Friday, 24 December 2010

Heather & Stephen's Humanist wedding at Cambo House, St Andrews

There's something inherently dramatic about the idea of marrying in a winter wonderland, but this is the first year for a long time that the weather in Scotland has made that possible over the Festive Season.  

Sadly for more than one couple, that led to last-minute postponements, but by the time Stephen and Heather's big day came round, the snowploughs had been out, and almost all of their friends and family made it to the splendid Victorian pile that is Cambo House.

Heather and Stephen first met when they were only fifteen, working in a hotel in Broughty Ferry. One of the many nice things that came out of their homework was the realisation that Stephen had clocked Heather fully a week before she deigned to glance in his direction...

But as he was wearing a paper hat at the time, and as he was up to his elbows in a sink full of greasy plates, perhaps she can be forgiven for failing to notice his rugged good looks.

I'd always thought Heather had more than a hint of Hollywood glamour, but it wasn't until she came in on her father's arm that I realised who she reminded me of: no, not Rosalind Russell, so much as Snow White!

Heather is also a talented designer, and I was struck by the elegant typography on the cards that she and Stephen used when they spoke their vows to one another.

It's always good to have live music at a wedding, but it was particularly special today, because Heather's father Derek played three pieces that he had chosen for the happy couple, and he kept them a secret until the day. 

They were an eclectic choice: The Man I Love, by George Gershwin, Liebestraume no. 3, by Liszt, and Liebesfreund by Fritz Kreisler, and he played them all brilliantly.

Stephen and Heather had to endure ten years of living in different cities before they finally clinched the deal on a winter holiday to Vienna. In the ceremony, they wrote very poignantly of the pain of separation and the joy of finally realising that their love for one another was more important than their careers, and that that no matter what, they would spend the rest of their lives together.

As Heather wrote, "many of our guests said it was such a touching ceremony and that they'd never been to one like it, so our thanks again have to go to you for helping us create such a special moment in our lives and that of our families."

My thanks to Heather, Stephen and their families, and especially to their talented photographer friend, Mary Beth Koeth, who worked with Heather for a while, but who's now back in the States at the Miami Ad School. You can see more of her work here and here

Monday, 20 December 2010

Winter Weddings!

I have to say that despite all the weather reports, I'm rather enjoying the excitement that goes with driving over freezing slush with a spade in the boot and a life support kit on the back seat of the old Saab...

On Saturday, I had to get to St Andrews; yesterday was in quite the other direction, all the way down to Dumfries & Galloway, to a castle somewhere near Moffat.

An impressive Edwardian pile, it looked all brooding and splendidly gloomy...

And it was a late afternoon ceremony so although the sun hadn't yet gone down, the moon was floating over the far horizon.

I was delighted to see that when I got there, Fernando, the groom, was waiting at the front door. 

But I was saddened to learn when we spoke that his parents and sister were stuck in Paris, caught up in the travel chaos. 

It reminded me that although the snow may be hard to deal with for those of us who live here, it's so much worse for people who are half way across the world and who can't be with the people they love on the most important day of their lives.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Sara & Stuart's Humanist Wedding at Carberry Towers

It's always lovely to get an email from couples when they get back from their honeymoon, but I was very touched to get a card and some old-skool photographs from Sara & Stuart who chose the romantic setting of Carberry Towers for their wedding.

I was particularly pleased to read what they said about their homework exercise...

As they said, "we really believe it has made us stronger, and helped us realise what's important to us."

And that's not a cliché. It just happens to be true... Thanks Stuart and Sara. Long may you feel that way!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Gemma & Colin's Humanist Wedding at Norton House

When people ask me what I do as a celebrant, I sometimes talk about my 'Virtual Parish'.

As a celebrant, I conduct more funerals than I do weddings, but they are both 'a celebration of life', and just as at almost every wedding, someone comes up and tells me it's the best they've ever been to,  so at a funeral, a line I never tire of hearing is, 'I know this sounds wrong, but I really enjoyed that!'

Over the five years that I've been a celebrant of the Humanist Society of Scotland, I've developed a kind of relationship with some families where I've conducted different ceremonies for them. 

And when Gemma and I first spoke, it was because I'd conducted the funeral for her Granny Betty, a remarkable lady of strong character who had been a member of the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland way back in the 1960's when hardly anyone anywhere had ever come across the term.

So this was a special ceremony for me in the sense that I felt a connection already existed, and it was special in other ways too. Gemma's cousin Robert piped Gemma in, just as he had Betty. And Colin the groom is an Irishman, and there was a strong contingent there from that part of the world, and I'm sure that  not all of them were wondering why on earth Colin had chosen to marry his lovely bride on the day the Springboks were playing at the new stadium at Lansdowne Road.

But  they also chose to have a handfasting. Handfasting is an ancient Celtic tradition representing the binding together of two people in love.  The bride and groom hold hands and a cloth is wrapped around them, which is where the expression “tying the knot” comes from.  Often in Scotland, tartan cloths are used, because tartan is the symbol of the family or clan, and its intricate patterns also represent the binding together of different strands to make something whole.  Colin and Gemma chosen a tartan ribbon to represent the Scots and a green one to represent the Irish.

There are many different ways to do a handfasting.  Usually the celebrant does it, but you can ask different friends to come up and bind a cloth each. Or you can do it the way I did in this ceremony, which is to get the couple to grasp each other's elbow, wind the two ribbons around their forearms, and give each of them one pair of ends, and then ask them to pull. 

When they do, they end up with a pair of ribbons knotted together, and their hands are free to sign the Marriage Schedule...

The other rather touching thing they did was to remember to make sure that at the end of the ceremony, there was a member of staff waiting for them when they left the room to the sound of applause, holding a silver tray on which there were not two, but three glasses of champagne.

By that point, I need a drink too! Gemma sent me a lovely message on their return from honeymoon.

'Everyone has commented on how much they enjoyed the ceremony and how moving it was. It sounds like we weren't the only ones needing tissues!'

And that wasn't just because Ireland lost 21-23! My thanks to Gemma and Colin and their families and friends for making me feel so welcome, and to Maria Falconer for the great pics.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Emma & Richard's Humanist Wedding at Mansfield Traquair

Mansfield Traquair is a stunning setting for a wedding, and I've never seen a shot that captures its magical atmosphere better than this one, from Richard and Emma. Here's what Emma wrote when she sent me these great shots.

I just wanted to drop you a note to say thank you so so much for conducting our wonderful wedding at Mansfield.  We had the most amazing day but the most memorable part was our ceremony.  We knew instantly when we met you and started discussing a humanist wedding service that it was just what we wanted and as a couple what we are really about and when the two of us were facing each other on the day listening to the words that we both had written it was a true reminder of what getting married is all about.

Everyone has told us how beautiful and different it was and how fantastic you were...  The experience of actually doing our homework and going through readings and poems was such fun and a really special time, which highlighted exactly why we are together and going through the memories to create our story was just brilliant.  it was so lovely to put a bit of us into something which defines us for the years to come.  to also make the promises to each other which we intend to keep was amazing and we will always remember that part as it was like there was only the two of us in the room.

Thanks also for getting through the service with the noise going on from the wee ones.  Getting one two year old to sit for 30 minutes is hard enough let alone three of them and when they all know each other and just want to play its very difficult, especially when their mum and dad are the bridesmaid and usher...  Thank you so much for your patience.  I do believe it did create some of the more funny moments of the day and I will always remember Ellis appearing up the aisle with a bottle of Diet Coke in her hand...  

Thanks so much again Tim - our day was the most special day of our lives and we couldn't have done it without you. 

 It's a day we will always treasure and even more so because we wrote the words ourselves. You gave us the opportunity to do that.

Thank you, Emma and Richard. It was a pleasure!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

I know where I'm going... Part 2

The day after the article on body donation appeared in Scotland on Sunday, I got a call from a producer at BBC Radio Scotland, who asked if I'd be prepared to visit the Anatomy Lab at the School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where Dr Gordon Linklater would show me precisely what will happen to me if and when I end up there after my death.

I have to admit I wasn't exactly overwhelmed by enthusiasm at the prospect, and I was more than a little worried that the sight of a recently dismembered corpse on a slab would make me feel distinctly queasy at the very least.

But I didn't want to be chicken, so last Monday, I spent a couple of hours there with the lovely Dr Linklater and a nice producer called Bonnie, and the resulting piece was broadcast this morning on the Ricky Ross Sunday show. You can listen to it here for the next week. Scroll forward on iPlayer to 4' 30"

If you want to leave your body to the School of Medicine in Edinburgh, please click here

Or if you want to find out more, read this information from the National Web Archive which gives contact information for all the schools in Scotland and some elsewhere.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Iona & Nigel's Humanist Wedding at Harburn House

I've got a classic Suzuki 1100 ES sitting idle in my garage as I type this, but not so long ago I was a keen motorcyclist, and as it says on my profile on the HSS site, I've always wanted to conduct a biker wedding. I suppose I had the idea that it would involve everyone arriving on bikes in full leathers, and it being something of a wild, high octane event, but as usual the reality was a little different.

Nigel and Iona met through Saddletramps an outfit that friends of mine also rode with, so I felt an affinity with them both from the start. But it was when they sent me their homework that I got really interested. It was amazing. Searingly honest, (their dislike for one another  was mutual for quite a while at first), emotionally open, funny and moving, there were times I thought "Woooah! Too much information", but I knew that if they chose to use any of it in the ceremony, it would be one to remember. 

And it was. But for quite the opposite reason.

Iona and Nigel hardly used any of the material they'd shared in their homework at all. Instead, they wrote something entirely new, that was just as honest, open, funny and moving, but in a very different way.

One of the quotations they chose was from Lao Tzu, the father of Taoist philosophy. 
‘Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.’ Nigel and Iona have found this to be true.

I learned a lot from Nigel and Iona's wedding, not least that the homework isn't just for the ceremony. It's its own reward; you can use it, or not use it, but you won't regret doing it.

It was a great wedding in so many ways. Sadly I left just as the wilder part of the evening was getting under way, but it looked as though it was going to be a LOT of fun.

Iona sent me a lovely note, which said, "We wanted to thank you for conducting such a wonderful ceremony and making everyone at ease. We so wish we'd heard you telling them all they would have to strip off naked, ahhh to have been a fly on the wall with a video camera at that point! 

We had such a wonderful day and really feel that the pre-picnic gathering set the scene for the relaxed day, and that the ceremony really portrayed Nigel and I and how we wanted the day and our lives to be. Thank you again for everything: for being with us and conducting our ceremony, and very very importantly for giving us our homework, )which was and is invaluable and we will value it for years and years to come), and for just being you and being part of our wedding."

My thanks to Iona and Nigel and all their family and friends for making me so welcome, and to their photographer Nick Kirk for allowing me to use so many of his great shots.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

I know where I'm going... Part 1

The School of Medicine at The University of Edinburgh. Not as a student, but as an object of study...

Read this article by Peter Ross that first appeared in Scotland on Sunday

The BBC obviously read it, because they asked me not just to go on the radio and talk about it, but to go to the Anatomy Lab and see what will happen to me if my body is accepted (gulp!): I've written about that experience in I know where I'm going... Part 2.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Humanist Weddings - They're a Guy Thing...

OK I lied. Weddings really aren't a guy thing.
Men don't grow up in The Cinderella Complex.
We don't lie in bed at the age of nine thinking, "One day, when I get married, I'm going to wear..."
Or even, "One day, when I get married, all the table favours are going to match my team's football strip."

Men think that Weddings Are For Girls.

Don't get me wrong; a lot of men want to be married.
But most men, (and I'm aware that this is a sweeping statement, but bear with me), think that weddings are mostly about shopping - and what that means is being dragged on on endless visits to choose the photographer and the venue and the caterer and the flowers and so on and so forth, where their only role is to say, "Yes, dear, whatever you say."

When couples come to see me, I always ask if they've read this blog, and 8 times out of 10 it's the bride to be who says, "Yes, and it's been really helpful!" And the groom to be sits there looking slightly sheepish, hoping I don't notice. Well this post is for him. (So get him to come over to the screen and read this next bit over your shoulder...)

Your wedding ceremony is the one part of the day that isn't about shopping. It's all about using your imagination and speaking your mind. And if there's one thing you like to do, it's speak your mind.

A Humanist wedding is the only form of marriage where a couple are free to talk about the reasons they love one another and speak about their hopes and promises in their own words. That means both of you.

It's a unique privilege that took twenty years of campaigning to achieve.

Here's the difference.

In an old-fashioned wedding ceremony, the person conducting the ceremony tells the bride and groom and their friends and family what marriage means, and what they are promising one another. 

In a Humanist wedding, it's the other way round.

When we meet, I won't tell you what marriage means.
I will ask you what marriage means to you.

I want you to think about why you're doing this, what your hopes and intentions are, and then - on the day - I (and anybody else you want to involve in delivering parts of the ceremony) will tell your friends and family.

So that's why a humanist wedding IS a guy thing.
Because it's about your thoughts, your feelings, your reasons, your hopes and your promises.
And it doesn't work without your input.
And just think - whatever you choose to say, she has to go, "Yes, dear, whatever you say."


Friday, 15 October 2010

Becky & Adam's Humanist Wedding on Inchcolm Island

I had a nice surprise at the Edinburgh Volunteer Fair yesterday where I bumped into Adam who's now working with a local charity and he reminded me that he and Becky had sent me some pics from their wedding last year that I had completely forgotten to post - which is a shame because it was a wonderful day and I remember it well, not least because of the story of how they met.

Entirely separately, they were both hitching to Glastonbury when they managed to get a lift in the back of a a rusty blue transit van with a large hole in the bottom, through which an abundance of exhaust fumes poured in, making them Becky lose the will to live, and Adam lose the contents of his stomach! 

They survived the journey, and the mud, and the trench foot, and going to Art College together, before moving to South Queensferry, from which the wonderfully atmospheric Isle of Inchcolm is only a short boat trip away.

It was a wild and windy day, but if anything it made it all the more romantic. 

And I'm glad that even if my memory is deficient,  Adam's isn't!

He mailed me saying, "We just wanted to say a great big THANK YOU for making our day such a special one, on the eve of our anniversary. We are going over to inchcolm tomorrow as part of our celebrations. It was truely a wonderful day enjoyed by all, so thank you for all your work and guidance."

As ever, it was my pleasure!

Katy & Jerome's Humanist wedding at Gorton House in Midlothian

Katy & Jerome met four years ago in Canada when they were both on an exchange - Katy from Scotland and Jerome from Australia, and as they said in their ceremony, they were both expecting to meet new people have fun and see another part of the world, but not to fall in love, so it was no surprise that they were joined by friends and family who'd travelled from North America, France, Norway, Australia, and all over the UK to be with them for their special day.

It was a glorious autumn afternoon and they wrote a very touching ceremony, so I asked Katy for her thoughts about it and what it meant. This is what she wrote.

Although we might like to think we know each others thoughts, Jerome actually came up with some lovely things that I wasn't so aware of, and hopefully I also did the same to him, and it was also nice just to hear it said out loud.  

The thing I liked most about the ceremony was that it was actually about us and it was unique - I was quite against a religious or civil ceremony not just because they didn't reflect my beliefs, but also because they tend to be much more generic.  

I think the fact that we were able to describe our own thoughts on marriage in our own words, rather than just having someone else describe what they think marriage means, made it even more personal and special.  

I think it will be a great think to have to look back on in the years to come, especially if we go through any tough times, to remind us why we fell in love and what we committed to.  

In terms of the ceremony itself on the day, I'd like to think it had just the right balance between being informal but also being special and meaningful.  It is certainly something I will never forget and will have much pleasure looking back on.  

We have had lots of good feedback so hopefully something went right!

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...