When one of my colleagues came through from reception asking for me, I knew I would have an odd or complicated query to answer.
Before I was a photographer, I was a senior wedding Registrar with almost 10 years experience and I had conducted around 2000 weddings. There was nothing I hadn't seen or heard of before.
At least that's what I thought.
There was a dapper old gentleman standing in the reception area. He wore a smart blue blazer with brass buttons and a neatly folded pocket square. His shirt was crisply ironed and his tie matched his outfit perfectly. His white beard was exquisitely manicured and he had a glint in his eye that belonged in a man in his twenties, not the man in his eighties that I had before me.
'How can I help you?' I asked.
'I want to get married,' he said.
'When and where do you want to get married?'
'I'm not sure of the venue yet,' he said. 'I think the ceremony would take place in the next six months.'
'Great,' I said. 'That gives you enough time to go through the legal formalities.'
'What are those?'
'Both you and your wife to be would need to make an appointment with us and give your notice of intention to marry. The details would go up on our notice board for 15 days, and after that if there were no objections you would be legally free to marry.'
'Can't I just give notice for the two of us?'
'I'm afraid not. Your partner would need to come in as well.' The old gentleman looked perturbed. 'Is that a problem?' I asked. The man shuffled his feet uncomfortably.
'Can your partner not come in? Does she live in Newcastle?'
'I'm not sure,' he replied.
'You're not sure where your wife to be lives?' I asked.
'Well, there are a couple of possibilities,' he said.
'I have a number of girlfriends and I haven't asked any of them to marry me yet, so I'm not sure which one will say yes.'
It was one of the few times in my life I have been lost for words. My mouth was flapping open and shut like a beached fish.
'I...er...I'm afraid you will need to ask your girlfriends to marry you first and then come back here when you have an answer.'
'I would far rather it was a surprise,' he said.
'It doesn't work that way. Sorry.'
'Very well young chap,' he said with a twirl of his cane.
'Good luck,' I said as he walked away.
I never saw him again.
Thumbnail photo via James Morley Flickr