Just over two weeks ago, me and Grace finally got married in front of our friends and family in the small fishing village of Crail, on the East Coast of Scotland.
People asked why we chose to go somewhere that seemed so far out of the way (even though it isn’t really), and the answer’s pretty simple. One of the main reasons why we picked somewhere where neither of us lived is precisely because of that. Having taken pictures at a whole host of weddings in and around Glasgow, I’ve seen a lot of other people get married in a lot of the venues that we would have either chosen, or been able to afford. Once you’ve experienced one wedding in a certain place, it’s difficult to disassociate the two, and that doesn’t lend itself to a feeling of uniqueness or specialness for when it’s your own day.
Instead, we hired the Crail community hall, and opted to do everything in a DIY type fashion. We’re fortunate to have lots of generous friends with different skills, and we called in a whole host of favours to make things like the decorations, music, and ceremony itself happen. Some of this was down to pure financials: we simply didn’t have a huge budget to spend on a single day when we’ve had to pay so much for the ongoing visa process… but also because a set package sort of deal wouldn’t fit our personalities anyway.
For years I had always toyed with the idea of shooting my own wedding pictures. After all, when you have your own particular style, it can be difficult to give up control to anybody else. I suggested this on a Wedding Photography Flickr group at some point and almost caused them to have a collective embolism, which was pretty amusing. Fortunately though, this is a notion that has diminished over time, as some of our good friends are seriously talented photographers in their own right. On the day itself, we had Al (valiantly taking on the main role), Gordon and Lee all snapping away. I even sneaked in a wee Sony RX100 in my sporran, despite all warnings about what would happen if I did. We couldn’t have been in better hands. Breaking with my usual approach, this blog comprises of a mix of different people’s pictures, rather than my own.
I thought that turning up in the morning a couple of hours early would be loads of time, but apparently not. People from Kirkie started arriving about an hour early, whilst I was still trying to work out how the hell the fly plaid should be pinned on.
Grace also turned up early, which must be pretty unusual for a bride.
The ceremony was led by my dad. It was pretty simple, and straightforward; no awkward singing or anything else. We included a few Celtic traditions like hand-fasting with tartan ribbon, and a blessing that my sister sang.
My dad also picked up a dual role as piper.
People cried, and then there were lots of hugging and congratulations.
Then, the champagne – with my aunts mingling around making sure everybody’s glasses were topped up like champs.
In the US, it’s customary for there to be an open bar at weddings. When we first got engaged, it took some persuading for Grace to understand that this would be a very, very bad idea in Scotland. In the end, we went for a compromise. We would buy a whole pile of wine, beer, and some other stuff, but encourage people to bring their own booze for the night time. This would mean we wouldn’t have to get an alcohol licence (as we weren’t selling any), and people wouldn’t be stung paying the overpriced charges for drinks that usually come with a hired in bar. It’s one of my pet peeves that getting drunk at wedding can be such an expensive business, so BYOB seemed like a good way to solve that.
It wouldn’t be a wedding without some ‘formal’ pictures. People always try to claim they don’t want them, but they’re inevitable – even if they are just to keep family members happy. The trick is to make sure they are as quick and informal as possible, which we managed to pull off quite nicely. It helps substantially when you’ve been on the other side of things.
The food came next. Each table was named after a different single malt whisky, and a bottle of the same whisky placed in the middle. For favours we had alternating mini bottles of hot sauce, and Irn-Bru (for the hangovers the next day). Our centre pieces were cactii, which people seemed to think were because Grace is from Colorado… but in truth we just liked them. Our place name setting things were marked by empty 35mm film cartridges.
We had a buffet setup for dinner, with a choice of haggis, macaroni cheese, and curry – complete with vegan, and vegetarian options for all the freaks amongst us. They even made me a tray of gluten free macaroni cheese, which gave extra points to the caterers who had already been great.
For dessert we had different cupcakes, with vegan and gluten free options – of course. They were variations of the American flag, with white stars ontop of blue icing and red velvet sponge.
After food came the speeches. Without really intending to, we ended up following the more traditional order of Grace’s dad, me, then the best man. It’s not like anybody tells you what people expect to happen at these things – something which is especially true when you have the rituals of two different cultures coming together. We didn’t stick to the rules in many places, but sometimes it made sense to, like when we forgot we had to actually ask people to do speeches – rather than just assuming that they would.
In the chaos of the preceding days I had completely forgotten to write anything down. Instead, I had a few scribbled notes of things that I roughly wanted to say. After the struggle we had to get Grace’s visa sorted, the distance, and all the pitfalls along the way… as well as all the help that people had given us… there was a fair amount to say, a lot of people to thank, and it was nice to feel like all the worry and stress had come to some sort of a conclusion. I don’t think I spoke for very long, but it felt good to get it out.
Keith performed his duties admirably, and even managed to be funny without being offensive about me at all. This was both impressive and shocking in equal measures.
I hadn’t even thought about it, but Keith’s accent was a bit thick for some of the Americans in the room to understand. This led to a rather amusing moment where they were gathered around the speech notes reading. I had no idea this had gone on at the time, which is part of the blessing of having so many photographers kicking about.
Afterwards, we drank some more whilst my sister and her boyfriend Ash played music. They’re both studying jazz or similar down in Leeds, so it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing.
From this point on, my recollection of what went on begins to rapidly go downhill, though there was some pretty nice bottles of whisky doing the rounds.
The photos kept going though.
There was apparently a selfie stick involved at some point.
Before long it was time for the first dance. We hadn’t really planned or practiced what was going to happen at this point, and so sort of just… went with the flow of things. We’ve seen videos later, and it looks like we stumbled around clinging onto each other for balance till other people joined in.
Oh, our first song was ‘Aeroplane Over the Sea’ by Neutral Milk Hotel.
From there on the party really started, with a mix of traditional Scottish ceilidh dancing (led by our friend Chris), and music from our other pal Dez who was DJing.
When you hear about ‘traditional dancing’ it can sound a bit stiff and formal, but the thing about a ceilidh is that it isn’t really taken too seriously, or at least, the best ones aren’t.
Instead, it’s more of an excuse to have a laugh.
We all had to do ‘social dancing’ as it was called then in school, so the steps are all back in a distant corner of our minds somewhere. That doesn’t quite help when you’ve had more than a few drams though.
My memory might be hazy, and we both might have ended up on the floor a few times, but I know we also both had a great time.
The one thing that isn’t so great is something that everybody warns you about when you get married… and one which was particularly true in our case. With people flying in from the US, Greece, Amsterdam, and travelling from all across the UK, the pressure to spend time with everybody was fairly high. I feel guilty that I didn’t get to see much of my aunts for example, and even friends that I see often I felt like we had neglected them – though obviously I know that it can’t be helped. It’s both a blessing and a curse to have so many people that you care about under one roof.
The week leading up to the wedding itself was the most stressful, whereas the general organisation was actually not all that bad at all. There was so many people with competing interests and expectations, or who just wanted your input on different things all at once that it became a bit much to handle. Even when they were with the best of intentions, it was easy to reach saturation point. Despite being fairly outgoing, intense periods around other people can drain my energy pretty quickly… and at one point I ended up having to lie in a dark cupboard for a few hours to put myself back together.
So what have I learned from this journey?
- You will never please everyone, so don’t be afraid to say naw.
- At the same time, sometimes you’ll need to make compromises and concessions. That’s okay.
- People will be nicer, and more generous than you ever expected they would be.
- There will be politics involved. You can’t invite everybody you might want to, or feel like you have to, so don’t worry or feel guilty about it. If it comes up in conversation, just be honest. Sorry, we’d have loved you to come, but we didn’t have the money or space.
- Organising things yourself can be really rewarding, but will take a lot more effort.
- Drinking cask strength whisky all night is a sure fire way to erode your powers of recollection.
- Don’t worry about what kind of kiss you’re going to do in the ceremony. It’ll come naturally.
- Do not try to open presents with your sgian dubh. It will end badly. Possibly with fizzy juice pouring out and all over your friends.
- Do not book a 50 seater bus to take guests back to Glasgow unless you know for certain that more than one person will use it.
- Do not try to open a bottle of wine with a shoe.