The five-day-long wedding booking

December 11th, 2013

Ok, so normally when you’re doing a wedding you get to know the couple reasonably well.  Then you often meet key family members or friends at the rehearsal and get to know them a bit.  And then you have a quick drink with a few guests after the ceremony, to show interest and, if you’re lucky, drum up a bit of repeat business.  And that’s it.

 

Mike and Kerry’s wedding was different.  Their chosen location for their ceremony was on a small beach on an island about two hours by boat from Athens.  The beach was so small that when they first met me they asked if I’d conduct the ceremony standing in the water if necessary.  It didn’t come to that, but I would have been happy to do so.

 

They were getting married on the Saturday, so they wanted me to get there on the Thursday, so there was no chance of me missing the rehearsal on the Friday, and because of the timing of transport I couldn’t leave till the Monday.  Apart from me there were 20 odd adult guests, mostly family, and a few children.

 

Well, of course I was excited, and pleased to have been chosen, and Mike and Kerry were lovely people with a great story to tell.  But as the trip got nearer, I grew increasingly nervous.  Was I expected to join in with everything, or discretely slip away except for my bits?  Would I like this group of people I would be spending 5 days with?  Would they like me?  I knew the bride’s mum and I had a campervan in common, and that almost everyone liked swimming, but that was about it.  And, frankly, would my contribution be valuable enough to justify all the money which was being spent getting me there and keeping me there?

 

In fact, it was a wonderful experience, largely down to the welcoming and generous approach of the whole party, and I learned a huge amount from it, including:

  • You can’t afford to be unclear about anything when you’re so close to a group of strangers.  I asked the groom how much I was expected to be part of the party – and he made it clear that I was welcome to be at everything (unless I didn’t want to be) and that’s the way it worked out, though we weren’t on top of each other all the time because a lot of swimming and sleeping went on too.
  • Celebrants know a lot more about wedding ceremonies than most people!

 

There were various points at which I know I was really helpful, just because I’ve done enough weddings to anticipate what might get forgotten or overlooked.  This meant that the evening before I suddenly found myself rotating around with a checklist, feeling a bit as if I was a tour rep with a package holiday group, checking whether everyone knew what they were bringing to the beach, which group they were going down in, whether they were joining in the communal swim afterwards etc.

 

I worried a bit that I had crossed a line into being a quasi wedding organiser, but

I got great feedback for this bit of involvement.  In particularly, I’m glad I pushed for the steps down to the steps to be brushed the night before, because I think we’d have had accidents otherwise – and Jake, the groom’s teenage son, did a great job with the broom.

  • We also know a lot less about weddings than we think.  Generally we’ve only had one wedding ourselves, and after my stay on Agistri I now know a lot more about all the flower arranging, hairdressing, nail painting, dress alteration and general panic which happens in the build up to the ceremony.  It was a very useful insight.  Next time I’m chasing a bride about that last bit of information I need, I’ll have a better understanding of what else she’s coping with.
  • You can’t do a conventional rehearsal when all those attending have a role to play in the wedding – and literally everyone did, apart from the smallest children.  To do a full walk through would have spoiled it.  So part one of the rehearsal was at dawn on the Friday, 24 hours before the ceremony, when I sat on the beach with the bride and groom and read through the whole script, under my breath, to see how long it would take and when the sun would come up.  Then early on the Friday evening, most of us went down to the beach and did technical preparation, checking that we could hear the drumming which would herald the bride’s arrival, arranging stones into a rough circle to mark the boundaries of the ceremony – and of course sweeping the steps.
  • You never know when religion’s going to rear its head.  It had already been agreed that the bride’s grandmother, a member of a Franciscan lay order, would read the Prayer of St Francis, and that was fine and well-contextualised.  However, the couple had hired a ship’s mast to erect on the beach, to give the ceremony a focal point.  And of course, once erected, it looked exactly like a crucifix.  We reacted to this with varying degrees of discomfort – mine was fairly strong, I must say! – and then came up with a creative solution.  Once the bride’s father, half brother and I had got to work with some tree branches and left over florist’s raffia, the starkly religious look had been mitigated and the decorated mast looked like something that had been on the beach for generations.
  • And finally, we do this job because we love talking to people, being with people and finding out what makes them tick.  So what was really going to go wrong?  The other members of the party challenged me to explain Humanist philosophy (the bride’s father), had fascinating careers (the bride’s half brother who sold queen bees for a living), were kind and generous (all of them) and were just great fun (particularly the small children).  But whereas in the build up to the ceremony I generally only worry that I’ll do my best by the bride and groom, this time I was worrying that I would do my best by all 24 of them.  A big challenge!

Would I take the risk again?  Undoubtedly, if the opportunity arose.  This one had particular attractions – five days staying in a great taverna on a beautiful island with lots of swimming, good food and excellent company.  But, as long as I felt confident that I was right for the couple, I’d take the risk again, even if that meant I was stuck in the Orkneys for five days with a force 10 gale blowing, because in the end I’ve got an endless curiosity about people and love the company of my fellow human beings, and I think I’ve got something to offer people at those special moments in their lives.