Wednesday 5 May 2010

How I came to be in England - Part 43

The Padre wore a dark suit with a white dog collar. He was a tall man and his dark  form loomed large over the door of the terraced house in Southsea. He offered me his hand and held onto my palm for so long I felt trapped by his grasp. But he continued gazing into my eyes and smiling until I pulled my hand away.

'And how may I help you, dear?' he asked after I'd made him a cup of tea. We were sitting facing each other on the sofa in the front room.

'I am from Finland and my fiance, who's in the Navy, and I are getting married there next month. He said you can issue him a Certificate of Non-Impediment.'

'Aah,' the Padre said and drank the last drops of his tea. For a moment he looked for a table to place his empty cup and saucer onto, then put it carefully down on the floor. He crossed his hands and said, 'There may be a little problem with that.'

'A problem?' 

'Well...what is the date of the happy occasion?'

I told him we'd be married the first Saturday in June, in just under five weeks' time.

'Hmmm...well, oh dear. You see, I don't issue these certificates. What happens in England – this may be the same in Norway –'

'Finland,' I interrupted him. I was getting a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.

'Of course, yes, Finland.' He gave me a sheepish look and smiled. I noticed the expression in his eyes did not change when his lips moved. He reached his hand across and touched my knee, 'For your fiance to get a Certificate of Non-Impediment he needs to have the bands read in his home parish.'


'Has he had his bands read?

'No, I don't think so.'

'Well, then he needs to do that. But it takes six weeks.'

I was staring at the Padre. I couldn't breathe.

The Padre squeezed my knee harder. I froze and pulled my leg away. 'Can you perhaps change the date of the wedding?'

I thought how much my sister had organised for the day. How all the English guests had bought their expensive flights. How the Englishman's mother and godmother had already bought their outfits and matching hats. How the Cathedral in Tampere had been booked, how the hotel for the reception had been reserved, how the menu had been decided. 'No...' I said.

'I understand, dear.' the Padre said.

There was a silence.

My mind was suddenly blank. I couldn't think at all. Did this mean we couldn't get married? The Pastor in Tampere had said that without this certificate he couldn't marry us. I'd never heard of any 'bands'.

'The purpose of the bands being read in the groom's home parish is to establish that he's not been married before...' the Padre hesitated when he saw my face, 'which of course I'm sure he isn't, but when a young man marries abroad the foreign – or in this case the Fin...Finn...'


'Ah, yes, the Finnish church has to be certain that he is not committing a crime.'

'But....' I was staring at this apparition of the devil in a clergyman's clothes. What the hell was he telling me?

'We don't have six weeks.'

'Well, no,' the Padre said and went for my knee again.

I moved my leg away from his grasp in time.

He coughed. 'What you could do is to have a civil ceremony here in England, at a Registry Office, ' he pronounced the last two words carefully as if I was half-witted, 'and then have a blessing in the church abroad. The wording of the ceremony is almost the same, and in the eyes of God you'll still be married in the church in...hmm...your country.' The Padre gave me another of his half-cocked smiles. 'I have the telephone number here somewhere.' He rummaged in his worn out-looking leather satchel.

When I finally got rid of the Padre I immediately went over to the beige coloured telephone under the stairs and dialled the number for Portsmouth Registry Office.

The friendly man who answered the phone listened to my rambling explanation of the situation. How my fiance was in the Navy and stationed abroad, how I've only just moments ago found out that the wedding we'd planed for months may not happen and how the only solution the Naval Padre had suggested was to have a civil ceremony in England and  blessing in the church in Finland. Occasionally he said, 'Oh Dear,' or 'I understand,' or 'Yes, yes.' When I finally finished the tale, he said, 'So would you like me to have a look in the diary to see what dates we have before the 2nd of June?'

'Yes please!' I realised I could have just asked him to do that straight away, but I felt so much better having told someone about the catastrophe. I exhaled slowly and waited for the man to come back to the phone.

'Well, I do have a date this coming Saturday, but then the next weekend date I have is 9th of June.'

It was Tuesday 30 April 1984. I'd woken up that morning remembering it was Walburgh Night and felt very homesick. Tonight all my friends in Helsinki would be going out to celebrate, wearing their student caps and drinking too much. Instead, here I was trying to organise something which felt very much like a shot-gun wedding. Then it dawned on me: I'd be married this Saturday, in four days time, not in five weeks' time!

'Would you like me to book this?'

I thought for a fraction of a moment. 'Yes, book it.'

The man went through the cost and asked if I could post a cheque as soon as possible.

Next I called the number in Italy the Englishman had given to me. We never telephoned each other during the day and he sounded surprised when he heard my voice.

'Are you OK?'

I realised I was unbearably angry him. I'd been nagging him about the certificate during almost every phone call before I'd come over to England, and again when I was here. Then he didn't get around to doing anything about it until he was already in Naples. And then he'd only managed a phone call to the Padre.  

'No, I'm not,' I said.

'Oh?' the Englishman sounded worried.

'The Padre told me this morning that he can't issue the certificate. You know the Certificate of Non-Impediment you need in order to marry me.' I told the Englishman the whole sorry tale.

'We'd be getting married this Saturday?' the Englishman said.

I was furious. Was he having doubts? 'Yes.'

Neither of us spoke for a moment. Then, trying to control myself, I said, 'This was the ONLY thing you needed to organise, and you couldn't even be bothered to do that!' I was holding back tears. I wanted to scream at him. To say that if he didn't want to marry me he should say so.

I felt so cold.

He'd been late at the train station when I arrived in England. He'd been posted abroad as soon as I arrived in Southsea. Now he'd not bothered to get the certificate. Was he, possibly unconsciously, trying to stop the wedding from going ahead?

'I'm really sorry,' the Englishman said. His voice was barely audible. 'Look, I'll call you back in an hour. I need to arrange a pass. But I'm going to do it, don't worry, everything will be alright.'


'Yes, it will. And,' the Englishman put his lips very close to the receiver. I knew he was trying to say something without being overheard.


'I love you, don't ever forget it. And I can't wait to be married to you. The sooner the better.'


Kittie Howard said...

I loved your narrative, felt your anguish and anger. Chuckled over the Padre's inability to remember you were from Finland. Of course he knew as I've known Brits who've called me Yank, colonist, whatever to stall recognition outside the Commonwealth. And my hub's a retired U.S. military man, so, trust me, I felt your frustration at how duty interferred with life's progress. Am going to scroll to back posts, loved this so much. Thanks!

Wildernesschic said...

Never trusted Padres of any type or kind,,, get your hand off me knee sir now !!!!
So lovey ( not for the victims) that all the abuse is coming to light now, my mother who is catholic thinks in the case of the catholic church, should they allow them to marry it would stop them fiddling with little boys... amazing !
Yes my man sounds similar you yours, the only think I know is in both cases it was a recipe for a great marriage, should they be perfect, we would have got bored. Another lovely post Helena xxx

Wildernesschic said...

PS can you tell when I comment without my glasses ...commas instead of full stops and I have to rely totally on spell check so I hope it makes sense LOL

TheOnlineStylist said...

Havent read this post as am still catching up with your story - but just to say there is a shoe award (surprise surprise!) for you over at mine! x