In recent weeks, I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front, and this has largely been down to working in Canterbury. A deadly combination of two factors – 1. Working quite hard and 2. Rare access to the internet (and then only in the theatre) has kinda kept me out of the blogging loop.
But! Back now, and to explain and justify all, I figured I’d take this chance to talk a bit about Canterbury.
Let’s talk, specifically, about the cathedral. I mean, not because I actually went to the cathedral during my time visiting – kinda a bit too tied down to the theatre and besides, it’s silly money to go inside now. But because you can’t really escape the cathedral thing when visiting. From the nasty ring road that circles the edge of town, dual carriageway ugliness with just a dash of commercial estate grot thrown in, if you happen to glance towards the centre then you will see, towering above all else, Canterbury Cathedral doing the magnificent Christian thing in all its glory. It’s the seat of Anglicanism in Britain, it’s grand, its vast, its a testimony to the power of medieval architecture, its got nobbly bits on the top and even it’s own saint. St. Thomas Beckett, in case you’re wondering, who is the dude who went ‘yo, King Henry, let’s you and me get pissed yay!’ only to be made archbishop in what was clearly a prank gone wrong, whereupon he chose a slightly more spiritual but less groovy path of ‘what is this alcohol thing, get thee behind me and play nice’ at which point King Henry got a little annoyed and sent a bunch of burly knights to explain the same to Beckett. And that all ended in tears….
The history of Canterbury is everywhere to see – from crooked half-timbered houses now containing within their sometime worshipful walls shoe shops and cafes, to the names of the streets themselves. Chaucer Roundabout (named after Mr Chaucer of the Canterbury tales), the Marlowe Theatre (named after Mr Marlowe of Faust fame) and a large percentage of street names called after various English saints. (If anyone knows who St. Radigund is and why, this would be the place to let me know.)
The streets around the cathedral are replete with little book shops, cafes and cake parlours, while the main street itself is home to every major chain you’ve ever seen in every high street in Britain, as well as some of the worst buskers on the planet. I mean, in fairness to the few buskers who are quite good in Canterbury, they are quite good, but they’ve got serious competition from the local wailers, who dot themselves at thirty yard intervals up and down St. George’s Street, which runs between the old city walls, and torture various tunes in a style of strangulation. But I suppose that not everyone can be in the cathedral choir…
During my time off in Canterbury, I did as I generally do when pinned down to a city not my home with a few hours to kill between shows, and went in search of my six-monthly haircut. (It used to be a nine-monthly haircut, but old age apparently brings connotations of respectability.) And so in a hairdresser on the street that was in my mind the street of a thousand hairdressers, we talked about the politics of Canterbury (Tory), the old ladies who dropped by (lovely), the number of tattoo parlours within a five minute walk (lots), whether kimchi was a good dish (I voted: urgh she voted: yum) and what the students were like in the local area (numerous). Then back off to the theatre between old stone walls built just as the lights were coming back on from the dark ages, past mobile phone shops and what became possibly my favourite curry house, where somehow, despite the combination of dishes you ordered from the takeaway counter, you always paid £6, no questions asked.
Not that I actually stayed in Canterbury during my time working there – oh no. I stayed in a village about six miles outside Canterbury, with a lovely family who treated me far better than I deserved. My initial dread at this arrangement passed quickly by, for while it seemed like terrible error 101 for a lighting designer to live in the same quarters as her director, my domestic arrangements were quickly one of comfort and good living, punctuated by the occasional snuffling of the world’s soppiest dog. The discovery that I was a writer as well as the lighting designer was met on the first night of staying there with cries of shock and disbelief, followed almost immediately by a trip to amazon and a couple of extra sales, which boosted my morale further still. I even came to some sort of grudging appreciation of the local countryside, for while I’m concerned grass is grass and that’s all there is too it, I could sort of enjoy the passing of trees, fields, hedgerows, oast houses (because you do not go to Kent without experiencing an oast house or two) and tiny isolated cottages on my way into work, with the comfortable sense of a tourist who doesn’t really do outside much.
So all things considered, I think I quite like Canterbury. The history appeals to the ex-historian in me; the high proportion of cake shops appeals to everything else. And the new high-speed trains from London St. Pancras are nothing if not lots of fun (and a tad pricey… thank the lord someone else was paying…) so looking back on it, I’d say it’s been a grand couple of working weeks.