it's the responsibility of the celebrant, but Dundas leave nothing to chance. They give every couple their own Dundas Castle fountain pen, and it's waiting there for them in the chamber off the chapel where the signing takes place.

The following day, when the couple leave, the staff not only give them their pen as a souvenir of the wedding, but better still, they return the signed Marriage Schedule to the Registry Office in South Queensferry.


Friday, 12 September 2008

Rachel & Ash's Humanist Wedding at Dundas Castle

I'm not a great fan of the phrase 'a picture says a thousand words', but sometimes it's absolutely appropriate. Long Lens Maestro Tony Marsh is one of the best wedding photographers around and you can see why.

Ash & Rachel met while clearing mines in Nagorno Karabakh, a little known part of the former Soviet Empire on the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, where the war in 1993 left a nasty legacy that remains to this day. They're a lovely couple and one of the readings they chose really sums up who they are and what they're about. It was written by Oriah, Mountain Dreamer (who I recently discovered is not a long-deceased Native American Medicine Man but a living, breathing Canadian mother of two and best selling author) and it goes like this.

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments..

by Oriah Mountain Dreamer from her book THE INVITATION (c) 1999. Published by Thorsons in the UK. All rights reserved. Presented by kind permission of the author. http://www.oriah.org

You can find Oriah's web site here and buy her poetry here: I hope you do.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Davina & Nick's Humanist Wedding at Prestonfield House

Davina & Nick came up from London for their wedding at the very glamorous Prestonfield House Hotel. I decided not to use my own camera that day, so these pictures were taken by Liezl & Grant of RGB Photography.

It was a fun ceremony, although I don't remember crazy golf forming any part of it: I must remember to ask Liezl & Grant why they sent me this shot...

The all important signing of the Marriage Schedule: in Edinburgh, the Registrar supplies a second sheet of paper on which celebrants must transcribe all the signatures in BLOCK CAPITALS, and by the look of this shot, that seems to be what I'm doing as Nick & Davina get used to the feel of their wedding rings.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The Humanist Wedding of Tracy & Martin at Glencorse Old Kirk

One of the reasons I enjoy conducting Humanist Wedding Ceremonies so much is that it gives the couple getting married the opportunity to us their imagination and make the ceremony unique. Today, I was at the beautiful Old Kirk of Glencorse, for the marriage of Tracy and Martyn.

They wrote a poem together and spoke it to one another, couplet by couplet, before they made their vows. As you can imagine, it was very moving, both for them and all of their family and friends.

They also lit a "Unity Candle", to symbolise the joining of their lives together.

Glencorse, as the web site will tell you, "nestles in the foothills of the Pentlands" and I feel faintly annoyed that I knew nothing about it until today. Apparently, it was a favourite place of Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote “If my spirit returns to earth it will be found wandering through Glencorse Woods or sitting on the old bridge at Glencorse Kirk, the finest spot on earth”. He wasn't wrong, although the midges would have chased him off the bridge after five minutes today.

The sun came out eventually, as everyone gathered on the lawn for champagne and delicious canapes.

I was delighted to get these photos from Tracy and Martyn, taken by her uncle, that reminded me why it was such a lovely ceremony, along with a note to say that "everyone has commented on how personal and very touching it was."

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Humanist Weddings in Scotland rise by 64%

As the media officer for the HSS, I was delighted to see the response to the new statistics released by the Registrar General for Scotland last week about the rise in the number of Humanist Weddings. Although not as huge a leap as 2006, when they went up five-fold, it shows that although marriage itself may be in decline as an institution, when people do choose to wed, they increasingly want to do so in a Humanist ceremony where they can say for themselves why they're doing it, what they feel about one another and what their hopes are for the future.

One of the best stories was in The Press & Journal, where Morag Lindsay wrote about a ceremony performed by Turriff based celebrant Marion Richardson. Karolyn, the bride said, “It was all very calm, and a much more intimate occasion,” said Mrs Wheatley. “Our vows felt like something we believed in, rather than words we were repeating because that’s the way it’s always done. And all our guests stood around us, not lined up in pews at our back, so it felt like we were all taking part together."

There were lots of stories, many of which can be found on the HSS media scan, so it's all very encouraging. I wonder how many we'll do in 2009?

Monday, 14 July 2008

Maria & John's Humanist wedding at Forter Castle GlenIsla

After touring the world for more than two years, Maria & John came from Stockholm to the beautifully restored Forter Castle to celebrate their wedding with their immediate families.

Just as well it was an intimate wedding - the tiny chapel is without doubt, the smallest wedding venue I've ever been in!

As the summer mists swirled around us, everyone came out to the courtyard for the photographs and a glass of champagne.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Caroline & Bruce's Humanist Wedding in their garden

I always enjoy a story where love triumphs over adversity, and Caroline & Bruce's story is a cracker!

Childhood sweethearts at a highland boarding school, they were apart for 26 years before they met - and fell in love all over again.

They had an intimate ceremony for close family only in a marquee in their back garden, five years to the day after they were reunited.

And they were kind enough to send me these photographs along with this message "We had a lovely day and you conducted the ceremony perfectly! Everyone thought you were great and enjoyed the whole event."

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Legalities and Vows

My esteemed colleagues, Mary Wallace and Juliet Wilson have both been applying their fingers to the keyboard recently and giving some valuable advice about taking care of the legal aspects (Mary) and how to choose wedding poetry and readings (Juliet). They're both well worth reading.

I suspect that Mary's latest post was prompted by an experience I had recently which made my life even more exciting than it usually is...

I met my couple for their wedding rehearsal two nights before the big day and while we were talking about all the necessary arrangements I asked if they'd collected the marriage schedule from the Registrar's office yet. They gave me a rather blank look and said "did we have to give some papers to the Registrar?" As gently as I could, I reminded them that they should have done this six weeks ago, as we'd discussed several times and as specified, not just in my correspondence but also in our Legal Marriage Form, the simple form of contract that we use.

Some tears and a few phone calls later, we adjourned the rehearsal having agreed that at nine o' clock the following morning, I would call the Registrars and do some very special pleading on their behalf. To cut to the chase, the Registrars were both understanding, helpful and very forgiving; apparently this wasn't the first time they'd had to take a call like this and - because the couple could produce receipts and correspondence that showed that the wedding had been planned for several months - the Registrars were able to make a judgement in their favour and create the all-important Marriage Schedule there and then.

SO if you're thinking of having a humanist wedding ceremony, please, please PLEASE remember that the most important thing is not the dress, not the meal, not the venue, not even the best man's speech: it's THE SCHEDULE. No Schedule, No Wedding.

Still, at least my couple have a story they can dine out on for years.

If you're getting married in the Edinburgh area, you will find the contact details for all the offices in the Edinburgh area below.

Registrar's Office
Lothian Chambers, 59-63 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1RN
Telephone 0131 529 2600
Fax 0131 529 2613

The Leith Suite
Registrar’s Office
30 Ferry Road, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 4AE
Telephone 0131 554 8452
Fax 0131 554 6568

Kirkliston Registrar's Office
Kirkliston Council Office, 19 Station Road, Kirkliston EH29 9BD
Telephone 0131 333 3210

Queensferry Registrar's Office
Queensferry Council Office, 53 High Street, South Queensferry EH30 9HP
Telephone 0131 331 1590

In East Lothian, you need to call and make an appointment. The numbers are below and you can find all the addresses here:

Musselburgh - 0131 653 5225
Haddington - 01620 827308
Prestonpans - 01875 818100
Tranent - 01875 824101
North Berwick - 01620 893957
Dunbar - 01368 863434

Here's a link to all the Registrar's Offices in West Lothian The numbers and partial addresses are below:

Bathgate Registration Office, 76 Mid Street - Tel: 01506 776192
Broxburn Registation, Strathbrock Partnership Centre, 189a West Main Street - Tel: 01506 775509
East Calder Registration, Library, 200 Main Street - Tel: 01506 884680
Linlithgow Registration, County Buildings, High Street - Tel: 01506 775373
Livingston Registration, Lammermuir House, Owen Square - Tel: 01506 773754/3755
West Calder Registration, 24-26 Main Street - Tel: 01506 874700
Whitburn Registration, 5 East Main Street - Tel: 01501 678005

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Paula & Damian's Humanist wedding at St. Anthony's Chapel on Arthur's Seat

Paula & Damian's wedding was the most relaxed and intimate wedding I've ever been to - just them and their best friends Paula and Raymond, both of whom were photographing and filming the whole event for the benefit of the folks back home, which is why I don't have any images of the ceremony itself, although you can see them on the rather elegant website that Raymond built for them.

But that doesn't matter: it was funny, moving and poetic and you can't ask for more than that.

Kathryn & Ewan's Humanist wedding at Kirknewton House Stables

Kathryn and Ewan's wasn't the first wedding I've conducted at Kirknewton House Stables, but it was the first time I'd had the opportunity to have the ceremony in their beautiful garden. What you can't see in this picture is all the free range chooks running around in their enclosure over to the right of the grounds!

Their seven month old baby Rory was there too, with his grandparents and he behaved impeccably. He had the smallest kilt and sporran I think I've ever seen.

It's a shame you can't see Kathryn properly in any of the shots, as she looked gorgeous.

Note to self - in future, remember to give the camera to someone sitting as near to the centre as possible!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Nicola & Jim's Humanist wedding at Dundas Castle

Nicola and Jim came all the way from Yorkshire to find a suitable location for their fairytale wedding.

After a lot of searching, they finally settled on the spectacular Dundas Castle just outside Edinburgh.

They were lucky to get Roddy the Piper, who’s not just an outstanding player but even helped the best man to tie his ghillies - in case you don't know, here's how to do it yourself.

They took Polaroid shots of all the guests so they each had their own page in their wedding book.

One of their friends, Andy read a favourite poem of mine by the late lamented Hovis Presley, called 'I rely on you'. Click here to see Hovis reading it.

They had a fantastic cake, although I still can't imagine how they cut it without shattering it into a thousand pieces!

Jill and Chris's Humanist Wedding at Mansfield Traquair

Just look at Mansfield Traquair . Could it be more calm and tranquil? Little did Jill and Chris know what was to come. If they h...