Tuesday, 27 October 2015

A Celebrant in France toasts the bridegrooms...

A toast to all my lovely bridegrooms...

Well, not mine of course...I've only had one...but to the bridegrooms of my 2015 weddings.

What has provoked this expression of affection, you may ask...

A while ago I read a report in a newspaper about an elaborate prank the groom played on the bride -

"A ruined wedding cake - it's the stuff wedding nightmares are made of, and for this bride, it seemingly became a reality.
Footage has emerged of the moment a horrified newlywed, Laura Cox, 26, from Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, witnessed two bickering waiters drop her opulent four-tier wedding cake bang smack on the floor before her.
After storming off to confront staff at the Crathorne Hall venue in North Yorkshire, the bride is relieved to discover that the debacle was in fact an elaborate prank organised by her husband Joe, 27, a self-employed roofer."(You can read more here - if you want to...)

One of the guests commented that the bride looked 'really shocked and upset' - well she would, wouldn't she?!  

And you'll have to excuse me for being a bit shouty here but if I had been that bride looking at my groom's face laughing at me being shocked and upset, I'd have been wondering if I'd made the teensiest mistake in my choice that day...

The 'prank' lingered with me, I think, because all the grooms I met this year were just lovely. For a start, they looked great!

Bridegroom and groomsmen at Chateau de Lartigolle
Look at these lovely cool guys...

They were nice to their brides - some giving me a little lump in my throat when they sent a bridesmaid or groomsman along to the bride's room, with a carefully chosen little gift or message for her as she got ready for the ceremony.

They all waited patiently for the bride who was always late.
They waited, good humouredly, for my 'permission' to turn and see their gorgeous bride as she walked down the aisle towards them - and usually shed a 'manly' tear... though a tear's a tear I say...

There was one occasion when one of my grooms wasn't quite as patient...in fact he was, actually getting a bit cross
Groom waits nervously for bride - Chateau de Clerbise
Even the celebrant looks a little nervous...

Photos by Marsac Photography
with his slightly late bride - it was a very hot day and he was worrying about the melting guests, as we all became increasingly damp and shiny under a blue, blue French sun...but the before, while he waited, and the after pictures are so lovely, I hope he won't mind me sharing them...his face just says it all...

Celebrant in France Wedding at Chateau de Clerbise
...not just relief, but genuine happiness. 

I've loved the grooms - and their groomsmen when they've been unafraid to show that emotion. 

One of my favourite weddings was a great Irish meets Aussie wedding - when there was what I can only describe as a sort of watery domino effect, which started as the bride walked down the aisle, and built when the father of the groom stood to give a reading, welled up unexpectedly - and cried. 

It developed as his son, one of the groomsmen's shoulders started shaking - and the groom, noticing, had to stifle his sobs. The bride sobbed, the groom's mother went, followed by the bride's mother - followed by the sound of some teary tittering amongst the guests, as they tried to keep it together - it was just great, we all said afterwards - and we all loved it!

So, 'my' grooms have not played horrible pranks on their unsuspecting brides. They have, to a man, been lovely, courteous, gallant even - and if they are representative of a generation of young men, then we, who sometimes worry, have little to worry about

Here then is a toast to my 2015 grooms - I have loved you all!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Celebrant Weddings | Can they be religious?

Cleanliness? Godliness? Don't ask me...!

So, someone asked me last week, if I would write and officiate at a religious ceremony...and I thought about it for a few days.

The thinking brought to mind a conversation I'd had with a small friend, Oliver, three and a half years old, who I had asked, what I thought was a simple-ish question:
"Have you seen any good films recently?"

He looked at me, somewhat sternly I thought, and answered,
"I think you know I have..."

I really didn't know, and wasn't being patronising - it turned out it was Ice Age - and I was given clues to help me get the right answer...( took a while...)

This blog is a bit shaggy dog story (in many ways...) but bear with me...

In my last blog I alluded to an 'interesting' summer. It actually involved, as well as the birth of my gorgeous grandson, the much sadder gradual picking off, one by one, of my lovely hens by a fox (hen harrier, pole-cat, person!?) until, left with only our amazingly handsome cockerel, Sammy, with his true love, Doris, we hurried them to the haven of a great new home with the the amazing Naked Vigneron here
where they could wander as freely as they did here...

'Well,' said kind friends, ' at least no more hen poo on the terrace...' ( or, they might have added, in the kitchen, under the table, on the lounger - for they were VERY free-ranging...)

And then we had to have our very much loved and special dog, Duffy, put down - she was 14 and had crammed at least three lives into those years. The first one as a friend to a guy who had gigged in the area for some years, singing in bars, with Duffy making friends with the audience while he sang in his Joe Cocker voice - Duffy loved a bit of blues thereafter... 

When he died, Duffy joined our farmer-neighbour's beagle pack and ranged with them for hours and miles, escaping naughtily through hedges and over his fences to roam the countryside. She'd come to us to be towelled clean before she went home in case she was hosed down with cold water - in fact she retained a horror of hoses until the end...

And when he died, she came to us to have a more gentle life and  just be part of a big family and was loved by everyone including our cats - she was very special...

Duffs moulted A LOT - and when I cleaned, the hair and dust I hoovered up from the corners of rooms could have made a whole other dog...

Well then - no more hen poo - BUT no more busy hens pottering about on their daily walks, no hens joining us under tables outside, hoping for a  tasty dropped morsel and no more sun glinting through Sammy the cockerel's rainbow and ridiculously flamboyant tail feathers (no more singing, tunelessly for me 'shake a tailfeather baby'...!) - and no more Duffy dust - BUT no more Duffy...

And you know what? I think cleanliness, much like that other 'ness' which is supposed to be  next to it in some sort of virtuous line-up - godliness - is really very much over-rated...

So that question, asked at the beginning of this blog (well done those who had faith that it was leading somewhere...!) - would I do a religious ceremony?

Well, in Oliver's stern words, I think you know!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A Celebrant in France reflects | Weddings| Namings | Vow renewals

A Celebrant in France wanders and reflects...

So, here we are - with the swallows practising their lining-up-on-the-telephone-wire skills, summer is at a wistful end and the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' is here. 

The last flowers are budding and flowering but I agree with the poet, Keats - that's fine - I love the early morning mists and the way the world rises out of it:   glimpses of church towers, the tops of hills, the tallest trees - as if the sky is in your garden. 

I am very happy, too, with 'mellow fruitfulness' - here our figs are falling from the trees they are so ripe and sweet - jam as they hit the ground. 

Brambles, heavy with berries, are rambling where they shouldn't be rambling and tripping me up as I hang out washing. Sloes are slowly ripening to their own peculiar bitter end, ready to be picked, pricked and added to gin for delicious Christmas tipples.

Butternuts, ready to be buttered and roasted, are harvested and drying, and quinces queue on the branches - but, I query, ready to be - what?
 I never know what to do with them - they look so lovely but need so much work to make them palatable  (- and I apologise for the 'quinces queueing' an irresistible - and failed- attempt at alliteration...!)

Enough ramblings and ripenings! The beginning of autumn does seem a good idea to look back and reflect on a busy and lovely summer, both here in France and in Cambridge.

Ceremonies this year have taken me to amazing places - beautiful chateaux, romantic hideaways and always through stunning countryside. 

Weddings with lovely couples and their guests, naming ceremonies with the cutest babes - and I can't help reflecting on the one that got away - a Vow Renewal in the hills above Perpignan- in a small town I love...

...but that one, I had to let go, due to the best possible fruitfulness of the year - the birth of my beloved grandson!

The world is a better place with him in it...

Monday, 13 July 2015

Loving being a celebrant in France | Engaging and captivating ceremonies

'An engaging and captivating ceremony...'

'What have I been up to?' asks Facebook - and my blog page is staring at me emptily and accusingly...

Well, my wanders through France continue and there has been no time to stop and write - north into the 
Deux Sevres region for a stunning wedding in a chateau close to the bride's home, with a stop on the way home for a cold wine and something fishy on the harbour at La Rochelle - could there be anything nearer perfect...?

Eastward into the wild Correzes for a wonderful elopement ceremony in a romantic hideaway - the gatehouse to another beautiful chateau - and south, through fields of sunflowers, where I stopped to picnic en route, into the Gers, a region fast becoming one of my favourites in France and another chateau owned by the descendants of one of the first families to start making Armagnac back in the 12th Century...

So - busy, yes - but amazing - stunningly beautiful countryside, wonderfully romantic backdrops to ceremonies and then people say lovely things like this:

From the first moment we met Moira (over Skype!), we knew she was the perfect person to conduct our ceremony at Chateau de Lartigolle. We had completed a couple's questionnaire before the call and she had really taken the time to get to know us intimately - she knew us better than we knew ourselves!

Moira is positive, down to earth and relaxed; qualities that we were looking for in someone to conduct our ceremony. She listened to what we wanted and adapted; she was receptive to our ideas and thoughts and accommodated them seamlessly. Her calm and professional approach was integral to the planning of our bespoke ceremony and nothing was too much trouble. I am a perfectionist and Moira understood that - she was timely in responding to emails and was available to talk whenever we needed her to. We met again (this time in person) at the Chateau in January and this meeting only further confirmed how suited Moira was to us as a couple. We were so excited to have her as part of our special weekend. 

The ceremony itself was so intimate; there was not a dry tear on the terrace and this was truly down to Moira. She is engaging and captivating; her previous career as an English teacher definitely prevails! We loved every minute and the compliments, a month on, about the ceremony are still flowing. 

We cannot recommend Moira enough; she is truly fabulous. I just wish we could do it all over again! 

Hanna and Daniel, Lartigolle, May 2015

I loved them too...

Monday, 1 June 2015

A Celebrant in France | Wedding in romantic ruins at Chateau de Clerbise

A celebrant in France wanders and wonders about walking on dead priests...

Someone asked me recently whether I prefer celebrating weddings in France or in England - I love both, but this week maybe France had the edge...

It was a wedding, north of where we live, in the Charente. I left home just as the sun was touching the top of the grasses in our meadow - early - as the wedding was scheduled for noon - a beautiful, pink morning.

I was the only one on the roads for the first hour, as my clever GPS took me through woods and on tiny roads, avoiding the Bordeaux rush hour and then smaller towns and villages, where I might have been held up by weekly markets - typically, on these occasions, the road through the town is closed so that people can wander about choosing their vegetables, and then sit outside a bar for a breakfast coffee and croissant - all enormously charming and civilised - but not when you have to be somewhere by the 10.30 eta I had given myself...

The final stretch took me towards the Chateau and I slowed to overtake, very slowly, a horse and carriage - the driver, without even looking round, had gestured me on...

The wedding was at Chateau de Clerbise - a labour of love, brought, by the owners, from virtually derelict to a romantic holiday and wedding venue, over a period of some twenty years - during which time they have built up a great local network: the photographer was local, the florist, setting up glorious clouds of gypsophila, was local - the amazing harpist was local...

I checked in with bride and groom and then wandered over the grass from the chateau to the ruins of a 13th church - the romantic backdrop for the wedding. 

To enter, through the arched doorway, visitors had to walk on a tomb - the depression in which was distinctly human-shaped ...a priest, who, apparently, had asked to be buried there, so that he would be walked on daily - I presume out of humility rather than something more fetishistic! 

Whilst I find myself not terribly keen on priests generally, I found I couldn't walk on him...everyone else did though, so I suppose he got his wish...

By 12.00 the guests had walked on the dead priest and were assembled in the atmospheric ruins. All eyes were focused, over the lawns, to the door where the bride would emerge...but there was no bride to be seen. 

The bridesmaids and pageboys walked on the dead priest and waited at the arch...still no bride.The best man and groom, now being heckled by the assembled company, were waiting, ready ...still no bride. The harpist, having carted her harp over the dead priest, was playing softly...

And then we heard it - the sound of hooves and wheels on the gravelled road behind the church and then into view came a horse and carriage - horse galloping which had a few guests, and apparently bride, gasping slightly... Off the road and over the lawn it came, coming to a dramatic halt for the bride to descend (somewhat shakily I thought...) to cheers - the mode of transport a surprise for all except the groom, who had, manfully, kept the secret, despite the heckling.

The bride walked over the dead priest and we began...

Well, the bride was lovely and the wedding was lovely - a hand fasting ceremony - and, at the end of the ceremony, the carriage driver loaded up bride and groom - and galloped them round to the front of the chateau where guests were waiting with confetti and restorative champagne.

Guy with his invention, 'pour reculer...'

As the little attendants were offered a ride in the carriage, I had to ask the driver what the odd thing projecting from his specs was - 'pour reculer' - for reversing - he told me in a how-could-she-not-have-known sort of voice...I loved it - his own invention - and it explained how he had seen me behind him on the road all those hours ago, for it was him of course, gesturing for me to overtake. 

Another local, Guy is well known in those parts for his expert carriage driving.

And so I said my goodbyes, then in the spirit of all things local, stopped at a nearby restaurant for the best Salade Paysanne, washed down with a glass of cold, local wine...totally, locally delicious.

And that's why being a celebrant in France, this week, had the edge...

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A Celebrant in France | Wedding Magic

A Celebrant in France wanders in the Gers again - and wonders about the magic of weddings...

So ... busy with May weddings - too busy to stop and blog...but today, with a ceremony written for an eloping couple and the weather unkindly cold, I have a bit of time to indulge my wonderings...

As a  celebrant in France, I am constantly stunned by the countryside I travel through to reach the wedding venues. The last one was at Chateau de Lartigolle and I love the way the chateau hides almost, in surrounding woodland, with the still snow-covered Pyrenees as a backdrop - it makes it even more impressive when you turn into the drive and  see the chateau appear in front of you. 

More magical still is the way the place is transformed by plants and flowers and  lights and candles into a romantic backdrop for the ceremony that marks the start of the next phase of the couple's lives.

At my last wedding, I was heard to say, involuntarily almost, "I do love a wedding..." and I do - and as I left, after the ceremony, I wondered why.

It's not just that people seem to be at their best: happy and looking lovely. There's such an air of optimism and hope for the couple's future - but it's more: it's the glamour - not in the way we use the word now but in the old usage, meaning a sort of veil of magic, transformation, spellbinding.

And, to me, the glamour comes from such things as seeing the girl I meet when I arrive - usually in rollers and slippers - transform into the beautiful woman walking towards the waiting company, composed and readied to take the huge next step into her future.

And to see the groom - who has been playing football with his mates, before I arrive, transform  into the man, who can't wait to turn round to see his bride appear - and who has to use the carefully chosen accessory of the handkerchief in his pocket, to wipe away a tear...

It's seeing the little flower girls, who have been scrambling about on the floor thirty minutes earlier, preparing their buckets of petals to throw and pointing in awe at the dress, hanging above them and then at the bride - someone they know well, but, who, transformed, they don't know...

There also seems to be a magic in what happens to the couple when they make their promises, in front of family and friends, and feel the support of the assembled group - and realise the seriousness of what they have just done.

Finally, for those at a celebrant or secular wedding, where the couple may have written their own vows, the effect of their promises and optimism, seems to be that we think again about those we might have made - and that can have its own transformational power.

Can't wait for the next one, next week!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Why am I in France...?

How to write a wedding ceremony...

I'm writing two ceremonies this week - one for a couple who are eloping and one for a couple marrying on the beach.

The most important elements I've found are to: listen to what they are saying and really listen to what they are not saying...

Sit under a cherry tree full of blossom and bees -

and write...

Saturday, 4 April 2015

How to control the cost of your wedding - or Beauty and the Beast

How much will your wedding cost?

About £6500 apparently...shocking! Well it was in 1992 when I first wrote this...

I was a freelance writer and wrote an annual Wedding Guide for the Kent area. I found this one the other day and was intrigued to see what weddings were like some 20 years ago. I had written...

We can't ignore the recession - there isn't as much money around as there might have been two years ago when you first thought getting married might be  a good idea. If you look at the average cost of getting married in 1992 - £6500 - you could change your mind...If you look at an average breakdown of costs you may despair...

Reception        £2300
Dress               £ 700
Bridesmaids    £ 400
Photography   £ 300
Flowers           £ 200
Transport        £ 200

Don't despair, I counselled, there are ways of cutting costs...

So I was even more  intrigued to find this article in You and Your Wedding here detailing the similar cost today - 
£20,500...The survey reveals that:

The single biggest wedding expenditure is venue hire, costing an average of £3,397 (16% of the total cost); perhaps explaining why so many brides expect to go over their budget – finding a venue was ranked as the top priority by brides when planning their wedding, above setting the budget and deciding the guest list. The honeymoon is the second biggest outlay for the wedding, an average of £3,164 (15% of the total budget), followed by food at £2,882 (14%).

I think, now, my advice would be to do something like getting married in France! With a choice of stunning venues from chateaux (not all huge and grand but sometimes the more stunning for that) to wedding picnics in farmhouse gardens, weddings in woods, fields, on beaches, marrying and then camping under the stars - or honeymooning in the area you've already travelled to anyway.

Guests also get a holiday - usually in lovely weather and beautiful locations.

Food is wonderful - breads from the local boulangerie, meats from local butchers, cheese, vegetables and fruit from the local markets - and then, of course, your drinks bill is cut by two thirds - good local wines, still for two euros a litre, or top quality appellations for the price of an undistinguished bottle in the UK...

In 1992 I wrote:
Draw up a list of priorities - is the reception or the dress more important than the honeymoon?Is the honeymoon more important than furnishing the house? Only you know where you're prepared to economise and compromise...
Still seems sensible advice to me - I didn't know about France then though...

Monday, 16 March 2015

How to make your wedding in France special and unique.

A special wedding - unique to you

A long lazy Sunday lunch with friends is a glorious thing...and yesterday's was just that...( thanks Caro and Charles!)...but with an epic length of some seven hours and a few glasses of wine, my head today is blogless - blogged out - a blog-free zone...

However, I found this and think it is worth sharing ...The Wedding Trend Report 2015

I have always been intrigued by the idea that fashion affects everything we do, from what we wear to the way we decorate our houses, from what we eat to the way we plan our gardens. Who'd have thought twenty years ago that we would 'distress' furniture - paint it and then scuff it to make it look old? Who'd have thought we would plant wild gardens and make meadows instead of making neat borders of bright annuals?

Well, so it is with weddings. A traditional church wedding just doesn't do anything for me - I love the move towards more individual weddings - weddings on beaches, in woods, in our gardens - and that informality reflected in what we wear and what we eat  and, of course, in the celebrant we choose to celebrate the wedding to make it special and unique - but more of that in another blog...

In the report's Venues and Locations section, I love this woodland setting -

-  and also the tee pees lit for an evening ceremony.

The conclusion to this part of the report is that couples are looking for somewhere unique, which will reflect their personalities - I think, from experience, I would add to that, somewhere they know friends and family will love too.

Find The Wedding Report here

Monday, 2 March 2015

Best time to get married in France | A Celebrant in France wanders in Monsegur

Best time to get married in France?

'What's the best time to get married in France?' - a potential client asked - well, I'm not putting my neck out on that one!

That morning, market day in the little town of Monsegur, I was having my usual coffee and croissant at the local bar, Le Monseg' - sitting outside in bright, warm sunshine. People out on the terrace with me were rather like sunflowers, I thought, turning their faces, their selves and sometimes repositioning the entire table and chairs, to get those magical February rays.

Painting by local artist

I bought this - the card, not the lovely old 2CV - next door at the tabac to send to my daughter who got married here in Monsegur - guests will remember the romantic old car, often parked outside.

But then, the next day it rained and it hasn't stopped...So, not February then...

March? Well, the cranes have flown over - a definite harbinger of Spring. We are just under their flight path as they fly back to Germany for the summer, from their winter in warmer lands - and they are a stunning sight. 

You hear them first as they call to each other - and us, I fancifully think - sometimes so high that you can't see them at first and then your eye catches the V pattern they make - or you see a confused swirl as they eddy on thermals and seem to have to decide who the next leader is going to be. 

I never get tired of watching that annual return and my spirits do lift at the thought that they know spring is almost upon us.

My husband, who is planting a wood tells me that some of the small trees are at 'bud burst' an expression I find, absurdly, cheery! And seeking out other signs of spring, I found my daffodils, bravely emerging and hyacinths blooming on an outside table.

Proof! Spring is on its way...

But I haven't answered the question - when is the best time to marry in France? And of course, I can only answer for this part of France, the South-West. We do have notoriously good weather here - I'd say May to October is very reliable - we've had superb Aprils and Novembers - we've had drinks outside on Christmas Day... we've had fantastic Septembers, and one memorable terrible one...

'Not helpful...' was the verdict of my client, who, nevertheless decided on May...

Sunday, 22 February 2015

How to have a happy marriage

How to have a happy marriage 

I am always a bit concerned when girls tell me that their wedding day will be the happiest day of their lives...Happy yes - how could I argue with that? But the happiest? Does that mean it will be downhill after that?

Even when I am not looking, my subconscious finds things about marriage and love for me - so it was when I came across these words in a book belonging to an old Irish aunt - it was on a scrap of paper tucked into a book of poetry...

Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.

Simone Signoret

I like the idea that The Day, whilst hugely important, is just a beginning - that it's the beginning of a couple making something strong from 'hundreds of tiny threads.'

The other thing which caught my eye was the work of a photographer - I particularly love the work of Janis Ratnieks, who captures the drama of a relationship, but this one seems to capture little unexpected moments beautifully... these are by Tom Ravenshear.

And a final random find:

Our wedding was many years ago. The celebration continues to this day.

Gene Perret

So, how to have a happy marriage? The Day is just a beginning...let the celebration continue!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

How to find love

How to find love - wander through a field of sunflowers - or down a row of vines...

I'm trying to do some work but I couldn't resist sharing these - I didn't realise how many hearts I have in the house!

I do realise how many animals I have - they seem to just turn up at the door and know they will be loved - even if it's just by one of the other animals. Friends ask how many we 'admit' to - but I'm not telling...

How do you find love? Seems like it's cross the field of sunflowers, turn right down the vines, stand at a window and look appealing...or sad...easy.

Happy and lucky boy - turned up last year when his French owner threw him out...happens a lot in August when the French traditionally go on holiday...

This little one, Gingernuts - for obvious reasons - found his way down here when his mum was abandoned. We were feeding her litter until they were strong enough to catch their own 'take-aways' but he fell in love with our dog, who came on the feeding expeditions, and one day he just followed us home - and has been ensconced ever since. He's only got half a tail, which he wags like a little dog. (The hearts are left over from Christmas...but I like them there.)

The beautiful Duffy, also a rescue dog with her best friend - another ginger, another discarded one August...and OK - the hearts were posed for this one...

And this one just because it's ridiculous - a cat that see's itself as a piece of fruit - and that's all I'm admitting to - for now.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Finding Dieulivol | Celebrant in SW France

Wandering - and wondering - in Dieulivol

A beautiful, sunny day here in this South West corner of France - warm enough to sit outside and have lunch, a friend and I thought - and we knew just the spot. 

She had visited us last year and had been amazed to find that we were just a stone's throw from Plum Village - a Buddhist centre led by the revered monk, teacher and author, Thich Nhat Hanh. She had been reading some of his writing back home in Canada and had not registered that he was based here in a small village in the hills, Dieulivol.

So she decided to spend a day in Plum Village with the monks and nuns and met him too - a seminal experience for her. 

Naturally, then, this year we headed for a little bar outside Dieulivol but thought we would visit the monastery there first - a stunning building built on and into the hillside where you look down hundreds of feet to the farms and river below - an incredibly dramatic setting.

There, under the arch of the tower, we found two nuns from Plum Village, quietly meditating in the winter sunshine.

The monastery at Dieulivol

“Because you are alive, everything is possible.” 
― Thích Nhất HạnhLiving Buddha, Living Christ

We silently added our own thanks and meditation and quietly crept away, aware of how privileged we had been, to our lunch in the sun.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Cambridge Wedding?

Celebrant in Cambridge...

I spent last week in Cambridge meeting two couples - both marrying in Cambridge. 

It was a great excuse to visit this beautiful city. Cold but sunny days allowed for much wandering about, through quiet golden-stoned colleges, down narrow cobbled streets which ended in a pile of bikes - everyone cycles - or a stunning chapel...

Everyone cycles - haven't seen a bride on a bike yet though...

Cambridge Wedding...?

Enjoying some winter sun before lunch with clients in cosy Bill's