Seeing as I had not been able to get a booking at my first coaching inn in my last minute decision to follow up on my theory of the three days’ trip to Canterbury, I thought it was just going to be an ordinary “late room” that I was going to be staying in that night in the little village of Charlton slightly further to the east of Greenwich.
Having found my way there by Matt Nav – which is what I had renamed Google Maps on my iPhone to be in taking a selection of double deckers all the way from West London (and, OK if you really must know, the 36 to New Cross Gate, then the 122 to Greenwich and finally – after experimenting, a less interesting story in itself – the 286 to Charlton), I found myself outside the door of a house that appeared to be a mix of a bed and breakfast (or “B ‘n B” as they shorten it to here) and a small hotel. Maybe that’s why the owner had branded it as being “a villa”.
Still, when I came to knock on the door I immediately recognised a sign that marked it as being something more than that – and more in line with what liked or looked for by the other type of people that I had met back in 1991 on the road to Glastonbury, Tintagel and the site at Cadbury that is believed to possibly be “Camelot”.
That sign was a red tassled ornament at the top of the door, one I had seen on the doors of places I had stayed in when travelling through South East Asia in 1993, as well as got to know something about from mystical people I came to know when I finally got back in 1995 to what may now be my second home of Sydney, Australia.
The next marker to it being no ordinary UK establishment was the display of different shrines in the reception area
The third thing was the good lady owner herself, who immediately regaled me about having just had a Tarot card reading by her housekeeper as a way to gauge whether her fortune, in dealing with a difficult law suit, was likely to change. For it turned out that besides being the landlady of the establishment, Leeli is a lawyer – as well as an ex-model to boot.
Now I wonder what Chaucer would have made of such a woman back in his time, 700 years ago, on the same road to Canterbury.
One interesting thing I’ve discovered so far – in seeing how The Canterbury Tales relate in today’s world – is that, in medieval times, women were not denoted by their professions but largely by their marital status. That is, they were either single (known then as a spinster), married or a widow. The only exception is if they took holy orders and so became a nun, prioress or other holy profession – and, indeed, Chaucer has samples from these good ladies in The Tales.
Yet the tale told by the Wife of Bath shows how a woman could still manage to rise above her station in having independence in what was then solely a man’s world. That is not a problem at all now, of course: women are now largely free to do what they want to do work-wise – but then, 700 years ago, it did not seem to bother Chaucer to relate the story of the Wife of Bath, perhaps even hinting at the scope for more liberal values and ways for women to succeed – despite constraints that a male-dominated medieval society might place on them.
Certainly there was something very open and independent about Leeli in the evening and morning of the next day when I had the pleasure to talk to her more – but then let’s save that for a short blog later that alludes to The Lawyer’s Tale that I will write in the full book, at some stage in the near future (hopefully). For now, the idea is to find those places on the road, before coming back to find the people on them that help us along the way.
For now, all I will say is that my spirits were immediately raised in meeting someone who I could talk about what might be beyond the road that we immediately see before us – someone believing in the power of something that will help improve our fortunes, outside of our immediate powers of vision and control, but also being someone who still believes, in this modern mechanical, highly scientific and hi-tech day, that evil spirits can still be dispelled through organising one’s home in the right way and protecting them from coming in with the right sign above the door.
Certainly I slept well that night, without the need for the spa bath and the big screen TV to relax me – although it was nice to know they were there if I did need to.