Monday, 10 May 2010

Should I Curtsey?

The man in the high visibilty jacket peers into the window of the car. He is the most recent sign amongst many that I am way out of my depth.

He looks at me as I ask if there's a nearby pub where I can buy some crisps (potato chips) and gestures back down the road and past the very impressive, but ever-so-slightly scary ornamental gates that mark the first entrance to the house.

We go to the pub, use the facilites, buy some crisps and try not to sound totally out of our depths as we drive past the huge houses and my partner drops me off. I step out into the road by the sign saying "drop off point" and my partner drives back towards High-Viz guy and parks in the huge field next to the 4x4s.

I head up the drive way, trying not to be too awed by the three huge stables that flank the right hand side, and turn towards the house. On the lawn outside the house is a shut-down refreshment van that sits opposite the house in desperate need of a lick of paint and, sitting opposite the stable dedicated to a children's play area, is the marquee.

I don't go inside for the moment, but instead head for the house and step nervously over the threshold. Everyone is busy. Despite the hugeness of the house the insides seem barely furnished: almost as if this section is unlived in. I ask a few people for the woman that I've come to see. A woman asks me if I am the registrar and I correct her: no, I'm the celebrant

The husband shakes my hand and gives me a suspicious look. He shows me out to the marquee and I look at the Disk Jockey, the area set up for the band, the huge, expensive heaters and the flooring. Oh my god - what have I gotten into.

The father of the bride approaches - are you the registrar? No, i'm the celebrant - is this ok here?

I set up the music stand and my notes from the few conversations I've had with the bride. It's barely seven pages and I'm less than convinced it will last the full 20 mintes it's supposed to.

I feel awkward, not sure where to put myself as I wait - i don't feel comfortable to go back into the house again: it's private property and I don't know anyone here. I accept a drink of tea and step into the second marquee.

Yes - that's right, the second marquee. The one with the fourty-thieves decor and the barman and 2 waitresses.

The guests are arriving and sitting either in the first marque or in the doorway between the second and the house. The men wear smart suits, the women wear the kind of dresses that tell me they're rich enough to not have any taste in clothes and not care: unflattering boob-tubes for the young and purple hats for the old. I nod politely to a few of them and begin to realise that the first time I'm going to meet the bride is when her father walks her down to the front.

This all started two weeks ago when I got a phone call. Since I did my training as a Celebrant I've had a series of phone calls and emails from other celebrants trying to find out my fees, one very bizarre call from a woman who wouldn't tell me her partner's name and an email about a renewal of vows that came to nothing. My membership of the celebrant society has expired (and the fees have gone up), my website is about to run out and, quite frankly, when the bride rang two weeks ago i nearly said "Sorry, but I'm out of business"

Except I didn't. It became clear very early on that there was no realistic way to earn any money out of this (take away the website, membership, advertising and you'd be looking at weddings every week for six months just to break even) - and yet I've accepted and here I am, standing in front of a bunch of strangers, doing this for the first time and feeling that those present have every right to regard me with suspicion.

It begins to rain again and I look at my script again, reading it and preparing myself for the show. I don't feel nervous - just not quite sure where to put myself :should I talk to people, should I just nod respectfully? Hell, it's bad enough at a party with people that I do know - but here, in these surroundings where I keep expecting Prince Andrew to pop around the corner in his helecopter and give me a wave, and where despite all the offers of a drink it's clear in the eyes of everyone who speaks to me that i am the hired help? Square peg doesn't begin to describe it.

Except that none of the above is really fair. Most of it is just my lack of confidence in myself speaking up. These people have been perfectly polite and friendly and it's not their fault that I can contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone with a potted plant for any length of time - let alone a room full of strangers. No - what i mostly feel isn't that I am the hired help. I feel like a magician whose trap door is about to fall open and show the secret compartment: i feel like a fraud. This is nothing that a friend of the family couldn't do for free: the couple will be no more or no less married than they were before - so what business do I have taking their money?

The bride arrives, her arm draped around her father's. They are already married - two weeks ago in Las Vegas in front of The King (and why not). Groom proposed to Bride in Egypt - I couldn't even afford to propose to my partner over a Turkish Delight. They must be absolutely minted (very rich) - no wonder they can afford to pay me.

I welcome the guests, totally forgetting to allow them to sit. I perform the ceremony. A few people cry at the poem - more cry at the exchange of vows. This is a Good Thing. It means I'm doing something right.

The whole thing barely lasts 15 minutes. I try to talk to the Bride but she is whisked away by the crowd of well-wishers so I move to the second marquee and try not to get in the way. A few people thank me for the service, the grandmother loved it: another Good Thing.

From time to time the Bride catches my eye. I know that she thinks I'm waiting to get paid - right now I couldn't care. We've never met apart from just now and all i want right now is to know that she's happy, that she enjoyed it. I feel a little dirty even thinking about asking for money.

Someone arrives with a cheque and finally I get a chance to speak to her. There's a thousand things I should probably say, but she's busy having a great time so I just check that she's happy and leave her to it. The Groom asks me if I am staying for a drink, but I can see in his eye that it's only a courtesy - or maybe that's my doubts speaking again. What would I say to these people. having no idea and being aware that my partner is still sitting in the car I make my way back to the field.

I walk across the grass, sit down on the edge of the car and change into shoes that i can drive in. We turn the car into the field and try to get a grip on the ground with the tyres. Hi-Viz guy is still standing at the edge of the field, looking bedraggled. He waves me back out into the street and I pause to wonder if anyone will even think to bring him a coffee

Would I in their position? I hope so


the watercats said...

man does this sound familier! My parents care-take/cook/general dogsbody a big house (called the castle cos it's shaped like one. I grew up mooching about wondering about the minds of the uber rich! It's a weird one isn't it? It always amazes me also how us working class lot, brought up with manners and thoughtfulness, baulk at the thought of asking for actual money... I'm getting braver with age :-D
well written afternoon, congrats on a job well done :-)

Lydia said...

Absolutely fascinating post! It tells something about your society and how weddings happen that I certainly didn't know. That any friend of the family could perform the service is really interesting. There are online sites where you can get a certificate and my husband jokes about getting one just so he can drive his step-father, a Presbyterian minister, nuts.

Here, apart from those Nevada wedding chapels, the "celebrant" is usually of the ministry, the court, city/county government, or the military. That must be why the term is "to officiate" at a wedding (all official, you see.) Actually, I am not sure what the people who perform weddings in Nevada do to be licensed, or whatever.

What a fascinating post, written so that I truly felt like I was inside your eyes as it progressed. You have a remarkable ability to describe people and settings that I really admire.

So. Will you now renew your license? It seems you very much pleased those who mattered in this first go and perhaps it is something you could think of as a service more than a money-maker.....

Argent said...

You sneaky devil! You never told me you were getting a celebrant gig! You got though it though, that's the important thing and it sounds like you made a good job of it too.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

watercats - indeed. I didn't really do anything that i felt had warranted the money and on the day was more concerned that she was happy than i got paid.

Lydia - the uk law is odd. In order to be legally married you have to have a ceremony with a Registrar or a Priest. This can only happen in a church, a registry office or a location licenced by the government for weddings.

Unlike in Australia, where you can get married at your family home, you are quite limited here. A celebrant doesn't have any legal power to marry people here either (they do in america) - so really all i was doing was a nice reading and getting them to repeat some vows: nothing that any person on the street couldn't do with a bit of public speaking practice

Although having said that if you're ordained as a priest you can technically marry a couple - and i did hear of a man who had his dog ordained online...

Argent - i need to go away now and think about it, discuss it with my partner. I enjoyed some of it, but i keep coming back to the same question: is it viable?

Friko said...

Oh, poor Pixie. I am sorry, this is not meant to be patronising, just fellow-feeling-ish.
This business about lack of confidence is universal and coming to a house like that, with hundreds of total strangers milling about, is bound to make anyone feel out of it. I bet they were all totally friendly, after all, it was a festive occasion and nobody would be rude until after the first few dozen bottles of champagne have done the rounds.

On such an occasion, the best thing is to brazen it out, brass neck to the fore and smile brightly, teeth flashing.

You might need a lot of practice if you want to
continue but from what you say it sounds like you didn't do too badly at all.