"Firstly, my wife and I would like to thank you all - family and friends - for being with us on this very special day.
I think people often forget that it is the whole of our lives that bring us together on a day like this. Everything that we are now is a product of not just everything we have ever done, but also - more importantly - everyone we have ever known.
People will often say things like, "If I could have my life over again, I'd do things differently." But the truth is that if we could change our past, it would mean that many of the people we know, many of our friends, we would never have even met, and nothing is worth exchanging that for.
Events and decisions, large and small, affect our lives more than we often acknowledge. Great events, even before many of us were born, still shape the world we live in. We are here in Kent on Battle of Britain weekend, and but for the terrible sacrifices made partly in the skies above us - as part of that wider conflict almost 70 years ago - this world, for all its faults, would be a very different and certainly a very much worse one. We should never forget that.
Of course for us small decisions - made not just by ourselves, but also by others - can often take us along paths we could never have imagined. And this is no more true than as regards why we are here today.
In the middle of 2001, I was still working for Leeds Health Authority, but facing what I thought was one reorganisation too many, so I decided I needed a change of scene. I actually considered moving to Bridlington, but realised that I wasn't ready for a quiet life just yet, and set my sights on London.
It wasn't a complete leap into the unknown, because I already had friends there - some of whom are here today - but also my sister, Sue, and her husband and my Best Man, Stanley, had lived there for many years. More importantly, a flat they rented out was just about to become available, so I floated the idea of me taking it. They agreed, but I would need to find a flatmate for the second bedroom.
While the flat was being refurbished, I stayed with Sue and Stanley for a few weeks. The first night I was there, Stanley took me out for a curry, which is exactly what we did last night, so he's been there for me at two of the most pivotal moments of my life. I never had any doubts that Stanley should be my Best Man, not least because I knew that no-one else would be better at playing his part in making the day go as smoothly as it has. I am proud to have Stanley as my Best Man, my brother, and my friend.
So I moved into the flat in early 2002, and then began what turned out to be a rather depressing process of advertising the spare room, and then having to deal with a succession of - quite frankly - deadbeats who thought this "rent" thing was just a vague suggestion, or else would argue about why they should have to pay half the bills, even before I'd offered them the room. That's if they turned up at all.
Of course, if someone suitable had
turned up, we wouldn't be here today. But luckily for me nobody did before the most important person in my life decided that she was going to move to London herself.
In late June I got a 'phone call from this very special lady sitting by my side, saying that she'd seen the advert, and would like to view the flat. She rang again on the day we'd arranged, to check that it was still available, and I told her which buses to catch, and how to find the flat.
But the time we'd agreed came and went, with no sign of her. Eventually she rang to say she thought she'd gone the wrong way, and was lost. We worked out where she was, and I began to guide her in the right direction.
"Back past the Tube station.
Cross the bridge over the railway station."
I said, "OK, turn left at the nursery that obviously used to be a pub. You're not quite there yet, but on the wall of the first house on the left, you might see a long-haired black-and-white cat."
"Oh yes!" she said, "How did you know it would be there?!"
I said it usually was, working the crowd from the railway station. Of course, Claire being Claire, she stopped for a few moments to talk to the cat. So that was the moment I knew, even before I'd actually met her, that she was alright. Because, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who talks to strange cats in the street is definitely OK!
Eventually she got to the flat, and ended up staying for more than two hours. I don't actually remember what we talked about, although she does complain now that in all the time she was there, I didn't offer her a cup of tea.
She left just after ten, I walked her to the bus stop - the right
one - and she promised to ring when she'd decided about the room. But as the week went on, I heard nothing, and then had to go to Leeds to help my mother move house. On the way, I got a call from someone else who'd been to see the flat, so say he'd decided to take somewhere else, so by the time I got home on the Sunday night, I wasn't in the best of moods. But then I found this note on the doormat...
Claire moved in a few weeks later, and that was when I first met her sister, Kate, who came with her to help with her stuff. In fact, by the time they arrived it was so late that Kate was half asleep, and before long she was fast
asleep on the couch. As introductions to Kate go, though, that was probably relatively painless.
Of course, Chris must have been a bit concerned that Claire was sharing with a complete stranger, because she came to visit soon after. Naturally I was under orders to be on my best behaviour, and I think Chris must have been reassured that I was safe enough, even if I did spend most of the time she was there playing 'Medal of Honor' on the PS2.
Because it was just the two of us, we had to adjust to a way of living that worked for both of us. After all, the secret of a harmonious flatshare is establishing mutually acceptable behaviour. A good illustration of this sort of negotiation is this particular note, which I found attached to the kitchen door late one night when I got home at the end of a week when Claire had been working late...
Well, at least you know where you are with clearly-defined terms like that! Of course, outside of our domestic situation, not everything turned out as well as either of us hoped. It would be over-dramatic to say we went though tough times, but while there were times that could have been easier, we got through them, and eventually we did so as friends. We both had separate lives, but we shared more than enough to make the flat a home, rather than just being the same place we both happened to live in.
There were limits, though. She always disliked us going to the supermarket together.
"We can't do that" she'd say, "People will think we're a couple!"
Of course, all that time we were both single. In a way, we were like two people on a desert island, both too preoccupied in looking out to sea to realise how they really felt about who was already there beside them.
As the end of Claire's studies approached, we discussed what she'd do afterwards. She said she planned to get a place of her own, and I came to the realisation that I should do the same, rather than try to find someone else to take her room. Quite simply, I knew that I could never find anyone half as good as Claire. I suppose if anything was a catalyst for use getting together, it was that, because sometimes you don't truly know how you feel about someone until you have to think about how things will be if they're not around anymore.
Obviously there are some things we disagree on, some interests I have that she isn't into, and vice versa, but we share far more than we don't. We have many of the same standards and values, but one thing I most admire in Claire is her determination. She has, for example, persevered in her ambition to become a teacher, whatever set-backs or obstacles fate threw in her way. Where other people would have despaired and given up long before, she just kept going. Any help I could give her was gladly given, but in the end the achievement was all hers. I would never have thought that I could feel as proud of another person as much as I did of her on her graduation day.
And that determination is infectious, as without Claire's support there are some things I would never have been able to do without here. With Claire by my side, I know that I can achieve anything I need to.
I would like to thank Mike for his kind words, but also express my appreciation to both him and Chris for so warmly welcoming me into the Bassett family. I don't believe that anyone could wish for a better mother and father-in-law than Chris and Mike, nor indeed a better sister-in-law than Kate, and I count myself very lucky to be a son and brother-on-law to them."