This Marriage

This Marriage

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcomes the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.

– Rumi

Photograph by Steve Chamberlain, taken on an iPhone with a Lomo app.

Speaking to the truth

The speeches. There are books written about how to make a speech at a wedding. There are hours spent agonising over the choice of the best words, the most appropriate tone and the etiquette of exactly when the speeches should take place.

As with everything else we planned for our day, we first of all decided whether or not we wanted speeches at all. And, fairly quickly, we decided that we did: it was an opportunity to speak about the meaning of the day and the beauty that lay at the soul of the occasion. The next decision was about timing; when should the speeches take place? We toyed with the idea of spreading them throughout our wedding feast, perhaps between courses. Finally, we imagined the day, saw it take place in our mind’s eye and – as it unfolded before us – knew that the speeches would take place after the main course and before we got stuck into the vast array of desserts that would be available.

Melinda’s speech came from her sense of bringing a dowry to our marriage, which she has already written about beautifully in this blog. For my speech, I wanted to talk about what the day was all about.

The speech begins...

This is what I said, leading up to the toast:

Today is all about love.

It’s about love that Melinda and I have for each other and that we have shared with you today.

It’s also about love in so many other ways.

It’s about the love that Melinda has put into each and every stitch of the beautiful quilts that are hanging in this room and the runners on our tables.

It’s about the love that our celebrant Alison Orchard put into helping us to draft the service today.

It’s about the love that Sine Nomine – the choir – put into the singing of our chosen madrigals and sacred music.

It’s about the love that our chefs Christophe and Nigel have put into the wonderful, wonderful food we have eaten today for our wedding feast.

It’s about the love that Malene and the waiting staff have put into making sure that our day has run so smoothly.

And it’s about the love that Phillipa has put into helping us to build the labyrinth that we hope you will all walk with Melinda and I this afternoon – joining us on the first steps of our journey into a life of married love.

Today is also about the love that you have all shown by joining us today as we celebrate our marriage.

It’s about the love that Susan and Sheldon have shown by accepting our invitations to be our bridesmaid and best man.

And it’s about the love that all of us in this room have for those who are close to us. Those who are with us today. Those who we see all the time. Those we see rarely but think of always. And those who we miss and wish we could see again.

So, for just a moment, I’d like all of us to think with our hearts.

Close your eyes if you want to and reach out to all those who you love: husband, wife, partner, lover, brother, sister, mother, father, friend. The loved ones who are far away, the ones who have left this world, the ones you cherish most.

Bring all of them here – into this room – so that they, in turn, can reach out to the ones they love and bring them here too.

And so, for just one moment, let this room be the focus of all the love in the world.

 

Now, take some of that love with you today. Keep it in your soul. And whenever you need it, take it out and let its light shine on you.

 

The toast, then, is quite simple. Please, raise your glasses and your voices: to love.

...and a gratifying response

My best man, Sheldon Bayley, had the unenviable task of giving a speech that – traditionally – has to be funny, poke fun at the groom, thank the bridesmaids and juggle a lot of emotions. He was nervous before the event, as this photo by our friend Steve Chamberlain shows.

A nervous pre-speech best man. (Pic: Steve Chamberlain)

But, as I knew he would, this talented and sensitive man delivered a speech that – simply, eloquently and powerfully – spoke to the truth:

Firstly, on behalf of Melinda and Steve, I’d like to thank John and Susan for their wonderful readings earlier, and as is the tradition, to thank Susan for carrying out her duties as bridesmaid so well. I’d also like to thank everyone for coming on this happy day to celebrate the marriage of Melinda and Steve. However, I do have to point out that not everyone is ‘over the moon’ with the situation as my eight year old daughter, Lily (who has had a long-standing crush on Steve) is devastated – but was soon consoled by the fact that he’s marrying Melinda who she describes as “beautiful, like a real-life Princess”.

When Steve asked me to be his best man, my first feeling was obviously one of honour to be asked to take on such an important role. However, this soon gave way to feelings of trepidation. After all, it was always going to be a hard act to follow a man who writes for a living. 

A man who writes very well for a living. And writes very well for pleasure too. He’s written slogans for top advertising campaigns, he’s a published journalist, he’s written film scripts that have done the rounds at the Cannes Film Festival and he’s written touching poetry that breaks your heart to read. And he’s just written that speech. In fact, there have been moments where I’ve toyed with the idea of employing a freelance writer to do this speech for me – but the only one I know who’s any good is Steve!

I first met Steve some seven years ago at The Custard Factory, a kind of business center for creative types in a traditionally industrial area of central Birmingham. I had just moved in, but Steve had been there since day one and had become something of a stalwart in the community, organising events like The Creative Circle where residents could get together socially and create the kind of vital contacts that the careers of freelancers live or die by. It wasn’t long before Steve took me under his wing (as he had done with so many people beforehand) and we found out that as well as both being ardent Liverpool fans, we had something of a shared history in the Birmingham scene. We had both been music journalists and had both worked in the media industry for many, many years. We knew the same people, we’d even been at the same gigs (most of which Steve had actually organised during his time as co-promoter of the infamous Click Club music night) but we’d never actually met until that moment. Ships in the night if you like. We struck up an instant and enduring friendship and over the next few years, Steve became many things to me: my best friend, my confidant, my work colleague and an inspirational figure in my life.

Let me explain that a bit more. Around this time, I had been through a difficult period in my own personal life, and on more than one occasion when I had poured my heart out to Steve, I detected that all wasn’t well with him. The thing is, Steve doesn’t do unhappy, he doesn’t do feeling sorry for himself, he’s an incredibly positive person who meets life’s challenges head-on and unapologetically enjoys himself. He always makes the most out of the situation he finds himself in and that unswerving self-confidence was what inspired me so much. Despite this, I couldn’t help but feel that Steve had come to a crossroads with his personal circumstances and that there was something fundamentally lacking in his own life. Still, he went his own way, buying a canal boat to live on, remarking that he should change the name of the vessel to “The Mid-Life Crisis”.

Then one night everything changed. The first I knew about it, was the next morning when he came to work at The Custard Factory and knocked on my door. I opened it to a different Steve Coxon. I knew immediately that something seismic had happened. He was bursting at the seams to tell me about this amazing woman he had met at The Spotted Dog the night before. Her name was Melinda, and he had been introduced to her by our mutual friend Nicky Getgood. Melinda was an artist who worked predominantly with fibres to create some truly interesting work (some great examples of which you can see around you today). Steve described one of her pieces in great detail, which was being exhibited in the pub itself. As he continued to recount the previous evening, I could tell that this Melinda had made a deep and lasting impression on him.

Over the next few weeks, I watched as Melinda and Steve went through what I can only describe as a proper courtship. Because Melinda lived in Devon, they communicated by every means they could. This involved numerous telephone calls, emails, video messaging and unusually in this day and age, writing letters. Sending things to each other that helped to confirm that they had both met someone of true significance in their lives. And of course, the trips to Devon became more and more frequent until they actually became trips back to Birmingham.

I finally had the pleasure of meeting Melinda in person at our Freelancer’s Christmas dinner in 2008. She was everything Steve has described… and much more. Melinda was charming, elegant and genuinely interested in everyone she met that day, and in turn, everyone was intrigued and impressed by her. She made quite an impact on our little scene. This was, to use a cliché, the perfect couple. 

They turned up, arm-in-arm, dressed-up-to-the-nines and it was obvious to everyone who was there, that this relationship was something that was meant to be, and that it wouldn’t be long before it was cemented by marriage.

Which brings us neatly back to today.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… an artist and a writer, images and words, rose petals and slate, the perfect union… please all raise your glasses to the bride and groom – Melinda and Steve. 

 
 
 

Sheldon making his speech

Our bridesmaid Susan Neuville also made a speech that touched hearts with its honesty. We hope to put it here soon.

A nuptial melody

While we were on honeymoon, one of the guests from both our civil and soul weddings sent us a poem that she had written in response to our marriage.

She wants to remain anonymous, but said: “Friday and Saturday was like being in the middle of a romantic fairy tale – with the two main characters outstandingly elegant and beautiful.  All your friends were supportive and funny and obviously loved you both. Every minute of each day was so carefully thought through, it literally flowed… I’ve told everyone here how John [Mostyn]’s wonderful voice made the first reading come alive, and Susan [Neuville] made the spoken words of the second reading almost musical – I was aware of the ringing sound of “iron on stone”.”

And here is the poem that our guest sent us:

A NUPTIAL MELODY

The spirit of our love is here

No one can match what we have known today

And as the years roll on you know, my dear,

We can but hope that this is how we’ll stay.

This is no dream – no myth – no lets pretend.

This is for life, this is for life my friend.

As each day dawns,

What a melody.

My heart is light,

My soul is free.

The spirit of our love is here:

It will stretch on into eternity.

This everlasting love you know, my dear,

Enables us to know we have the key.

This is the key, the key to love that conquers all.

As each day dawns,

What a melody.

My heart is light, my soul is free.

My heart is light, my soul is free.

Our marriage begins . . . .

After two days of celebrations, we’re off to the Amalfi Coast for a week’s honeymoon.  I didn’t pick up a camera once over the past two days, but here are a couple of snaps.  We’ll be writing all about the final run-up to the two ceremonies, the ceremonies themselves and our romantic Italian honeymoon on our return.

After the civil ceremony

Post-wedding bliss

The journey will continue  .  .  .  .  .  .

Now is the Month of Maying

Wow, it’s great that May has arrived.  Our wedding month!  When I look at the calendar, I can see the weeks and days leading right up to our wedding.

I’ve had a burst of energy in the past few days and have finished one of our four elements table runners today – Air.  I’ve also done quite a bit of quilting on Cleaved.

Now is the Month of Maying is is one of the most famous of the English madrigals, by Thomas Morley published in 1595.  It is one of a few that will be sung prior to our wedding ceremony.

Now is the Month of Maying

“Now is the month of maying,
When merry lads are playing, fa la,
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass. Fa la.

The Spring, clad all in gladness,
Doth laugh at Winter’s sadness, fa la,
And to the bagpipe’s sound
The nymphs tread out their ground. Fa la.

Fie then! why sit we musing,
Youth’s sweet delight refusing? Fa la.
Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,
Shall we play at barley-break? Fa la.

Barley-Break is an old English country game frequently mentioned by the poets of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was played by three pairs, each composed of a man and a woman, who were stationed in three bases or plots, contiguous to each other. The couple occupying the middle base, called hell or prison, endeavoured to catch the other two, who, when chased, might break to avoid being caught. If one was overtaken, he and his companion were condemned to hell. From this game was taken the expression “the last couple in hell,” often used in old plays.

Its use in literature usually has sexual connotations. The best known example is in Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s play The Changeling, in which an adulterer tells his cuckold “I coupled with your mate at barley-break; now we are left in hell”. The use of the phrase in Thomas Morley’s madrigal Now is the Month of Maying probably means something similar to the idiom “roll in the hay”.

Source – Wikipedia

Making it real

A marriage begins with a dream. At first it is a dream that is a secret between just two people, two souls who have found each other.

Gradually, other people get to know about the dream and to hear about the wedding. But, for a long time, it’s a concept: something real and yet still unreal. A vague intention made up of a range of possible dates, a mish-mash of what-ifs and maybes as plans take place, swirl around, disappear and finally take shape.

To let the dream take breath requires a lot of this conjecturising, conceptualising, thinking and planning. For us, we’ve already spent more than a year thinking about what we want our wedding to look, taste and feel like.

Finally, after walking a long path that sometimes took us into cul-de-sacs and alleyways, we knew the date and venue we wanted. From that choice, we knew how many people we could invite to the ceremony and who they would be. And we knew what we would wear and eat.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been making these dreams and plans become real.

Suits and dresses have been bought for both our soul wedding and the legal registry office ceremony that takes place the day before. Our venue – The White Horse Inn in our home town of Moretonhampstead – has been booked and the menu agreed. We’ve talked to our celebrant, the humanist Alison Orchard, about the shape and words that should be used in our ceremony and are now making the final few amends. We have booked a choir – Sine Nomine (part of Counterpoint) – to perform madrigals and sacred music. And we have chosen the music that the choir will sing during the ceremony and that will be on our iPod for the reception and party that  follows. We’ve asked Katy Marchant of the Daughters of Elvin to provide some early music for our party and to accompany our labyrinth walk.

Did we mention our labyrinth walk? A labyrinth is not a maze. It is a spiral pattern that has just one pathway leading through it. So, as you follow the path, your mind is freed to imagine, to meditate and to soar. Our labyrinth will be formed from white stones donated by The Birmingham Bead Shop and built in the garden of Ann Casson, Deacon of St. Andrews, the 15th Century church that sits at the top of our street. As part of our wedding celebrations, we’ll be leading our guests through the labyrinth before our afternoon party begins.

Now, with less than six weeks to go, all the thoughts, plans and dreams of the past year and more are being made increasingly real with each passing day – especially as the responses to our invitation arrive through the post each morning.

The hours of thought, fine-tuning, changing this tone or that picture that went into the invitation have all been worthwhile. After all, for each person who received one , their invitation represented the first part of our wedding ceremony. They are already part of the day that is coming – but our invitation was the first step on the journey that they will travel with us on our way to our wedding.

Our invitation - wrapped in ribbon.

We talked to our printer – Formatrix – very carefully about the type of material on which the invitation would be printed. We wanted people to take it from the envelope and feel love beneath their fingers.

Making it easy for our guests to make choices

We created a whole range of inserts – from a simple announcement of the details of the ceremony to a card that enabled our guests to indicate their choice of menu.

An invitation to the labyrinth...

This week, we booked our honeymoon villa – set into a cliff on the Amalfi Coast in Italy – and booked our flights.

There’ll be more to do over the coming weeks, of course, but now the dream – at last –  is tangible and taking solid form. And it is beautiful to behold.

White Wedding Stones

Right smack in the middle of our wedding day, Steve and I have invited our guests to walk a labyrinth with us.  We’ll write more about it in another post, but first of all we had to find a place to construct it and something to build the labyrinth from.  I contacted one of the deacons of St. Andrews Church in Moretonhampstead to see if we might be able to set up a canvas labyrinth inside.  But alas, the space was too small.

Ann very kindly and generously offered us her back garden as a possible site, which turned out to be perfect.  She had laid out a hexagonal lawn space with the intention of one day making a permanent labyrinth herself.

Our friend Philippa, who has held full moon labyrinth workshops, offered to help us design it and facilitate the labyrinth walk on our wedding day.  She suggested that white stones would be lovely to use.

We agreed and went to a building  & garden supply centre.  They had small white stones for £200 a ton.  A bit more than we need and they were too puny.  So, I did what I often do and asked the Universe to bring us some white stones, lots of them, from egg to cobble size.

The Universe got back to us a couple of weeks later via a link to a bead shop in Birmingham, that Steve just happened to find online.  It just so happened that we had a trip to Brum planned the following week for Steve’s work and the Birmingham Bead Shop just happens to be located on the ground floor of the Custard Factory where Steve had his meetings set up!  Kate the owner is from North Devon and her parents have a cache of these stones on their farm ‘just in case we need a few more’.  So Steve and I loaded up his car and brought our lovely white wedding stones back to Dartmoor with us.

Thank you Universe!

A Wedding Dress

Steve and I are having two weddings.  Our main, soul wedding will be conducted by a Humanist celebrant.  However, at present, a Humanist wedding has no legal status in England.  So we will also have a civil marriage ceremony in the Register Office in Exeter.

I already have a beautiful ivory silk gown to wear at our soul wedding and have been looking around for a dress for our civil ceremony.  Do you know sometimes when you set off searching for something – a new house or a piece of furniture or curtain fabric – and the very first thing you look at seems perfect?  And you think, ‘No, I should look a bit more, maybe there’s something even better out there.  I shouldn’t be impulsive’.  But you know deep in your heart that you really don’t need to look any further.

Well, this happened with my civil wedding dress.  We went to a lovely clothing boutique in Chagford where I tried on a dress and matching jacket designed by British mother & daughter team Paddy Campbell. Their ethos is to design and make chic, elegant, beautifully detailed, impeccably finished ‘clothes to love forever’.  Most of the clothes are made in United Kingdom, so that every stage of the design and production process can be controlled, and ensuring that everything is made to the highest standard.

The shop Susan at Number Ten is owned by Susan Powell.  More than just sell beautiful clothes by great designers, Susan endeavours to bring elegance to the heart of what she does.  This quote is from her website:

“Elegance is about the way you treat people and about a certain generosity, the right kind of generosity with a dash of humility” – Dita von Teese

Well this dress and jacket are exquisite and seem to have been made for me.  I did go out to Exeter and tried on a few other dresses, but this ensemble was The One.  Plus I’ll be able to wear it on many other occasions.

The cut away jacket is made from a fine soft fluid wool crepe with matching satin silk trim on the jacket lapels, turn back cuffs and a rose over the button.

The bracelet length sleeves can be worn down or turned back to reveal an elegant notch at the back.

The lace shift dress is lined with cream satin and has cap sleeves and a pretty silk bow at the vee of the neck.

Italian lace - detail

All I need are a pair of bone pumps to complete my outfit!

The time of our lives

There are some cultures in this world that have no concept of past or future. They live only in the now. The Piraha, an Amazonian rain forest tribe, will tell you that a wedding is taking place. But if you should ask “when?”, they’ll reply “not now”. And then, at some appropriate moment – the choosing of which is something of a mystery – they will simply stop whatever they are doing and say: “the wedding is now”.

For those of us brought up in the Western tradition, where both the past and the future are different places, we mark our occasions with dates, hours and minutes. We keep diaries and complete calendars so that we can map our way backwards or forwards to these foreign lands.

In between Christmas and the New Year, one of the dates in our diaries was a visit to the Registry Office in Exeter.

Now, the process of getting married in the UK – as with many other countries – includes a certain amount of form-filling, pen-pushing and red tape. We have decided that our marriage will be marked by a ceremony of our own devising. It will be a sacred rite that is personal and important to us. In other words, we won’t be following a set text prescribed by the Church of England, the state of the United Kingdom or any other official body. But, in order for our marriage to be recognised in law we have to preface our ceremony with an official, legal process.

We had already booked a date and time (towards the end of May) for this process to take place at the official office in Exeter where all hatches, matches and dispatches – births, marriages and deaths – are registered. To confirm our booking, we each had to present evidence of our identity, our place of residence and our marital status.

Boxes were ticked, computer screens completed, forms printed and signed and a fee of £30 each was paid. The forms we signed are, right now, on display at the Registry Office in Exeter – a public announcement of our intention to wed.

The following day we began our preparations for New Year. We’d decided to make Beef Wellington for New Year’s Eve and secured a fine piece of filet mignon from our butcher Michael Howard, whose shop is just across the road from our home. Melinda has already talked about that meal on her blog.

This New Year’s Eve would be special in many ways for us. It would mark the end of our first full year together and the beginning of our second. It would mark the year in which we will marry. It would mark the beginning of a lifetime of new years, new experiences, new depths of love to explore.

So, we prepared the meal carefully. If you want the recipe we followed, you can find it at Cook’s Illustrated (although you may have to take out a trial subscription to see it ).

As in everything we do, the preparation of the meal was a joint effort in which – almost without discussion – we split tasks between us and, almost without thinking, did everything at the appropriate time. We have found, in our first year and months together, that – very often – a look or a glance is all we need to know what each of us is thinking.

When the meal was ready, we ate it at our table, in our home, surrounded by our candlelight.

In 2009 we had moved from being a couple separated by geographical distance to finding and setting up a home. We had created our engagement and wedding jewellery. We had shared experiences on a daily basis and shaped our dreams.

On New Year’s Eve – on the cusp of our second full year together – we looked back and saw the path we had travelled and knew that every step of the way we had taken hand in hand.

As the chimes on our clock rang out the twelve strokes of midnight, we could see the same path stretching into the distance. The path was lit by the light of a blue moon. A blue moon happens because the lunar and the solar monthly cycle are out of sync. And so, every so often, there are two full moons in a single month. This happens every couple of years. But, it only happens at New Year every 19 years.

In 2010, along that path lit by the blue moon, we will marry.

And that is only appropriate. Because each of us feel that it is only ‘once in a blue moon’ that a love like ours will flower. As the Piraha tribe might say: “the time for the wedding is now”.