As I have mentioned previously, life in rural, but not backward, France is full of surprises. John and I were already “engaged” when we arrived here and were determined we would marry in the village of our new home, and follow all the local customs. These included making paper flowers, which you tie in all the trees and bushes around the house, and make an arch of decorated juniper bushes over the front gate. I made over 2,000 white paper flowers leading up to the day and I have to say my fingers were not in a good state after winding them all together with fine wire!
By law in France, you have to have a civil wedding first, usually followed by a church service. The civil wedding must be conducted by the mayor of your local commune and it is very personal – except our mayor, a local farmer, had never married anyone British before and was obviously very nervous about it. We had to fill in a forest’s worth of paper in order to prove we were law abiding, upright (except after a good night with friends!) citizens. We immediately stumbled across a huge problem. John did not have a birth certificate and this was paramount to us getting married here. He was born in India where it was customary to issue a certificate of baptism but not a birth certificate to British residents. A British passport was not sufficient and his certificate of baptism did not suffice either.
Before we left the UK we already knew it might be a problem and had written to the British Library in order to try and source a birth certificate for him, to no avail. Eventually we found out the address in Madras, which is now Tamil Nadu, where a certificate might be forthcoming as John was born in a hill station called Kodaikanal. Luckily I had the post redirected from my old house to France for an entire year and nine months after we arrived here a large envelope was pushed into the post box. It had a multitude of colourful stamps on it and was post marked “India”. John became visibly nervous while opening it and then seeing the result, burst into tears. He announced he felt he had just been reborn. The ornate certified copy of his birth came from “Kodiakanal Municipality – Registrar of Births, Deaths and Water Supply”. We laughed that these were obviously the three most important factors in India! They asked for 10 rupees for the certificate and 12 rupees for the postage. We were thrown into panic wondering how we could get this amount of money transferred to them, only to discover that it came to about 35 pence, so we sent a £5 note back, and asked for a receipt as we wanted another gloriously ornate piece of paper. Nothing was forthcoming but we didn’t chase it. John was just thrilled that he really existed!
We decided to have our wedding in two stages. Firstly a very private marriage service with two friends as witnesses. The mayor duly arrived to perform his duties, sheep poo on his boots, egg on his tie and his tri-colour sash on upside down and looking extremely uncomfortable in a suit, instead of his usual farmers overalls. We didn’t care as he stumbled through the pronunciation of our names and inwardly giggled as we looked at our Golden Book, presented to us after the ceremony. The first two pages were the record of our marriage, the next two pages were to record our deaths, followed by eight pages to record our children! At 64 and 56 years old we didn’t like to disappoint anybody by telling them that those eight pages would remain blank.
A month later we invited 40 close family and friends to celebrate our happiness with a humanist service on the terrace of our house. The choir I sing with were all very excited to partake in an English wedding. John and I wrote our vows and a great friend of mine, who was recovering from a broken leg which was the result of a freak accident with his wife in the shower, was the celebrant who conducted the service in French and English. Nick and I had been luvvies together and I knew he would take his duties seriously and compassionately, and deliver the service in his best theatrical tones. We wanted the ceremony to be as close as possible to a traditional C of E service without the religious element. We had readings, enthusiastic songs from the choir and much laughter. The time came for us to read our vows to each other. John is a very emotional man and I knew he might have difficulty getting to the end of his vows without breaking down. He had paced the bottom of the garden practicing and announced to me that he would be fine but had a back up plan if it got too much. I didn’t ask as I assumed all would be ok. I have to admit, that despite my stage training, I also got emotional when I said my vows and I could hear my voice trembling as I looked at John. He then started to say his vows to me and within a minute his voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears. He clasped his hand to his chest and spluttered and mumbled. I began to well up too so hastily looked down at my feet in order to control my emotions. With that I heard a strong, steady voice continue. I remained staring at my shoes (had to be done – Jimmy Choo’s!) and eventually, when I thought I had managed to control myself I looked up, only to be standing with John’s brother…