Never a Dull Moment!

Never a Dull Moment!

When I was a student (a little after Noah’s flood!), I little suspected what knowledge of languages would offer me. I guessed it would come in handy for my travels, but little suspected how useful it might be in my current career.

Indeed, at that time, I had no idea that such a career existed, let alone what a civil celebrant was!

Meanwhile, over the course of 25 years, I passed on my knowledge of languages, as a teacher.

Finally, in 2013, I changed direction and became a civil celebrant. I didn’t see any obvious use any more for my knowledge of tongues, although I still travelled a fair bit.

It became clear, however, that my reading knowledge of Hebrew was valuable. I started being found because I could conduct Jewish (and part-Jewish) ceremonies. One advantage was that I could read one of the most important wedding prayers, the “Seven Blessings”. I also conducted two “shivas” (or funeral services at the family home).

At that point, I saw the value of languages in my field, and made changes to my website accordingly.

Not long afterwards, I was located by a Parisian travel agent, who, rather bizarrely, was fixing up a Vow Renewal ceremony for his clients in London. It turned out they were French Canadian. They claimed to be fluent in English.

E-mails came and went, and I met the couple in a London hotel at the appointed time. They were charming, although Jacques struggled a bit with the conversation. As we started the ceremony, I realised the reason: his English was extremely shaky! He clearly didn’t understand much of what was going on. Luckily, French wasn’t a problem for me, so I improvised a little, could explain what was going on and put him at his ease.

Soon afterwards, having been briefed and having practised hard, I even read a paragraph at another wedding … in Swedish – which is definitely NOT one of my languages!

Interestingly, I was also asked to prepare an Italian ceremony, but that didn’t materialise. However, I am proud that I did conduct a part-Russian wedding.

Thanks to the website, I was invited to be interviewed by the couple, who wanted some Russian in their service. They even recorded me reading aloud, and sent the recording off to parents in Moscow! Luckily, I passed the test.

As a consequence of that wedding, I was asked to do another part-Russian wedding, this time in Portugal,so I blessed my knowledge of languages!

As a fluent German speaker, I am awaiting my first German ceremony (and even Czech, although I am very rusty now). If you know anyone looking for some foreign languages in their ceremony, please think of me!

Photo: Victor Shack

Stunning Ceremonies

Stunning Ceremonies

I’m often asked to talk about my favourite ceremony. Wow! I’ve conducted nearly three hundred in my nine or so years as a civil celebrant, so which to choose?

And why would it be my “favourite”? Because of the people involved, the venue, the ceremony itself, or a combination?

Even if we ignore the funerals, baby blessings and vow renewals, and stick to weddings, there’s quite a choice!

I shall force myself to settle for three, so these might be them:

Lovely People

A St Peter Port sight

This category could encompass so many families, but I particularly enjoyed my rapport with a Guernsey family. They had to pay for board and lodging for me when I came over to officiate. That was standard: I had to stay two nights to accommodate a rehearsal and the wedding itself. What I didn’t anticipate was the beautiful hotel they booked for me in the centre of St Peter Port. They even suggested a restaurant for me, which they paid for, and it certainly was not one of the cheapest!

The family treated me so well, wanting me to have positive memories of Guernsey, and they really succeeded. I wasn’t “just a supplier”.

But the icing on the cake came when I left.

Despite glorious sun in St Peter Port, dense fog greeted us at the airport, and all flights for the rest of the day were cancelled. Not the family’s fault, but, when they found out we had had to stay at a hotel (a different, but still very acceptable, one) for another night, they reimbursed me fully.

Lovely Venue

Perfect setting for a wedding

I’ve been so lucky to have officiated in some stunning country houses and hotels. Any of them deserve a mention, but I’m going to be disciplined and plump for one only.

Thanks to my knowledge of Russian, I was booked to conduct a ceremony in Cyprus (that sounds illogical, but it wasn’t!). The couple took over a 5* hotel about 45 minutes’ drive up from Paphos. The venue overlooked the ocean and the terrace was decorated with hundreds of pink flowers. Quite unforgettable!

Lovely Ceremony

Handfasting wedding

At the other end of the scale regarding budget, I experienced a really memorable ceremony one January. The couple arranged for me to set up (which I did an hour in advance) in the open air at Old Sarum. This is a very exposed Iron Age fort overlooking Salisbury.

The couple were to get legally married at the local Register Office before driving up for the bespoke ceremony. Unfortunately, traffic delayed them about 45 minutes.

Remember, this was January and I was in a spot with no shelter for what turned out to be a couple of hours, even before the ceremony started!

Somehow, despite local flooding and although it poured the night before and there was a thunderstorm later that afternoon, the weather held off for me and the wedding party.

The ceremony – already special – stood out because it was a half-Jew marrying a pagan, with elements from both religions being included (and explained by me!). I’ll never forget the Unity Cup ritual, where, rather than drink a modest drop of wine, the groom virtually demolished the whole bottle on the spot!

I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me down memory lane (I certainly did!). If you want me to help you create some unforgettable memories, just have a word.

“Oh, just another ceremony!”

“Oh, just another ceremony!”

I’m often asked to tell a story or two about my experiences as a civil celebrant. Here are a couple that have stood out for me, among the many.

“Best” Funeral

I suspect there will be no topping the funeral I conducted for a 92-year-old. It turns out that he died in the arms of his mistress on the beach in Tenerife. Now, I know death can be most unwelcome, but that takes some beating!

“Most Unpromising” Funeral

This was for a 93-year-old, who had lived for decades in a home. The other residents were unable to come out to her funeral, and she had no relatives or friends left who might attend. So I had to put together a funeral, based on the scraps of information I was able to glean.

Just three of us were there on the day (imagine that!), but what was nice was I knew that the old lady had been a Freddie Mercury fan. So, for exit music, I chose “Killer Queen”, which is irresistible, and we were able to go out with a smile. I do believe the lady would have appreciated that!

“Most Exotic” Wedding

This may be beginning to sound like Oscar nominations, but I’ll persevere.

A wedding that I conducted in Cyprus for a South African Jew marrying a Russian Orthodox lady was outstanding, But I’m not sure that qualifies as my most exotic.

That moniker probably goes to the couple I married one January Saturday on top of an iron-age fort. She was pagan and he was half-Jewish, and they wanted elements from both cultures included. The handfasting ceremony was a lovely challenge for me, and the explanations I furnished were much appreciated by the guests.

“Most Surprising” Wedding

Another outdoor wedding – we were outside a lovely house, backs to the building, looking down at the guests seated in a garden.

When it came to the Ring Blessing, we had a surprise for the guests! I broke off and put a white leather glove on the arm of the bride. She held her arm up. Unbeknown to the guests, behind them a falconer had arrived with a barn owl. The latter responded to the raised white glove and flew low over the heads of the astonished guests to the bride, carrying the rings with her. (See Matt Penberthy’s photo at the top). These were then removed and the owl coaxed back to the falconer with some raw chicken.

Unforgettable!

I hope that gives a flavour of some of the ceremonies I have been privileged to be involved with. Maybe, if you like, I’ll continue this another time and talk about some ceremonies that went less successfully! (Of course, that would be a far shorter blog …!)

To discuss making your ceremony memorable for the right reasons, please have a chat with me!

Ceremony Music

Ceremony Music

When I’m planning a ceremony with clients, the question of music often comes up. Of course, some people know exactly what they want, but many need guidance. Advice will vary from person to person, but one thing to understand is that we’re not planning a standard ceremony. The whole point is that we are personalising it.

That means that there is not really a right or a wrong. It’s what you want that matters. Obviously, one consideration will be the guests! A piece that goes on and on would soon lose the audience, and not every genre will go down well. However, if that’s what reflects your personality, then it can go in to the melting-pot.

Therefore you’re not obliged to start a wedding with Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March”, lovely as it is. Nor do you need a religious or even classical piece, while the coffin is borne in at a funeral.

Celebration

Many brides at weddings I have conducted have entered to Pachelbel’s “Canon”. There have also been harpists or string quartets to accompany the bride. Oddly, I have also heard “Moonriver” and, by contrast, an aria from Handel’s “Samson and Delilah”. Schubert’s “Ave Maria” has been another choice. So there’s no real rhyme or reason.

From other people’s blogs I’ve selected some of the most popular pop songs.

Adele – “Make you feel my Love”

Al Green – “let’s Stay Together”

Stevie Wonder – “Isn’t she lovely”

Diana Ross & Lionel Ritchie – “Endless Love”

Elton John – “Can you feel the love tonight?”

Elvis Presley – “Can’t help falling in Love”

Bruno Mars – “Just the Way you are”

Doubtless, you could suggest your own favourite.

Funerals

Again, there’s a huge range of music genres in the funeral canon. The most popular exit music nationally seems to be either “My Way” by Frank Sinatra or Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side”. Andrea Bocelli seems to get in somewhere a lot of the time.

Music at my most recent funerals has ranged from George Formby and Dean Martin to Lesley Garrett and Eva Cassidy, Chris Barber to Chuck Berry, and Judy Garland to Richard & Adam, and Audrey Hepburn.

I usually shy away from heavy metal, but for the funeral of a biker (suicide), the family requested Metallica and “Nothing else Matters”. Until I actually listened to it, I assumed the worst, but it is a fine piece of music and was highly appropriate. I’ve suggested it subsequently too!

So, to revert to my opening remarks, unless you’re having a full religious service (in which case, you will have few – if any – options for the music), the world is your oyster, and you can have fun choosing something fitting.

Feel free to contact me, to discuss this further.

My Favourite Funeral?!

My Favourite Funeral?!

I’m often asked about memorable ceremonies that I’ve conducted. It’s very difficult to pick one out, because by their nature they are all different. They may stand out for the wrong reasons or for the best, but they are all special.

In my early days, at one funeral the chapel attendant completely forgot to play the hymn we were supposed to be singing. (Despite me cueing it up: “We’ll now stand and sing hymn ….”; despite me telling him about it before the start; despite ensuring he had my ‘script’ to follow.) He simply forgot. It turned out he wasn’t even in his office at the time, so it wouldn’t have done any good, had I left the service to look for him! Worse still, he replaced the exit music with the hymn, and everybody was left confused!

There was also the funeral of a mother a few weeks after her husband had died. At the first funeral, the estranged son stood up unannounced and did an unsuitable, critical “tribute”. The rest of the family was dreading a repeat this time, so I tried tact, and it worked.

However, most funerals go without a hitch, and some are really satisfying. It’s very rewarding to be thanked afterwards: “I really enjoyed that service” or “That’s exactly what Uncle Ted would have wanted.”

I have two “favourite” funerals. To be accurate, the first was a “favourite” death (rather than funeral). The gentleman concerned died at the age of 92, on the beach in Tenerife, in the arms of his mistress! (What a way to go! You can’t ask for much better than that, can you?)

The other could have been a very dismal affair, as the lady concerned died (at 93) in her nursing home, and had no relatives or no able-bodied friends left. So you could count the guests (including the Funeral Director and me!) on the fingers of one hand.

Moreover, I had had to guess at the eulogy, as there was little information about most of her life. So I put together the whole service as best I could (I did know that she wasn’t religious), and hoped it would fit the bill.

The lady adored Freddie Mercury, so I chose “Killer Queen” for exit music. You can’t fail to smile at that, and, if I say so myself, I believe I got it just right and (hopefully) did the lady proud.

Maybe now I should write a blog about celebratory ceremonies that I’ve conducted which have really stood out (for whatever reason!)? Let me know, if you’d like that!