The story that led to this blog, and possibly a book, began over 5 years ago, and on the day of the tube and bus bombings in London – the infamous 7/7/2005.
It was then that I met a man called Dave Longley at a conference in Canary Wharf.
We were both stuck there as a consequence of the disaster, unable to leave the Isle of Dogs until we had received news that it was safe to travel.
In typical stoic London and British style, the conference continued.
Dave and I met in the lunch break when he was looking for a table to share where he could put down his plate of cake (and was sad that there were those who had duly ignored him when he asked if that would be OK!). I invited him to join me at my table, and this led to a chat about just how much can come from a few people being able to mutually understand and appreciate the simple but good things in life – such as the cake Dave had on his plate, as well as a good coffee and perhaps a good story to go with it.
Dave agreed about the coffee and having a good story as much as cake to go with it, and this somehow reminded me about a retelling of The Canterbury Tales for the modern day, as televised by the BBC. The crux of the idea of it being (for me, at least) that everyone has a good story, and that that story deserves to be heard.
We then got to talking more generally about that idea, and the fun of meeting people on the road - as well as how you can meet good people almost anywhere, and also how you can meet some of the best people in some of the least expected places (like it subsequently turned out that we had done just then! lol).
The thing is, as I told Dave, there was an element of this in the retelling of The Tales that has somehow been missed in how the BBC series has retold it for modern times, by excluding the travel/pilgrimage element – which is stated in the prologue and epilogue of each of the tales in the book, with the pilgrims stopping off at a different place along the road to Canterbury and there being a lead-in to each tale, with banter from each of the pilgrims, as well as thoughts mentioned either before or after each tale by the travellers before getting under way to their next pilgrimage pitstop.
Indeed, it was from my own experiences of storytelling, learned from people I met in my very first British and Irish travels, that I know that that was the quintessential ingredient that had been missed in retelling The Canterbury Tales again for modern times – as I had very much enjoyed the camaraderie and friendliness of English as well as Irish pub culture when I first visited them as a newcomer to this part of the world in 1991.
I guess I am glad that Dave was interested in this too, as that is what led us to agree to be true to the original story in suggesting that we should see what we could glean about the atmosphere, and hopefully banter or stories, from revisiting some of the sites that Chaucer’s tales were set in. Of course, the thirst-quenching fact that they are ALL set in a pub somewhere between London and Canterbury did not go amiss from our conversation.
As it happened, Dave said he had worked in that part of London where the journey (supposedly) first began - which was at a pub that once stood in Southwark, on the South Bank of London, called The Tabard. By coincidence, I had also worked near there in 1992 too, and had walked by, nearly every day for a year, where that pub once would have stood.
Given the fateful circumstances of the day that Dave and I had met on, where no one had any real idea about what was going on around London with how fragmented the news reports were, we half-jokingly agreed that we would meet up to check out the area around Southwark to, er, “soak up the atmosphere” – that was assuming we could get off the Isle of Dogs that day, where we were now effectively trapped by what had happened.
After all, what we felt was lacking at that time was any concern whatsoever for others’ stories and wisdom – either at the conference we were at, on the streets that day with everyone just wanting to get home or know how or where their loved ones were (and no helpline available), or generally with how sad the world has become with how some people could be so senseless and ignorant of others that they would think it would help their cause to do harm to others, who are innocent, by blowing them up and causing general disruption and mayhem.
So, given similarities in the background of those Chaucerian times to those we are in now (as now written about in this blog), there seems to be a need to rediscover that mislaid truth in what lies between the stories then and now, and what binds them and us together. This includes mentioning about the purpose of the pilgrimage that the folks, telling the tales in Chaucer’s book, were supposedly on as much as highlighting the value of the interlude to the tales themselves.
Of course, in the telling, I have found and hope to share some new stories that resonate for our modern times from people you might find in the least expected places. I have referred to some of them in here.
So five years’ on, after retaking my own first trip in search and research of “Camelot”, I have pretty much forced myself to take the road I did not take - that of the one to Canterbury – and have now written that up too over the last few months, largely through this blog.
The truth learned from taking that road seems to be about finding the secret in each other that would help restore faith in who and what surrounds us enough to share and to care, as well as provide the wisdom and support to inspire us. I hope, when/if you get a chance to see the final product, that you will think the same too….
In any case, you now need to read BACKWARDS from this blog post, rewritten for the third time, in order to get an idea of the journey in trying to write the hard part of the story – about the road that I would perhaps rather have not taken, but perhaps was morally bound to (in some strange way).
I am from Sydney Australia, though originally born and raised in Wellington New Zealand. I am now living in West London, United Kingdom, with my wife who is Australian born and bred but with Irish and English heritage.
I first came to London in 1991, before I was married, on a two year working holiday visa. Without realising I’d ever be back after that two years, I endeavoured to make sure that I’d seen as much of the United Kingdom and Ireland as I possibly could, as well as then exploring parts of Europe with what time and money I could afford to spend, before travelling home over land in 1993 to Australia and New Zealand (my joint home countries).
This blog retraces just some of my first steps from 20 years before, as well as discoveries I’ve made since my return in 2003 seeing the UK with more mature eyes.