Autumn Excursion

Today (wearing my celebrant hat) I conducted a wedding ceremony at Hepburn Springs, north-west of Melbourne. It was a great opportunity to get to know an unfamilar area of Victoria, so I booked myself into the local pub and did some exploring.

To my delight, I discovered that it was autumn in that region. Okay, I know that it’s also autumn here in Melbourne but living in the CBD I don’t see or experience it. Suddenly there was colour – reds, golds, oranges and browns. Leaves scattered on my car overnight.

There were other issues that reminded me of what I don’t see in the city. I knew I was back in the country when I could smell the wood fires burning. There were horses in the paddocks wearing their blankets, and the paddocks gleamed with moisture after the early morning frost had melted. Sheep with black faces and feet grazed in others.

At times the paddocks were bordered by canopies of tall gums which shielded the road. Other times there were forests of densely planted eucalypts.  Roadside signs indicated that one should watch out for wombats, and sadly I saw one sad little marsupial, paws skywards, evidently having lost a battle with a car. This was not far past a sign proclaiming Wombat Forest.

At farm gates, there were buckets of produce, with hand-painted signs and honour boxes for when you made your purchase. One sign indicated that free range, fair trade horse poo was available. Not having a garden I passed that one up. I did come home with a carton of free range eggs instead. I assume that they were also free trade.

The pub in which I over-nighted was fairly typical.  Bathroom down the hall, noisy wooden floors and a wood fire down by the front bar.  I was relieved that the drinkers on the balcony outside my room didn’t stay too late.  My only complaint was that tea and coffee facilities were not provided for guests – in fact the only things in the room were a bed and bedside table. No chair, desk, or any other amenities. I hoped that there might be a lounge upstairs for the benefit of guests but it was not to be.  The décor was pleasant but for what was provided the tariff was on the expensive side.

I woke early and went for a walk early in the morning before finding an early morning café that could not only offer a cup of tea to start with followed by a country breakfast, but also the Sunday papers.  There are some city habits that I don’t like to lose. I then found a country market and browsed the stalls with loaves of bread, fresh produce, arts and crafts, and various tools. Heaps more of course. Chocolate brownies, candles, second- hand clothing and treasures of days past and now dubious use. I purchased a lovely blue felt had and think that it will be useful to cover the frizzy hair on cold, damp Melbourne streets.

I loved my weekend excursion. Living in the city is like living in an insular bubble, in spite of the cultural benefits. I must do it again.

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Summing up a life

“How long had you known him?”  That is sometimes a question that I am asked after I have delivered a eulogy.  In most cases I have not had the pleasure of meeting the deceased.  What I have done is listened carefully to his nearest and dearest as they relate to me their memories and experiences.  They laugh and they cry and relate the various anecdotes – and I listen.  Bit by bit, the picture grows.  What was his background?  Did he have a sense of humour?  What was his philosophy on life?  In this way, I interpret the essence of the man in eulogy form.  This is part of my role as a funeral celebrant.

Sometimes I do know the dearly departed, and that is why I have been asked to officiate at the ceremony.  Those eulogies are all the more poignant as I draw on my own memories, reflecting both my experiences and those of friends and relatives.  Doing a life justice is a bitter-sweet experience, but one that is so satisfying when you know you have done it well.

There are challenges of course.  How do you write a eulogy for a child who has been snatched so young?  What about the loner about whom nobody knew very much?  Sadly there are those difficult characters, who have left a raft of bitterness and bad memories behind.  There is a story behind each of those people and the challenge is in discovering it and delivering a eulogy that meets the needs of those in attendance.

These are some of the scenarios that we will discuss in our coming workshop – how to listen, what to ask, how to divine, how to write and lastly how to deliver a eulogy that leaves the mourners feeling that they have both learnt something new, and been reminded of what they knew and loved about the deceased.  They will listen, they will laugh, they will cry and they will remember.

At some point, you may be called upon to write or contribute to a eulogy. Often this will be with very little notice and in a time of much emotion and distress. This is a time to call on interview techniques, interpersonal and writing skills.

On Sunday 21st July, I am delivering a workshop on writing eulogies at the SA Writer’s Centre.  Details are available from the Centre.   In this workshop, you will learn the techniques to deliver a eulogy that will inform, delight, transfix and celebrate. You will engagingly encapsulate the lifespan of a person with your words and capture the essence of the deceased.

Words in and out of favour

Do you find that some words resonate with you more than others?  There may be a context in which the word has been used that has an influencing memory for you, or perhaps you just don’t like the way it sounds.  Lugubrious is a word that is as mournful as its meaning and will never provide an emotional uplift.  Perhaps it suits you though when you are feeling blue.

I have been reflecting on words and have realised that for me, not all words are created equal.  Some I quite like and some I definitely do not.  It is by no means comprehensive but I have made a brief list of some that have achieved favoured status and some which have not.  I am sure that there will be words that you could add to the lists, based on your own perceptions.

Favoured words

Bespoke              The term comes from England where it originally referred to custom or tailor-made clothing.  In recent years the term has been applied to information technology and refers to custom services or products.  I would love to be able to afford bespoke clothing from a quality tailor.

Discombobulating           Throwing into a state of confusion.  I never use this word because I probably won’t remember all the syllables but it still fascinates me.  Use it and you will certainly throw your listeners or readers into a state of confusion so its very use would be discombobulating.  Perhaps I should practice it a bit.  Watch out for my next blog.

Pithy     Concise and to the point.  Should be more of it.

Recalcitrant        Marked by stubborn resistance to and defiance of authority or guidance.  As one who has never warmed to the direction of authority, this word describes how I often feel when being told what to do.  My son exhibits a significant level of juvenile recalcitrance.

Segue   seg-wey               The smooth transition from one topic to the next.  If tongue is pronounced tung, why isn’t segue pronounced seg?  Besides being applied to the transition of a discussion, I have heard it being used in relation to dancers, who make the transition from one style of dancing to another.  It has always sounded quite bizarre to me (though a graceful word) and perhaps that is why I like it.

Non-favoured words

Dude                Pretentious and sounds odd on the lips of young people.  Mostly used by kids who are searching for a sense of self and looking to portray a sense of coolness and one of the gang.  I’m not hung up about this but just notice that it does not sit comfortably on the lips of many users.

Frigid               This is a word that has become an instrument of abuse and denigration.  Of course I don’t like it.

Senescent        I am not ageing, I am senescent.  It has a soft sibilant sound but is a little too close to senile so I think that I will relegate this word to the back benches.

Synergistic          I was liaising with an architect once, whose conversation was peppered with this word and I developed an aversion to it.

Wellness             This is a word that surfaced in the last decade or two and is used extensively by the alternative health industry to promote skills and products – wellness as opposed to illness.  To me it smacks of chicanery and I will not patronise any business that promotes itself with this word.

Words themselves contain so much power.  They wound, they delight, they draw us together.  As a celebrant, I love the power of the words that I use in ceremonies, but I will leave that story for another blog.

Searching for the Lights

Strictly speaking I should be drinking Aquavit, but instead I am sipping duty free Southern Comfort as I wait for the sky to light up. I am on the MV Kong Harald, sailing up the coast of Norway between the island villages of Lofotr and Svolvaer. I am on this cruise in search of the Northern Lights, as well as visiting the Arctic Circle and learning more of this part of the world.

On the port side, there is a soft glow, a halo lifting above the horizon that is the beginning of a northern light. It is so soft that at this time, it would not be easily picked up by a camera, and the colour is a lighter shade of grey, rather than the vibrant greens and blues of all the postcards in the ship’s gift shop. My cabin is on the right side of the ship, so I can peep out of my window from time to time to see if the colour is deepening and progressing. We will be docking shortly in Svolvaer though, and I think that until we leave the lights of the town behind, we will not be able to see anything dramatic.

In order to venture outside on deck, particularly the upper deck, I need to pull on an extra pair of trousers, my fleecy-lined boots, padded coat, gloves, scarf and furry hat. Up on the top deck, I added a balaclava as well. It is the wind that is the real killer. A public announcement has just advised that there is a Viking Museum adjacent to the dock in Svolvaer and it will be open at this time of night (9:00 pm) so I might sneak ashore briefly to have a look. Perhaps I will locate some forebears, as I am sure that some early ancestors came from this part of the world.

No such luck. We wandered around the town and only found a war museum, covering the years of the second world war. It was Vikings that I was after, not modern war memorabilia. I am now back on board, waiting for the ship to finish loading and to depart. This particular shipping line runs a continuous service from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again. Many of the passengers are tourists like myself, but others are Norwegian travellers, moving between towns and villages. Most of the Norwegian settlement is on the coast and at this time of year, road travel is very dicey. To travel by sea therefore is very practical.

The glow of northern lights has now disappeared. Hopefully, it will appear again tomorrow night when we are further north. At 11:00 pm I will go up to the top deck for some sort of ceremony that the captain is putting on, with a special supper of fish cakes provided. There was an announcement about this, but sometimes the accent of the woman who is in charge of communication is a little difficult to interpret.

Just after 8:00 this morning, we crossed the Arctic Circle, and so after breakfast we had a baptism ceremony with King Neptune. This involved having a ladle of cold water and chunks of ice poured down the back of your neck (inside your clothing) after which you received a certificate and a tot of mulled wine. This was up on the top deck with a howling wind, but everyone lined up for the ‘baptism’. It was only a momentary shock, but the dampness persisted for some time. I applied the hair dryer to nether regions and knickers after a while to hasten the drying process.

Arriving in Oslo was such a treat. A snow storm started a bit before my aircraft touchdown, with visibility out of the plane windows very limited. By the time I had caught the train into the city and checked into my central hotel, the snow was thick on the ground. I caught up with Dermot and Catherine here, and the three of us rugged up and went tromping through the snow, taking photos as we went. We were all a bit agog at the beggars sitting in the snow, with a candle in a cup placed in front of them. I was also surprised at the number of men, who were not wearing hats, even those who were bald. The cityscape was magical though and we were intrigued with the novelty of it all.

I have just come back from the top deck. I still don’t fully understand what it was all about but think that appeasing the Fjord Trolls had something to do with it. The hot fish cakes were wonderful and the hot mugs of tea served with a dash of rum provided their own heat as well.

Weekend Weddings

My weddings  (I am a celebrant) went well last weekend.  The first was in an old mansion that is now used as a Youth Arts Centre.  It was gusty and windy, so the decision was made to move it inside to the central stairwell, with many of the guests gathered around the upper balcony and looking down.  Others were clustered around the bottom.  Ceremonies on stairs can be very tricky as if the photographer is positioned further down the stairs, he or she captures the double chins and those great views up your nose.

I warned the photographer about this aspect, but noticed that this was exactly what she was doing.  She stayed lower on the stairs the whole time.  She was not a professional wedding photographer but a friend of the bride and groom (B&G) whose hobby is photography.  I know that this is a big saving for B&G as they do not have to pay their friend, or if they do it is a cost-recovery amount but so often I have seen that using friends for this task leads to less-than-optimal results.  In part this is through not having appropriate equipment, and in part in not having the experience and understanding enough about positioning, framing, lighting, etc.

After the ceremony, the guests adjourned to the ballroom for nibbles and drinks while the B&G had the family photos.  There was also Bocce, quoits and some form of croquet happening outside for those who preferred more active pursuits while they passed this time away.  All in all, it was very civilised.  The bride looked stunning in an elegant slim-fitting strapless gown with a fishtail train.  The groom, who was in the armed forces, wore his dress uniform.  This was not quite in the style of Prince William, but the Aussie khaki outfit, with various badges, insignia and bits of braid.

The second ceremony was quite different.  It was in a public park on the banks of the River Torrens, and took the form of a handfasting with pagan elements.  It was not a fully fledged pagan ceremony as the bride was concerned that it may perplex her guests.  It took place within a sacred circle which I cast at the beginning of the ceremony and before B&G entered, I ceremonially washed their hands with salt water to cleanse them and wash away the burdens of their every day life so that they might focus on their promises.  I also called upon the gods and goddesses to bless their union.

Before the exchange of vows, I bound their left hands together with a length of ribbon, explaining to the guests as I did so about the ancient ritual of handfasting.  It was initially a form of betrothal and if the couple were still together a year and a day later and chose to remain in the relationship, then they were considered to be permanently married.  Before that however, either was free to leave.  A sort of cooling off period.  The vows, which were quite poetic, were exchanged while the hands were still bound.  We finished the ceremony with a honey mead ritual, involving the B&G sipping from a chalice of Liqueur Honey Mead, which is absolutely lovely.  It tastes like a mixture of chocolate, orange and honey – a form of liquid Jaffas.

This couple were arranging their wedding celebrations on a shoe string and the Bride had done all the catering.  They had taken a small gazebo down to the park and also carried a dining table down there as well.  The food was laid out on this.  On the grass, they had laid out lots of picnic blankets, and on each blanket was a picnic basket.  I think that there were named labels on each basket and inside there were plates, cutlery, glasses etc for each person who was named on the label.  The baskets looked as though they were collected from various op shops.  The wedding guests were therefore clustered around the picnic area on their blankets.

The wedding cake was a large chocolate cake, and B&G had collected a heap of pretty plates from op shops as well – the sort that afternoon tea would be served on.  This was for the cake and each guest could choose the plate that they liked and could take it home with them – a unique form of bomboniere.  A young woman was singing and playing guitar.  She was so slight and skinny but had a powerful voice.  I enjoyed listening to her for the time that I was there.

I didn’t stay too long, and unless the B&G are friends or there is good reason then I don’t stay too long.  My work is done and I don’t like to impose on the gathering.  It took ages to pack up of course as these ceremonies, with their various props and supports for different rituals are a lot of work to set up and then to dismantle again.   I was a bit tired as well and was happy to head for home where more prosaic tasks awaited like mowing the lawn.

I still have to catch up with this couple again as this was not a legal wedding ceremony that I conducted for them.  They did not submit all of their required paperwork to me before the ceremony so I could not marry them.  What I performed was a betrothal ceremony, with careful re-wording throughout.  When their paperwork has arrived from interstate, I will conduct a small private ceremony for them then.

I am off work today as I have a sore throat and laryngitis.  I shall use some of the time to work on the structure of a renewal of vows ceremony, for a couple who would also like to include pagan-influenced rituals as well.  I think that this is a twentieth anniversary, so it is good to see that some unions last the distance and presumably is still going strong.

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A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day. (Andre Maurois)

Two weddings, the laundry and too much water

Somehow seems to be Friday again.  It was a week on the go.  I tore a calf muscle as a participant in the Corporate Cup.  This is an event that aims to improve corporate fitness over a period of two months.  You sign up to do either the short, medium or long route and it is up to you whether you walk or run the distance.  You wear a bar-coded pass and so your effort is timed.  I was doing nicely on my fortnightly attempts and this week was determined to knock some seconds off my previous time.  I only got about 800 metres into my jog/shuffle though before I felt the twang in my calf and folded in a gasping heap.

I was lucky enough to find a physiotherapist with a free slot later that afternoon.  He said ‘Of course you warmed up and stretched first, didn’t you?’  I think that he already knew that I hadn’t but of course my silence said it all.  How silly can you be, especially as after I completed the previous run, I noted how tight my calf muscles were.  The physio used acupuncture on my calf and this is the first time that I have experienced this treatment.  It hurt a little more than I expected, though not unbearably so.  I was impressed with his holistic approach and might see him about some of my spine and back issues.  I see a chiropractor each fortnight, but it just keeps me functioning rather than results in any improvement.  I am not sure if I am expecting too much or not.

I came home last night to find that the power had gone out during the day and that there had obviously been a power surge.  My VoIP device was not working and my electrically operated irrigation system was working and wouldn’t stop!  I didn’t realise this until it was quite dark outside.  I then had to keep stumbling around the side of the house with my little wind-up torch, trying to get a desired response out of the control box.  Nothing worked though, not even turning it off.  I then focussed on the plumbing aspects and tried to pull the lids off the water control boxes that are sunken in the garden.  I was a little hesitant however as I know that they are often home to redback spiders and I didn’t fancy being bitten.  A friend nearly lost her thumb after such and encounter a couple of years ago.

I fiddled around with it all but couldn’t make much sense of it all in the dark.  Finally I turned the water off at the meter, warning the household that there were no showers or toilet flushings unless the meter was turned back on first.  I filled the electric jug up first though so that hot drinks were assured.  This morning, with the benefit of daylight I explored the plumbing control boxes and found some sort-of tap devices that looked as though they controlled the water flow.  I turned them off and the problem seemed to be fixed.  I put an early morning call into the contractor who initially installed the system and left one and then another message on his answer phone, pleading for help.  Given that it looked as though the matter was sort of under control, I went to work.

This afternoon, I arrived home to a very soggy garden and then realised that I had been mistaken and that the drippers and dripped their little hearts out all day.  It was only then that I realised that there was yet another little trap door, partially concealed.  I pulled up that lid and after rummaging around with gloves and a banister brush, found the master tap and turned it all off.  Yay!!  I put in another call the the ansaphone and still have not heard back from the contractor.  At least the water is turned on for the house though.

Through the week I read a blog called Cakes Tea and Dreams written about the intricacies of doing the laundry and various comments were left by people who actually enjoyed doing the laundry.  I just cannot understand this.  Laundry to me is a senseless chore.  I can sort it and throw it into the machine.  So far so good.  Then to have to take it out and hang it up, sorting it out into my preferred hanging system is a CHORE.  Then of course, it all has to be brought back inside again and sorted and folded.  I end up with little piles of undies and socks sitting in the family room, waiting to be carried off to their little homes in the bedroom drawers, or else taken upstairs in young Donald’s case.  Often, he just gets to the top of the stairs and generally chucks them in the direction of his bed.

There are also those work clothes that have to be ironed and they migrate to the ironing basket.  Sometimes this is tackled during Sunday night TV viewing but I don’t always watch TV and even if I do, I don’t always feel like ironing.  Actually, I never feel like it.  Then the ironing accumulates and I pull out one thing at a time as I need it.  When I do that though, I try to iron one more thing as well, just to keep it all under control.  In general though I hate doing the laundry.  For me it is one of life’s least satisfying tasks.

Having said that, I have just finished organising my laundry.  I took down the old shelf that was ugly and not well installed and have put up a more practical and efficient Elfa shelving system.  I have installed a hanging rail over the laundry trough so that I can hang drip dry items there if I want.  I have all the buckets up off the floor and have installed a rack on the wall from which I can hang various brooms and mops.  I even bought a new ironing board that sits on a trolley on wheels and has racks underneath for folded garments, etc.  I am quite pleased with my laundry, which is surprising for someone who has just said how much they hate the activities that happen in it.

This weekend, I have to weddings to conduct.  The legal word is solemnise, but that is cumbersome and a bit tricky to say.  I immediately think of something else.  I prefer conduct or authorise.  The first wedding will be relatively conventional.  He is in the army and will be wearing his dress uniform.  What has amazed me however is how much alike they both look.  Hair colouring, skin colouring, freckles, face shape, shape of their lips, etc and to answer your next question – no they are not related.  It is definitely a case of likes attract though.  They are also besotted with each other.  I hope that they are very happy.

My next couple are having a pagan-style handfasting, and their ceremony will be a drawn out affair.  This is not because of any ceremonial preference, but because they have not been able to produce their birth certificates to me prior to the ceremony.  The certificates were not ordered in time and although Australia Post is being blamed, I suspect that they were not ordered soon enough either.  I cannot legally conduct the ceremony without sighting birth and divorce certificates as it is important that I am satisfied as to the identities of the parties being married, and also their capacity to marry.  I can still conduct their ceremony on Sunday though and will word it as a betrothal rather than a wedding ceremony.  Later in the week, when all the legal paper work is available, I will conduct a small private ceremony at which they will be legally married.

This couple have more financial, time and health issues to contend with in the lead-up to their wedding and with the bride having to do everything herself, I suspect that time management and organisational matters have been incredibly difficult.  This couple  do not have wide family support, probably because she is much older than the groom and this goes against current conventions.  I will give them the best ceremony that I can however and try to keep any stress in relation to the paper work in the background.  I have the feeling that they need something good to happen in their lives.

I have printed out the paper work for the first wedding, put the PA system on the charger and got my head around what I need to do for the first wedding.  When I get home from that one, there will be a lot of preparation for the second, given that it is reliant on more ritual than usual for a wedding.  Hope the rain stays away.

Final Words

Aside

Working tonight on the text for a funeral ceremony that I will deliver on Friday.  Just a small family group, perhaps about eight people, unless some old army mates manage to come.  It is always a challenge to sum up a life in a few pages and to capture the essence of a person such that the mourners feel that you have done justice to their friend or relative.  Makes you consider also the measure of a life – is it what one has achieved, what one has amassed, or who one leaves behind?

Makes me wonder what I will be remembered for.  Sometimes, putting the wording together is like pulling hens’ teeth although it always works out in the end.  I will probably get up early in the morning to edit what I have written and to put the finishing touches.  I am a morning person and so write with more clarity and purpose at that time.  He was an Elvis fan, so I will finish off with ‘Return to Sender’.