Wedding lessons

Firstly, a lesson for you, dear readers: when you come across a clergy person (or registrar, or officiant…) who is about to conduct their first wedding, please – for the love of all that is holy – do NOT reference the epitome of all British wedding movies Four Weddings and a Funeral! It’s not even so much to do with Rowan Atkinson’s performance as the bumbling priest conducting his first wedding (the infamous line about ‘holy goats’ is no longer much of an issue as Common Worship goes with the more modern ‘Holy Spirit’), more the endless tales of woe that occurs at celebrations of holy matrimony. A death occurring at a wedding? Or the nuptials being called off at the moment the priest asks for objections? The stuff of ecclesial nightmares!

[What perhaps makes the evocation of this movie even worse is that I can name more than one priestly colleague who has experienced both of those terrible events at weddings they’ve officiated at. It happens. We don’t need reminding!]

And a lesson for those who’ll take their first wedding in the near future: when you’ve got a couple of them under your belt and you’re feeling the relief of a job well done, put Four Weddings on and revel in how smoothly yours went! As for me, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that getting to marry people is an absolute delight and a privilege!

I’ve known Jenni since 1997 – it doesn’t get much better than this!

A common pattern since ordination is that my “firsts” have generally been a bit of a baptism of fire. My first baptism is still fondly referred to as such by several members of the congregation, in part because one of the children decided to escape and hide before I could get to her. My first funeral was an epic affair that brought our neighbourhood to a standstill as a band and crowd of mourners danced their way up to the church. My first wedding? Just the small matter of a marrying a friend of 20 years standing to her lovely fiancé..

…it wasn’t meant to be. When they asked me (in the glamorous context of a road trip up the A1), I had my first wedding scheduled for mid-July. That wedding then moved, first to June (even better) and then to November. It’ll now be wedding number four of my career! When I got word of the last re-scheduling, I despaired slightly. On the one hand, my first wedding was going to be phenomenally special; on the other, I was going to be on alien territory, I’d know at least half the congregation well, and if I got things wrong it would be an utter disaster!

I prepped and prepped hard. Before he moved on to new pastures, I downloaded every bit of wisdom I could get from my vicar. I walked through how things worked on my home turf. I talked to other clergy. And, most helpfully, I got to work on weddings number two (8 days after number one) and three (in September). The aim was to look like I knew exactly what I was doing by the time July 29th rolled around!

Did I succeed? Possibly. I certainly learnt a lot, including:

  • DON’T let friends put you off. This includes their references to Four Weddings, but also includes moments when your dear friends (and certain family members) decide the night before to run through potential heckling opportunities. Don’t do a practice run-through with them either (especially if you’ve just arrived back from a great holiday during which you really haven’t slept enough), because any and every mistake you make while reading from the book will be seized upon!
  • DO let a trustworthy friend read-through the sermon that you’ve been angsting over for a couple of weeks. There’s always the hope that you’ll have them in tears before they’ve finished reading the opening paragraph.
  • DON’T leave your sermon in the vestry. Realising this mid-way through the declarations is a tad awkward. However, it turns out that you can do many things with authority and as if it’s exactly what’s meant to happening and no one will know. [I did a loop back into the choir vestry during the reading and returned to sit in the clergy seats at the top of the choir stalls which no one noticed at all.]
  • DO use tons of those mini Post-Its that work as book marks. They’re very handy for marking up your service book with crucial bits of info like hymn titles and the myriad middle names the couple possess.
  • DON’T forget to turn your mic onto mute when not needed. [I remembered during the hymns & forgot during the signing of the registers. I’m thankful for the friend who was in the baby room listening to a feed from my mic who dashed up and told me before the hymn had finished!]

Service over, it turns out that there are also lessons to be learnt about attending wedding receptions as the officiating priest. [There’s also an ethical conundrum regarding which reception invitations to accept, but I’m still figuring that one out.] A quick change in the vestry after the service, and I was reception-ready sans cassock, surplice & dog collar.

I have a lot of love for my singing girls.

In the toilets at the reception venue, a fellow guest did a double-take as I emerged from the cubicle and then exclaimed in recognition of who I was – which was nice, if an odd location for the spiritual conversation that emerged. Later, on the dance floor and excitedly (doing what amounts to) dancing while clutching a glass of rosé, I was bumped into by a group of guys who worked with the groom. Their surprise at stumbling across a vicar on the dance floor was evident. One of them looked at me and declared: “But you’re the vicar! And you’re dancing! And you’re drinking wine!” [Their minds would definitely be blown by witnessing what clergy can get up to en masse…] I chuckled, made conversation, and carried on dancing, amused at blowing stereotypes away. Then, minutes later the band struck up the Kings of Leon classic Sex on Fire and I had a revelation: I needed to leave the dance floor. It’s one thing for the priest to be seen dancing and drinking. It’s quite another to witness them singing “Woah! My sex is on fire” along with the band and tipsy guests! Valuable lesson learned before it was too late!!

Wedding number one was incredibly special, and I was a little worried that my first parish wedding the following weekend would be something of an anti-climax. I needn’t have, because it was an utter joy. Far more relaxed than the week before and in my usual church context, I had a confidence and attitude that was distinctly absent at wedding number one. When a text arrived that evening from my first bride asking how it had gone, I was loath to respond with “It was great! So much easier than last week!” It may have been true, but it wasn’t a true reflection of just how special her wedding being my first was.

Another valuable lesson: brides seem to appreciate sparkly shoes…

The likelihood is that I won’t do another wedding that is *that* special. My sister’s already hitched, and so are most of my closest friends. Perhaps I’ll have a shot with nieces/nephews… While I might wish that I’d been less nervous, the fact that my first wedding was so incredibly special and wonderful is an excellent thing – something I’m incredibly grateful to Jenni & Crispin for! (And they were grateful too – Crispin thanked me for letting them take my ‘wedding virginity’ in his speech!)

Wedding number two (and the planning meeting I had last week with wedding couple three) has made it clear that I love doing weddings and I (God willing) am not going to become a cynical priest who sees them as a burden rather than a joy. That’s possibly a luxury from currently being in a church that doesn’t have many weddings, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s in my (hopelessly romantic) personality to view the role of marrying people as anything but a joy and huge privilege!

It’s possible that Crispin & I found the handing over of the marriage certificate a little too amusing!

Returning to Four Weddings, last weekend’s bride left our wedding rehearsal to watch the film with her bridesmaids. I didn’t like to suggest it was a bad idea, and instead drew her attention to the fact that significant scenes were filmed locally. In fact, had Charles wanted to marry Carrie, he could have done so at Christ Church as he lived in the parish. [Every so often when it rains, I’m tempted to re-enact the terrible “Is it raining?” scene on Highbury Terrace.]

Oh, and although ‘Holy Ghost’ does not appear in the modern marriage liturgy, do you know where it does crop up?? The BCP Eucharist liturgy, which Christ Church happens to use on the first Sunday of the month. So, having been confident that I didn’t need to worry about erroneous goats in my weddings, I then had to work super hard to prevent them from appearing in our 9am last Sunday. Thanks for that dear friends!

A flock of sheep across the capital

My friends and I have gained something of a reputation for a certain activity in recent years. (Actually, I think we have a number of them!) We are known for our passion for hunting inanimate objects…

Back in 2012 it was eggs; in 2013 Gromits; and in 2014 book benches. Elephants, gorillas, buses, Paddingtons and Olympic mascots have also been pursued individually. We take it seriously – dates are planned far in advance; hotels booked at bargain rates; themed goodies baked; and route maps studied carefully. This is not simply a fun day out, it is a mission to be completed!!

Hunting at St Paul's

This year, we’re hunting sheep. Shaun the sheep to be precise. After the success of Gromit in Bristol 2 years ago, 2015 sees a Shaun trail in London over the spring & a summer one in Bristol. Just to show how serious we are, the trail launched on Saturday and we began it on Monday! (More of a happy accident involving Easter holiday dates really.) So if you’re feeling inspired, you’ve got ages to catch them.

Pleasingly, the organisers have appreciated that adults enjoy these hunts just as much as (if not more than) children. Each model of Shaun, designed by a different artist and sponsored by a different company, has a name and theme. These often have a link with its location, and regularly feature some spectacular punning…

Shaun at the Globe? “To sheep, perchance to dream.”
St Paul’s cathedral? “Baa-roque”
Tate Modern? “Br-ewe-nel”
Canary Wharf? “Golden Fleece”

IMG_9203

The latter was a favourite thanks to its shiny ness and potential for reflective photography. Our efforts even prompted its artist to tweet:

(I can’t claim solo credit for this. We all had a go!)

Based on our experiences yesterday and today (and previous escapades), I’d offer the following tips:

  • Plan your route. The map’s available online (you can pick up hard copies too) or there’s an app. We did it over 2 days, but with an earlier start and better weather you could do it in one. Beginning at Paddington, we did the ‘strays’ first, tubing it to Canary Wharf from Edgware Rd then tubing back to London Bridge for the start of trail 4. Trail was done backwards, ending with the first 2 of trail 2. Day 2 began in Covent Garden, included a trek to the far end of St James’ Park for the final lost sheep & ultimately concluding with Shaun number 1 on Carnaby St!
  • Know your limits! Pressing on too long sucks the fun out of it. If you’re local, and/or have children, do the trails over a few days. Trail 4 is long but worth it for the views!
  • Chat to other hunters. You’ll probably see the same people at different locations, so make friends! (I got teased for doing this.) If you’re alone, all the more reason to chat!
  • Snacks are crucial for pepping up flagging hunters. I like themed ones – egg shaped biscuits were a fun treat for egg hunting and a surprise discovery in a pound shop meant that I could repeat the recipe for Shaun. (We also enjoyed Simnel muffins and mini hot cross buns.)
  • Use the toilets whenever there’s a Shaun in a location with free ones.

This is the first trail we’ve ever completed as a group, which is a big bonus for those of us who like to complete things! Bristol’s set to be a 70 Shaun trail, which is rather daunting – but at least we’ve already got our dinner destinations planned!

Shaun HuntingAll 50 London Shauns

A big risk in a big cottage

The ‘friends go away together for the weekend’ is a well-worn trope in the worlds of literature and film. There’s something about the setting of a group of close friends and their partners gathering in the same location that makes it ripe for drama – shocking revelations; fierce arguments; wife swapping; murder; and general merriment.

For years, my parents held up Peters’ Friends as the archetypal friends weekend away film – because so much does go wrong in it, despite how pleased they are to be all together again. [It’s well-worth watching, I recently discovered the whole thing on YouTube, albeit in bits.] The bottom line appears to be that no matter how fun a weekend with friends sounds, it can be a risky business and you never quite know what might happen…

Big Cottage The Big Cottage – one side of it. We weren’t exaggerating. [Credit: Morven.]

…but, despite the risks, what became known as ‘Big Cottage’ [because we need a big cottage in order to fit everyone in, naturally] was eagerly anticipated from the time of its booking until the weekend arrived 10 months later. We’d gone away as friends before – for weddings, camping at Greenbelt, several Girls Weekends Away, and of course the residential activities that had brought us all together as friends in the first place. However, this was a first – the first time that every single one of us, husbands and boyfriends included, had all stayed together in the same place with the sole purpose of hanging out together. Some of the men hadn’t met before. Some of the men we’d known since before they’d got together with their partners. It’s a peculiar dynamic. My brother-in-law went as far as marking the dates in his calendar with “weird weekend”, which to be honest, he was perfectly justified in doing.

Big cottage big tableBig cottage, big dinner table.

The dynamic might have been risky, but there were two significant factors that balanced it out:

  • The facilities – specifically pool, sauna, hot tub, squash court, several lounges and extensive grounds.
  • The provisions – myriad cakes baked, port, wine, a keg of local ale, whisky and cheese. Lots of cheese.

In fact, one husband was heard to announce upon waking, the morning the weekend began, “tonight there’ll be port”. If that’s not a thought to get you through a Friday and a long car drive, I don’t know what is!

Port drinkingBonus of much port-drinking – finishing off the remnants on Sunday afternoon. As a trainee priest, this was clearly my job.

But, do you know what, there was no need to worry. (Although there was definitely need for the mammoth baking frenzy, booze provision and cheese purchasing. Because cake, cheese & booze makes a weekend.) There were no crises, no dramas, no wife-swapping (despite many, many jokes around the epically huge dining table), no one emerged from a closet, no one intentionally caused anyone else injury (squash injuries don’t count) and both children present emerged unscathed.

Big badmintonSports undertaken at Big Cottage included: squash; swimming; running; hill walking; water aerobics; water volleyball; boules and badminton. We did at least make some effort to burn off the cake, cheese & booze! [Credit: Morven]

Well, I say ‘unscathed’. One returned with a new addition to her vocabulary which may have been uttered for the very first time when she was in my arms, but I refuse to take responsibility for it!

The big cottage turned out to be significantly less of a cottage, and more a converted stables – complete with four lounges (yes, four – each with Sky, meaning that the golf could be on in a room in an unobtrusive fashion). One lounge came equipped with a grand piano and songbooks, meaning that there was scope for late night singing. [As an aside, one of my dreams is to exist in a world where I have a pianist on call to accompany me when singing. Sounds indulgent, but it’s basically the best – and oldest – form of karaoke. Last Saturday, that dream came true, briefly, and was only hampered by a limited range of sheet music.] There were two large kitchens (one for cooking meals, the other for cake, cheese & booze – I kid you not), and others in random corners of the house. Bedrooms were huge, bathrooms were incredible and quite frankly, I wanted to move in and stay forever.

Big piano. Big screen. Grand piano & TV projected on the wall. Comedy Central were showing a marathon of the 20 best Friends episodes – could we *be* any luckier?? 

Singing around the pianoSinging around the piano. No idea what it was at this moment – but clearly something I didn’t know the words to, so it wasn’t Let It Go. Plus, my arms aren’t flailing around, which is usually an indication of an Idina classic. [Credits: Morven]

That feeling was universal. The weekend was such a roaring success that next year’s date is already being negotiated. The site has other cottages too, so there’s no concern should any of the four single ladies acquire a man, or if more children appear on the scene. Quite frankly, Big Cottage was a big risk, but it was so worth all the planning, money and several thousand Facebook messages between the female contingent. If all risks worked out so well, we should take more of them!

Big Cottage JumpingIn the end, the biggest risk was jumping simultaneously into a pool with a depth of only 1.4m!  

Big Cottage 2014Until next time, big cottage! [Credits: Kilvert Photography]

Incidentally, should you be wondering where this incredible accommodation is, it’s The Colloquy in Herefordshire. We highly, highly recommend it – but should you decide to book it, could you avoid next autumn as we haven’t quite decided when we’re going yet. (Also, mention Jenni Kilvert when you book, we may get a discount!!)

Ingredients for a surprising day

Take a date 2 months earlier than the event being celebrated, for maximum surprise factor.
Ensure those co-ordinating possess epic planning skills.
Find an excellent group of people who can keep secrets and sustain the surprise.
Maximise contacts who can enhance the day immeasurably.
Allow to brew for several months, then watch the surprising day unfold…

It has become Clutterbuck practice that 30th birthdays are celebrated in surprising way. This time 3 years ago, I had just discovered that I was being taken to Paris to celebrate mine. Time seems to have flown, and since Christmas, plans have been afoot to celebrate my sibling’s approaching birthday.

Our birthdays are late July, but thanks to her planned excursion to America’s East Coast and the limits of school holidays for a teacher, we fixed upon a date nearly 2 months before the day she actually turns 30. There was no Eurostar to Paris, but instead, a couple of days in London doing fun things – the nature of which she was completely kept in the dark about.

You might be thinking that a day in London doesn’t really compare with a weekend in Paris, but if you add in enough surprises, it does. Mim is terribly at weasling information out of people (in that she’s very, very good at it), so keeping things secret was an absolute imperative. Knowledge was strictly on a need-to-know basis – even her husband and father remained utterly clueless, just in case! But all involved kept the day’s plans under their hat and, my goodness, it was worth it!

Mim thought she was having 24 hours of fun with her sibling and mother – which she did, but with many extra lovely people thrown in too. We lulled her into a false sense of security with dinner and cocktails the night before. Mum took her on a nail-biting trip on the Emirates Skyline the next morning (how I wish I’d been with them to see their reactions – neither like heights), followed by a boat trip down the Thames, en route to meet me for brunch at our favourite bread themed restaurant. All good.

Bar buddies Cocktails for three. Obviously. 

The surprises of a trip on the London Eye (her very first), afternoon tea and concluding with a trip to see Les Mis would probably have been more than satisfactory. After all, she must be one of the last drama teachers not to have seen the world’s longest running musical! But what made the day especially surprising was the steady drip of surprises…

  • The arrival of four unexpected friends while we took a tea break at the RFH. The mother of two of our favourite friends might have been a coincidence, but it was soon clear that her daughters were due to arrive any minute. Their company might have been predictable (although nonetheless very appreciated), but the appearance of Mim’s favourite uni chum was not. I patted myself on the back for that effort.
  • Tickets for the London Eye were distributed. Mim suspected this might be on the schedule, but still, she didn’t know for sure.
  • Arriving at our afternoon tea destination and being greeted with “two of your party have already arrived” – Mim may have thought our party was complete, but no. Some people had even made the journey from Gloucester to celebrate.
  • Gloucester friends’ London based eldest daughter was an added bonus, arriving during a Prosecco break at my flat.
  • A dash through the West End culminating in the distribution of tickets for a long-loved show – courtesy of another of Mim’s uni chums who sourced the tickets for us. In his words “Anything for Mim!”

Girls on the EyeOn board the Eye.

I love it when a good plan comes together. I love it even more when it’s abundantly clear that absolutely everyone has had an excellent time – not just the birthday girl!

Tea Time

 

Focaccia and friends

After a bit of a break in which to write a lot of essays, last week marked the continuance of 2014: The Year of Bread. Having pretty much perfected the basic white loaf in Brilliant Bread, I had moved on to rolls in February (which still need a bit of work, but they tasted fine) but hadn’t challenged myself to anything else since.

With the hosting of a Matryoshka Haus meal on the horizon, I decided it was time to get stuck into another recipe. What better to go with a summer meal of chicken and salad than a fresh focaccia?

Baking James’ recipes involve extra proves and less kneading, which means that the actual time spent in the kitchen fiddling with dough is limited. As I discovered when I happened to check the focaccia recipe the day before the meal, in this recipe, you can leave the dough to prove in the fridge for an extended period of time – meaning that I could put it in overnight; stretch it to the baking tray first thing in the morning; and leave it in the fridge until the final prep before baking. It’s the kind of thing that’s incredibly useful if you need to be out of the house all day.

Focaccia dough - 1st proveAfter the first prove…

Focaccia dough - final proveAfter the second prove in the fridge.

Focaccia for the ovenReady to bake.

It has to be said that unlike February’s rolls and the pitta breads I also baked on Wednesday, the focaccia was a success first time round. And the Matryoshka Haus crew was definitely the right group to feed it to – my ego was massaged with plenty of oohs, ahhs and cries of disbelief…

Focaccia doneNot too shabby, even if I do say so myself!

However, the real fun with friends and focaccia didn’t happen until every crumb had been consumed and I posted a photo of it on Facebook. It turns out that as well as having friends who appreciate good baking, I also have friends who love a good bread pun. When I awoke the next morning, I could do nothing but moan at the sight of these comments:

Focaccia CommentsWho needs Mel & Sue’s baking puns when you have friends like these?