Mr and Mrs Douglas
Mr and Mrs Douglas

I wish to tell you about an event that was most unexpected on such a battle with a brain tumour that was supposed to have seen me by now, either pushing up daisies or living the last of my days in a vegetative state in the Erskine veterans care home in Gilmerton. Yet by eating better and moving more in reinforcement to my most excellent medical treatment by the NHS, I have managed to make the impossible possible and beaten my prognosis, shrunk the unshrinkable from the size of a small hand and large enough to have pushed the centre line of my brain all the way over to just above my left ear, to a size that can no longer be found, while giving me a life that led me to a series of circumstances that led to one of the most wonderful of events that can happen to anybody, that was right up there with the births of my two wonderful children, and which took place on the 19th of May 2017.

The wonderful guests!
The wonderful guests at our wedding!

I got married to the incredible Allie. The weather was perfect. 15 degrees Centigrade, a gentle breeze, dry skies and sunshine. It was in fact exactly as I had been praying it would be with the sun shining warm upon our faces and the breeze blowing gently at our backs, with the loving support of our gathering family and friends holding us gently in the palms of their hands.

James Piping!
James Piping

The wee church of St Mary’s Dalmahoy was packed to the gunnels. With 100 in attendance there was not a seat spare. Grampy and Granny, who I loved so very dearly, are buried by the front door so I stopped to pay my respects with my brother Euan before walking in to the church. It was standing room only as I walked up the aisle and stood to wait with my best man Polly, a wonderful childhood friend, with whom she and I share Godparenting responsibility for each other’s children, and who stood in at short notice after the demands of military service saw the forced withdrawal of my original best man, Andy. The hushed chatter and expectation of the congregation was palpable as our family and friends shared ‘do you remember when’ and ‘did you know’ stories with each other, but all knew that today, with the sun shining, the piper playing in the distance, and my two children and nephews swinging off the bell ropes, Ding Dong, Dong Ding, Ding Ding, Dong Dong, that the most incredible and unexpected event was soon to take place. 2:30pm arrived but still the piper played in the distance, still the bells rang out but the organ remained silent. I tried hard not to get worried. After all it was a bride’s prerogative to be late was it not? But then, what I was asking Allie to take on by agreeing to marry me, with no money, no job, little prospect of finding one soon with the continuing epilepsy, continuing medical treatment, and uncertainty about the future near and distant, was too much for most. It would have been hard, really hard for her not to turn up, but I would have understood. I remembered that I had, a few days earlier, arranged for a single ivory rose to be delivered with a hand written card saying so very simply what I had said when I proposed:

‘Darling Allie
Since I met you, during my darkest of times,
You have brought nothing but light to my life.
Please do me the honour of becoming my wife.

For you have loved me, encouraged me and supported me. So please marry me.

I promise that I will beat the beast
To give us 40 years together at least.

So that we can have a life,
Please be my wife.
See you at the church xx’

Mr and Mrs Douglas

I hoped that the rose had made it and that it might have encouraged Allie to find the courage and come to be my wife, but I wasn’t certain, so still I tried to look cool, calm and collected as I waited, and the congregation, gathered on this beautiful day, started to check their watches and joke a little, ‘will she, will she, will she come?. The suspense built and built with the ever magnificent Polly shadowing my every twist and turn as I paced around at the front. Then the piper started to come closer. The expectation rose and the bells fell silent. The children scampered to their seats and the organ, played by the most excellent Michael, burst into life. The trumpet voluntary by Clarke rang out. I high-fived Polly and we stepped across to our nominated position. I turned and looked to see the most wonderful sight. Allie looking at her most radiant with no make-up or hair dye or spray tan. Just glowing in her natural self, her greying hair tied up elegantly in a chignon with a pearl tiara, her veil pinned to her hair and flowing out behind her. Her white skin flushed pink on her face, her incredible dress that gave her such shape flowing so gracefully up the aisle behind her. Allie walked ever so demurely up the aisle, with her Mother, dressed in a powder blue suit and hat looking fit to burst with pride on the arm of her magnificent daughter. I choked a little, of course I did. I truly thought that I was to live the last of my days alone in a home as I dribbled my way towards a certain end, but here, walking up the aisle towards me was the very apparition of hope. Hope not just for me, but for all who fear of never finding the right person to love them. We were deep into middle age, well past our best before date, alone, and set to remain so for evermore, yet here we were, two people who had given up hope of finding another, about to be joined in matrimony.

The first hymn rang out, ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’ lifted the roof on this wonderful small chapel and settled us beautifully for the task ahead.

The wedding started and before I knew it we were facing each other, looking into each other’s eyes and saying our vows. I was of course the first to speak and did so slowly, clearly and loudly so that all could hear and all was going swimmingly until I choked on the final line in the vows, ‘til death us do part’. Allie held onto me tight and patiently, silently and with such courage willed me on to finish that line. So many say those lines of ‘in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer’ and ‘til death us do part’ but for both of us that day, and for all in that church, those words had so much meaning and resonance. I had never expected such a thing to happen. I had often heard of such a phenomenon as being described as being choked by emotion but had never experienced it before. We had rehearsed it and I was going strong but as I hit those fatal words ‘til death us do part’, the air was sucked rapidly into my body. My entire face seemed to melt to a point at which I had no control over the muscles of my mouth. Tears streamed from my face and snot from my nose and the entire congregation held its breath. Not a sound could be heard but my snivelling attempts to get a grip of myself. Vanessa and Allie reassured me that I had all the time in the world and Allie held on to me tight, looked into my whimpering eyes and breathed strength into me. I took a deep breath and with my voice as strong as I could make it croaked ‘til death us do part.’ The congregation breathed a collective sigh of relief. Eyes glistened and noses ran throughout the church and now it was Allie’s turn. My goodness, she carried it off with such grace. Word by word, line by line the vows were said and we were married to a huge gasp of relief and cheers and applause as I stole my first kiss with my wife. We had practiced many funny versions. Squeaky kisses and kisses with a foot lifted gaily and kisses that made Allie giggle but this one was as real and as well meant as the first kiss could ever be.

Heather And James Join To Celebrate
Heather And James Join To Celebrate

Euan and Alison read beautifully and then the Rev’d Vanessa gave her talk on marriage and especially on our marriage. Vanessa had been involved in our story from our very first meeting when I stole Allie’s seat on the 1130 train from Waverley station Edinburgh on the 03 Oct 2015. She knew Allie well, had grown to know me reasonably well, and grown to know us brilliantly. As a result, her talk on marriage, was like a sprinkling of gold dust on our union. So good it was that friends and family still talk about it.

Spellbound we sang ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’ before brilliantly composed prayers by dear friends and mentors in our relationship Liz and Malcolm McGregor, before the blessing and the singing of the register, while a choir of friends sang Rutter’s ‘The Lord bless you and keep you’. The final rousing hymn ‘Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart’ and Mr and Mrs Douglas were walking down the aisle to the Toccata from Symphony No 5 by Widor. We were numb with the emotion of the day but warmed by the sun and the love and support of all as they left the church while my children and nephews swung from the bell ropes once again.

The rest of the day went completely to plan. After some photos we were whizzed up to the hotel in an open top Volkswagen Beetle to be greeted by Roddy the magnificent piper and a glass of fizz. Then ceremony, led by detailed planning by Allie and the wonderful Emma, the hotel’s wedding coordinator, and orchestrated by John the toastmaster took over. The hotel were exceptional. My son James’ piped us to the top table for the breakfast brilliantly and the food came and the wine flowed. Soon enough it was speech time. One of Allie’s dearest friends, Sinora, gave the Father of the bride’s speech brilliantly with photographs, quizzes and much hilarity,

Sinora, gave the Father of the bride’s speech brilliantly with photographs, quizzes and much hilarity
Sinora, gave the Father of the bride’s speech brilliantly with photographs, quizzes and much hilarity!

and then it was my turn. I had already caused pre-wedding consternation when I asked for 35 minutes for my speech and my Mum nearly curled up in horror when she learned that I was to sing. Not once, but twice. But this was such a wonderful story that was so improbable that it provided so much hope to those who struggle themselves that I wanted to tell it. I had had a couple of singing lessons in the run up to the wedding, from the brilliant John, a friend of Allie’s, and was ready. John sat himself at the keyboard, I took my place at the lectern and started.

My speech was of course followed by the wonderful Polly who had clearly done her homework, and had swapped notes with Andy but did not fall into the trap of drumming out all my less glamorous moments from my youth but instead left tantalising and highly amusing glimpses of what might have been, and left it with a very simple invitation to be bribed in the bar if you wanted to know more. It was well researched, short, sharp and to the point, humorous and brilliantly delivered. A master class of public speaking.

The cake cut with my old Regimental sword and breakfast finished, we retired for more photographs and for the room to be turned around in preparation for the reeling.

Photographs done and conversations with old friends had it was time for the first dance. Allie had chosen Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ as our first dance. Heather had been wanting to sing for us on the wedding and with Polly’s help the perfect opportunity was successfully negotiated. My daughter Heather stepped up to the standing microphone as a young 16 year old to sing with the brilliant ‘scraggly cats’, a band with whom she had never sung before, and prepared to sing. I took Allie’s hand and led her on to the dance floor. The band started playing and Heather started singing

The Four Muskateers

I was choked yet again. Our family and friends clapped and cheered such talent and such a clever expression of love from a daughter for her father as she rushed from the stage and into the loving embrace of Allie and I. The three of us laughed and cried and cuddled under the coloured flickering lights of the stage to the continuing cheers and ‘Aaaahhhhs’ of our friends before the spell was broken by the call for the first dance. The Dashing White Sergeant. The dance floor was packed. Heather shot off to dance with her cousins and Sinora joined us for the reel. The stage was set and the dance began but not to a tune any of us recognised. It was a modern take on the Dashing White Sergeant that seemed to lack the foundation of a recognisable tune that allowed the dancers to synchronise their movements together but Roddy picked up his pipes and kicked in with the tune that saved the day. We danced and danced and danced until we could almost dance no more. It was time for the big surprise. Allie and I led our family and friends outside and we stood in the dark of the late dusk and stared out into the black yonder. We stared at the shadows of the trees and the silvery glimmer of moonlight off the lake, our eyes and ears straining for any sign of what might happen next. Our family and friends stood behind us in hushed anticipation of something happening and then it started. The first muted fizzle of a small firework in the near distance, then another and then another muted firework that built in size and height and grandeur and noise to a most magnificent crescendo that echoed off the walls of the house and the hills of the Pentlands nestled close by. There were cheers, there were whistles and a round of applause but it was time to lead our guests out of the evening chill and back in for the party. But we couldn’t join them. The previous eighteen months of treatment: brain surgery, followed immediately by a full course of brain-focused radiotherapy, followed by 12 monthly cycles of Chemotherapy had taken their toll and while I was able to climb mountains and walk long distances to clear the fog from my head in order to think clearly and try and beat my beast of a brain tumour, I was still cognitively very weak and continued to suffer from epileptic seizures should I push things too far. The preparation for the wedding, the writing and delivery of a speech, the emotional energy expended in the saying of the vows, and the cognitive effort expended in making sensible fun-filled conversation on the day were all taking their toll and we knew that after such a long and wonderful, yet cognitively challenging and emotionally draining day that, on the passing of every hour late into the night, the risk of seizure increased significantly. So we held a receiving line to say good night to all our family and friends. I wanted to stay but we knew it to be too risky. We had had a wonderful day and wanted to remember it for what it was, not for the trauma or drama of having to manage a seizure and the recovery from it. I didn’t like the decision because I have always loved a party but knew it to be the right thing to do. We have been given life, a new life with a real chance of actually being able to beat my beast of a brain tumour for good and that, with the tumour beaten, it could be a much, much better life, so by eating better and moving more we have made the impossible possible but need to build on that initial success. We have to live within our capabilities and stop burning the candle at both ends. Instead preserve that energy and enhance that energy by getting a good rest of 7 hours each night and by doing so, be able to make so much more out of each and every day that we are blessed enough to be given. We had had a great day so it was bedtime in order to make the most of tomorrow. Besides I had hundreds of very tightly sewn buttons on the back of a long white dress to undo first!!

Some wonderful evening Fireworks!
Some wonderful evening Fireworks!

Some wonderful evening Fireworks!

The next day saw us join family and friends that could surface for breakfast before it was time to leave to pack for the honeymoon.

Yours aye