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Epilogue: The Magical and Mystical Mystery Tour

Before people went on pilgrimages to Canterbury to see the shrine of Saint Thomas a Beckett, they went on pilgrimages to Winchester – and the saint at the centre of that was Swithun

Lovely Laura, the jazz singer, reminded me about that over breakfast that day at Parsonage Farm and I realised that, by contrast with knowing about the murder of Saint Thomas a Beckett in The Cathedral and who as well as what led up to it, I knew nothing at all about Saint Swithun and the nature of pilgrimages around him. 

Canterbury Cathedral

So thinking it might have some relevance for understanding the pilgrimages of Chaucer’s day, and to distinguish the “Swithunian”  journey from those of the people I’d first met in 1991 taking either the Canterbury road or the one to “Camelot”, I thought I’d check out what he did, including what difference were in pilgrimages made to “experience his blessing” by contrast with the calling to Canterbury.  

Much to my surprise, by contrast to the more mindfully centered (and perhaps politically oriented) pilgrimages to Canterbury, the object of pilgrimages to Winchester seemed solely (if you’ll pardon the pun) about seeking hope or finding miracles. 

Indeed, from all accounts, more miracles were associated with Saint Swithun after his passing than from anything remarkable he seemed to have achieved in his lifetime.  Well, from all accounts I’ve read so far at least.  

Some pilgrims even seem to have come to Winchester due to something about Saint Swithun’s day (15th July) being seen as providing the long range weather forecast of the Dark Ages, as whatever weather prevails on that day can be expected to be the same for the next forty nights.  So it may well be that there were more practical reasons to pay homage to Saint Swithun’s remains – such as needing to know if there was going to be more rain to help things grow in a time of drought, or perhaps more sunshine and so need to conserve water.

As such, if pilgrimages to Winchester to see Saint Swithun’s remains are anything to go by, it was about seeking some influence over the wider wetter world (and much like one might use the WWW today to check out the weather forecast for the weekend, as if there was a way for it to be right).  In fact, some studies have shown there could have been some scientific basis for the observation of weather patterns to be right, due to how the cycles of the Gulf Stream works – and so the Saint Swithun’s weather pattern may even be more reliable than using a Web weather forecast. 😉

Whatever the case may be with the magic or miracles of Saint Swithun, clearly pilgrimages only became more personally and politically inspired after the Norman conquest of 1066.  Indeed, given the greater power over popular opinion shown through Saint Thomas’  martyrdom, I can see how King Henry VIII would have wanted to destroy the shrine of Saint Thomas to undermine any others with such aspirations. In fact, perhaps it was also why he chose to eat swan too, so he could symbolically show he was not afraid to take the step towards divorce  that was eschewed by the Catholic Church, given  it was known that swans mate for life.

So I can well understand how political motivation could be an acceptable reason for making a pilgrimage, as a quiet form of protest against the establishment (and interestingly by both Anglican and Catholic alike, as I understand it later turned out), however I find myself intrigued by the idea of people taking a pilgrimage for mystical reasons.

Indeed, mystical pilgrimages still happen today. I understand that people hold the same sorts of hopes for small miracles or revelations along the way to Santiago De Compostela (including my young Greek Cypriot barber I recently discovered). This is what drives some to take the full 800 km road over the Pyrennees from France and all the way across Spain to there  to follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Saint James, as the movie “The Way” shows that has recently been released here in the UK and Ireland. 

There are also similarities in this tour, so I understand, to how Australia’s Aboriginal peoples are, or were reputed to, “go walkabout” and are somehow able to find sacred places known only to their ancestors.  Certainly I was led to believe that from a story told to me by a young lady I met in Biarritz back in 2006, and who also told me that there are such trails all over Europe, not just in Spain.  The interesting thing was that this chance encounter, in itself, was made as part of tracing parts of the Camelot story to Brittany and other parts of Europe – where I was surprised to find they originate from, and rather than from SouthWest England as I had first thought way back in 1991.

From what I’ve read – and part understand now from my own experience, any such mystical journeys should not be taken lightly, and are not something you’d just do as an excuse for meeting some new people between seasons, and having a good holiday as we know it. Atoning for some sort of pennance, or having a personal if not spiritual reason for the journey is necessary, and ideally a higher or mystical calling – as is written about by Paolo Coelho in “The Pilgrimage” or “The Alchemist” and other books.

However, given the celebrity factor of people like Mr. Coelho taking such roads – and so embuing them with something more (like some go to see the set of the movie “Notting Hill” here in London’s Portobello Road), I am wondering whether some of those who now make the journey to Santiago de Compostela are perhaps less like those who made the journey to see Saint Swithun back in Anglo-Saxon days, but  are more like those who are obsessed with celebrity, and so making the journeys to places such as Graceland in the hope of meeting someone famous or finding something  from the reflected glory (hallelujah) of Elvis’ story.  

Paul Simon captures the grasp of Graceland beautifully in his song  Graceland <<link – have a listen on the previous link, and note the lyrics.

Hell’s bells, I may even go to Graceland myself some day – but just to see the glamour and feel the vibe of the late fifties and sixties, and recall some of the romance of that early rocky road. Would you come with me on that one? 😉

If so, thank you. Thank you very much. You’re beautiful. Maybe we can even find something romantic – if not spiritual – in that journey too, somewhere along the way….

Seriously though, the saints may well have been the spiritual celebrity of the Dark Ages day, just like Merlin, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were then and are perhaps even still now, however nowadays I feel it is famous people – and those seeking fame – that leads or takes us places, and not necessarily with fortune included.

Still, it’d be nice to think that there is really something magical, if not more, beyond the mere political and physical planes…..

Posted in Camelot, Canterbury, Pilgrimages, Winchester, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beyond The Sea – and Sky!

So from starting the journey over again after 3 years – thanks to the emergence of blogging to help me with it all – and recognising in the process how this blog in itself (and perhaps many others like it, as well as social media in general) perhaps marks the last days of the hand-written letter, I feel I’ve come a long way in only a few short months to getting closer to the crux of what the book should finally be about and do .

The aim has been to try out a new journey in both physical and allegorical travel that will help people to see further , beyond where the ocean meets the sky and spirits raised and erased , and on to an open and honest recognition of where we are at now politically and spiritually.  

This includes showing, by parallels with the times in which The Canterbury Tales was set, how perhaps we are echoing again some of the horrors from our darkest and earliest debt-driven days, where the truth behind that debt is perhaps not being told and there’s a need (once again) for a book of modern tales from the good people, such as those you meet on the road from “Camelot” to Canterbury, to set us straight as far as basic truths and values are concerned.

My belief is that it should be a book that entertains as much as it tries to educate or inform about who and what’s important, in what could truly be our darkest hour looking inward at what we have all done to ourselves and our planet.

The idea, tested through out this blog, is to show links between what was happening in the fourteenth century, and what it seems to me was really being said by The Canterbury Tales in those ancient times (or ought that be rhymes?). The message being something like:

 it’s often the jester whose joke is heard and message noted – 

over the wise man, whose good, hard and honest advice is spurned,

because it was not for him that they voted. 

Yet, now here’s the thing –

neither did they elect the king

OK, so perhaps this poem is a little courser, for indeed I am no Geoffrey Chaucer!!  Still, I hope you get the idea. 😉

So, here I am at the end of the Canterbury road, and wondering what my own personal tale from it all is – or will end up being.

An inkling of the answer to that perhaps came back in June, after entering the rather beautiful and ornate Canterbury West Railway Station with its Roman pillars at the entrance, when pondering where we could go next in this journey (or journeys) of tales with me old mate, Dave, who had come up to meet me at the end.

The rather beautiful and ornate Canterbury West Railway Station

It was just then that I looked up and saw this trail in the sky, seemingly heading towards the sickle moon that shone that night.

Blazing a new trail

Some even now, as much as once upon a time, would have called it a sign. For me, it was a ray of hope that there will always be new places, hardly ever or never seen, that we can strive to go and see – beyond the sky as much as the sea – and, above all, some good tales to be told on the roam, on the way there as much on the way back – and even to work what is that place called “home“. (OK, so maybe I’ll give up on the poem? 😉 )

However, it seem that it’s now what lies beyond “the sky” that piques our human interest, as what once did with what lay beyond the sea  , as I noted with how my plane or rocket seemed to fly on beyond the moon,  and just as the skies became an even darker blue

Beyond the Moon and The Sky Above Us

So maybe there’s some more parallel tales to be told, that lead up to that lunar-like flight, from others who sprang to mind on that warm June summer’s night. Such as ways to eco-enable, using experiences of diverse combinations of characters such as Saint James, Marco Polo and Clark Gable!

Still, hopefully we will not lose sight of the romance in that first lunar journey and the amazing steps that led to it, in our quest for an answer to eco-disaster – or simply the need for something higher.

After all, there will always be an answer from questing, but if there’s no love or joy to be had in’t – then what value does the quest really have?  Imagine how sad a love- or passion-less pilgrimage or quest would be!  Just listen to this, if you don’t believe me. 

So I hope to meet you there one day, beyond the moon and the sea, when all the questing is done and we can rest easy in the comfort of having done what we came here for or otherwise knowing why.

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The Jazz Singer and her Husband’s Tale

Music means so much to me.  Next to travel, it is the thing that keeps me going when I am stuck “in some unforgiving place“, perhaps far away from where I want to be.

It is amazing how different kinds of music can affect you though: either raise you up or bring you down.

Jazz and Blues are like the chalk and cheese of the music world in that way – yet it is surprising how often some people refer to the two of them in the same breath, as if they are interchangeable.

For me, it is probably better to say that the difference from one to the other is like trying to contrast the difference between saints and sinners. 

Jazz is very much for those inclined to follow a saint somewhere, perhaps without even realising they are, until they arrive at their destination – and are (somehow) happier, and even relieved, for it.

Whereas Blues, or The Blues (to get it right), is very much about knowing where you are – and perhaps not being able to escape it, but (what the hell) “that’s the way it is and ah’m gonna SING about it! Ya hear?  Dee-Dee Dee Dum, my baby she left me…(and so on it goes)”

Big Mamma's Door - One of the Best Ladies singing The Blues around London - At Round Midnight, Islington

Swing, of course, is for those somewhere in between – like Paloma Faith’s “Upside Down” number that I have linked above, just so you get the idea, and it can be marmite or vegemite (and the choice of which then largely depends upon whether you are from “Up Over” or “Down Under” in the planetary taste of things)

I was very much reminded about these contrasts, in a way I never really realised I knew, when I met Laura Collins that day over breakfast at (I kid you not name-wise) Parsonage Farm, that little B & B we stayed in down in Somerset over the August 2011 bank holiday weekend. 

Parsonage Farm, B & B, Over Stowey, Somerset

Perhaps it was not surprising then that Laura captured my other half in conversation over the breakfast table with all the energy and passion for her art. While I had a sombre – more Blues-like convo – with her husband Mark, the good doctor mentioned in my previous post.

Yet, without both her and Mark, perhaps I would not have come to the final point of revelation about the contrasting and subtly beautiful balance between the two sets of people I met on the road. One set who are very much the realists on the road to Canterbury, and the others very much idealists on the road to “Camelot” (which is somewhere near Glastonbury, surely?! 😉 ).

Somehow the two manage to co-exist with an equal share of   romance about not only their respective roads but about the country they live in – and can still manage to meet happily at the crossroads to exchange thoughts and ideas.

Indeed, that is like Laura and Mark themselves really. Without a doubt like the significant swans they are, you can see it will be a lifelong conversation of light and dark contrasts – sometimes uplifting, and other times grounding, but always ending up meeting somewhere in the middle.

So if Jazz and The Blues were to be personified and get married, then these two are probably not far off being examples of what that’d be like.

In relation to the Chaucer of old though, these two also represent how the tables have come to be turned upside down with how women can now happily be seen and introduced through their profession as much as men can be, which was not the case in medieval times – as reflected in the titles of tales told by women in The Canterbury Tales, where the women are known by their marital status only.

So I feel some credit needs to be given, when I come to write my story of The Road from Camelot to Canterbury, about how far we have come from only being able to see damsels as being in distress (which Chaucer does challenge just a little with “The Wife of Bath’s Tale“) to the times we are in now, when a lady can very much sing for her supper.

In the case of one Laura Collins, from somewhere in The Midlands, she definitely can sing the jazz. So never fear, Paloma, there’s another angel in town to help you get things swinging – but, by contrast to you, just more likely to jazz it up a little.

Take it away, Laura! 😉

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To Kill a Swan

What inspires or forces people to do something that they would not ordinarily do – or even to make the choice to do it? 

This was the thought that occurred to me, just when I had thought that the blogging side to my journey down that Canterbury road had ended, and as I found myself (physically) back along what now seems to be the quiet and peaceful end of the road – namely the one where I first followed those modern day mystics to, on the road to “Camelot”.

The question occurred to me after a discussion over breakfast with a young couple staying at the same B & B as me in Over Stowey, Somerset, over the August 2011 bank holiday weekend.

The conversation began, as many do, through asking about what work each of us do.  She is an aspiring jazz singer and he is a young doctor assisting in liver transplant surgery.

Somehow we came to talking about doing things that might perhaps seem out of character and/or we may not otherwise have done, if it were not for something that has happened in our life to make us consider changing tack. 

Of course, that included talking about me taking this road to Canterbury out of curiousity to see what I may have missed in my first ever trip here in the UK, and sharing  some of the quirky things discovered along the way that has echoes even now in the modern day from the English culture and heritage of medieval times (such as similarities between The Peasant’s Revolt and the recent London and Birmingham riots).

The expression “to kill a swan” came up as a way I could describe taking a radical step that might put one’s whole life on the line in making radical changes from taking a new path. Laura, the aspiring jazz singer, made me realise this through mentioning about an ancient law that made it an act of treason to kill a swan here in England (and I later found that while that law was made in 1186, it was only just repealed in 1998!). Indeed, it is still necessary to ask the Queen’s  permission to kill a swan  

Swan on East Looe River, Cornwall, July 2011

Interestingly, her doctor husband Mark’s work has led him to considering something like that, as he faces a decision over life or death every week in considering the potential injustice of who is next on the list to receive a liver transplant. The ethical dilemma is that he is not able to choose between someone next on the list, who perhaps has not taken care of themselves and their liver and so will need another transplant again in a few years, over someone not receiving one who perhaps does deserve it due to being otherwise healthy and having the ability, as much as a right, to live a longer and happier life from receiving it.

So where is the right or statute to save that “swan” over the perhaps perennial “ugly duckling”? 

Still, the fact that you can have a law preventing the killing of swans and not one to be fair in saving the lives of people, who perhaps deserve to be saved – but not for the stroke of a bureacrat’s pen, is just one of the many quirks you discover about the English culture.

Whatever your view on it why that is – such as it possibly being tied up with a disaffected nostalgia for its laws of old in the absence of a constitution – it is the sort of thing you will most likely only learn if you take the time to stop and talk to those you meet along the roads who have the knowledge of such things and are prepared to share it.

A good British B & B  still seems to be one of the good types of places left where you can meet such good people, as Chaucer did all those centuries ago in coaching inns, and have these sorts of chats – and happily it can be experienced at both ends of the road as I have discovered this time around on the road from Camelot to Canterbury and back.

Doorway to The Secret Garden, at the B & B in Somerset

B & B and garden

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The Truth Be Told

The drive for me to write Matt’s tale essentially began on 7/7/2005 when the bombs went off around London, which led to a chance encounter and a discussion about appreciating others and being able to enjoy a good conversation – and perhaps how much value can be gained for building a good relationship from simply sharing a story to entertain as much as inform or educate.

This was in stark contrast to the disastrous events of that day – but then maybe not, given those events occurred due to a few people having so little care at all for others that they felt they could take their lives without any understanding whatsoever about what their victims believed in – including whether those innocents might have had some sympathy for their cause, if only they were given a chance to hear about it and discuss why there is a need for violence against them in order to be heard.

So it is perhaps poignant that this penultimate blog post of Matt’s Tale is written and published on 9th September, 2011 – the tenth anniversary of “9/11” – when ordinary people were united, in adversity, in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania as a result of a horrific catastrophe arising from a group’s desire to take not only their own lives but thousands of others in the name of a cause that many will never understand or appreciate.  

The stories told of the heroism on that day, from the firefighters on the ground in New York to the passengers on the flight that overcame the hijackers, are what I believe help us to cope with the enormity of the horror of it – and tell us about how we should feel and respond to such terror. Saying nothing at all, and seeking to take violent revenge against people who most likely have had nothing to do with any wrongs done – perceived or otherwise – can never be accepted, as that is what I believe makes for the DNA of a terrorist or vigilante.

Although it is only one man who was a victim of such terror, there is perhaps a similar connection with the people coming together on the pilgrimages to Canterbury, in recognising how unfair it was for anyone – let alone knights of the realm – to take a man’s life for simply standing up for his beliefs, and irrespective of whether the knights’ cause in supporting the king and his constitution was right or not in seeking to exert one rule of law across the land. At least in medieval times, the king was ultimately made to feel remorse for what happened there in Canterbury Cathedral that day in 1170, where Thomas a Beckett was murdered for refusing to concede to the king’s cause.

However such remorse is not shown today, where the leaders of the Al Qaeda cause that drove their followers to undertake such barbaric acts, showed none whatsoever for all of the innocent lives being taken. It is also perverse that their idea of a martyr is/was one who takes the lives of others,  instead of being one prepared to give up their life – without harming others – so that others can live in freedom from hunger, poverty or oppression.   

So let’s hope in the wake of such oppressors and their horrors, including what we have just experienced in London, Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK with the riots, that we can find a way to reach a greater understanding and respect for one another, as well as rise above these acts of terror and violence to find ways to mete out justice rather than vengeance. At the very least, we need to let people not be afraid to tell their stories or otherwise listen with care and respect to the stories of others. 

Certainly I am grateful now for having taken this road at the start of June for helping to appreciate such things (even if it is only in reading up and writing up afterwards). It is this that has helped me to understand and cope with not only living through the London riots that have followed, and awareness of the possible effects of another recession even worse than the first one, but also understand and care about what I am hearing and experiencing about how some people are being treated in the workplace now that is not right or fair – and perhaps may need to told and talked about soon before it is too late for them and the businesses themselves that are being adversely impacted by it.

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Coming to Canterbury

The Walls Around Canterbury - Last stretch of The Road

It was with mixed feelings that I finally found my way to Canterbury, following a double decker in, and rather than on one. 
 
Still, I had managed to move on from the quirky romance of only going by double decker bus, as providing an irregular and low cost way to go on a three day literary retreat (of sorts), to the realisation of it being a chance to discover something more about the cultural roots of this country I now live in, through the unique people I have chanced to meet along the way in such a short space of time as well as from those I’ve met in the lead-up to the trip.
 
I think it restored my faith somewhat, as perhaps it did for Geoffrey Chaucer too – way back in the fourteenth century, to realise that what you learn on a journey like this, or indeed a pilgrimage, does not have to be based on getting to the destination, nor necessarily involve you knowing everything in detail about the saint whose remains you are going to visit at the end of it (as my next, and possibly last blog post of Matt’s Tale, will tell about).  
 
Rather, it is the value of the truth you gain from the people you meet along the way (or even the coincidence of who you meet once you have it in mind to take the journey), and what those truths or people help you to realise about yourself. This can teach you as much about how to live better somewhere, as well as generally how or what to live for, without any religion or politics necessarily being needed at all. 
 

The Hole in The Wall - Entering Canterbury

So, as I passed through that hole in the Canterbury city wall, which is barely high enough to let a big bus through (and perhaps not unlike the one that camels had difficulty with in that gateway to Jerusalem) , I realised a lot about truths I had learned in twenty years of going away and coming back again to finally take this road. 
 
The one that stands out is that “an embarrassment of riches cannot help you over the value of having a few good friends to confide in and hear your tales of good fortune as much as your ones of woe” – although, sadly, how or who I know this truth from, I cannot say (and I tried googling it to no avail). Yet that truth seemed to now be the one that called out and meant the most to me, as I left that bus behind me and headed down to the last stop on my little tour.
 
Also, as I was starting to realise about whether that is the quintessential truth from five years of wondering about who as well as what’s important to me, and wandering to find out about that (which would be called “going walkabout” in Australia), I also started to realise what had brought me back – not just to this place – but to England itself. 
 

Last Bus Stop and Last Bus, a mix of blue and red, on The Road to Canterbury

 It has not been just coming back to discover my roots, as some are wont and keen to do, nor  simply to have another working holiday overseas (like I first did back in 1991 to ’93), but to truly discover something about this place that has had so much to do with the establishment of not only the country I was originally born in (New Zealand), but also my newly adopted home of Australia too.
 
For this country, England – whether I choose to love it or hate it – is what has  provided the connection in common with people I have met on the bigger and longer roads I have taken later too, and so allowed me to be united in a common culture (of sorts) with people in Africa, America, Canada, the Middle East, Pakistan, South Africa and parts of South East Asia. 
 
Yet the irony, I guess, is how little is really known about the English “people” themselves – despite it/them having been renowned throughout recent history to want to know so much about everyone and everywhere else as part of either exploring or building The Empire (and, latterly, Commonwealth) – and even daring to seek to classify “us”, as if we are so different to “them”, as Africans, Americans, Asians and Antipodeans. 
 

The Miller's Arms, my last stop along the road to Canterbury

So there was a certain poignancy with choice of my final meeting place, and the person I was to meet there.  It is called The Miller’s Arms, where each room has a name connected with The Canterbury Tales (as well as the pub’s name even being seen to be tentatively connected with one of the best known tales) – and so the first book printed in English – as well as, moreover, it being a former coaching inn.

Perhaps most important though, was that it was Dave I had arranged to meet. He being the British person I’d first met at a conference on that fateful day, 7/07/2005, when unable to escape the Isle of Dogs due to terrorists’ bombs having gone off around London – and so had had to stay there, leading to the conversation about the connection between meeting good people through telling stories with English popular culture and history.  This included acknowledging how nice – if not important – such storytelling can be, over either a nice cake and a cuppa tea, or perhaps something a little stronger (except having the latter, just a little later in the day).

Watch out for the old Mill race!!

Yet, perhaps ironically, even Dave himself is not fully “English” – as his mother is Welsh, and so perhaps “British” is best to describe him. Few of the people I met along this road were, as quite a few clearly had roots elsewhere or a mixed heritage (just from the look of them, or sound of their accent).  Indeed, along this and the alternative “Camelot” road,  I was left with the question of exactly how to collectively define who I had met along this road – or many of the roads that I travelled along in Southern England for that matter, be it people interested in the mystical road to Camelot, or this one, the very physical and recognisable destination of Canterbury. 

Then again, knowing people’s nationality or origin was not one of the things that first occurred to me when I met them – as much as what had brought them to be there, in that same place, like me.  That always seemed to be the start to a good conversation and, more often than not, a new friendship or two too. 

Punting on the Old Millstream

Posted in Australia, Canterbury, Chaucer, Jerusalem, Pilgrimages, Travel, World | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Little Less Conversation?

It seems to me, from my return to these English roads less travelled, that there are less and less places where you can meet  travellers.

The charm for me, back in the day, was in being able to compare notes on a place, have a good conversation, and perhaps even hook up to go see a few things together.  

If anything, we are ever more reliant on the Internet to discover who to go with, as much as where to go – however the often impersonal structure of the sites to do that, and the difference between the online and the actual persona of the people you meet on there, does not always guarantee a match-up to what and who you are seeking (but, hey, now we are getting into a discussion which ties in with my day job in challenging that – and ideally seeking to improve the experience of it).   

It’s more than just use of the Internet that is putting a stop to travellers meeting and conversing in person though, as I discovered when I headed down to The Rochester Bar to watch the young locals mixing.

I was heading to The Rochester to get an idea of what the Royal Victoria and Bull would have been like, as mentioned in my previous blog post, as it is supposedly connected with it from the sign on the door of the old hotel. 

The first thing that struck me, as I got in the door, was that the pub was playing current pop numbers too loud for anyone to speak, let alone be heard.  This probably explains why there was a lot of people milling around, either texting on their Blackberries or iPhones – despite being amongst a group of people, or showing others what they had texted as a way of sharing something that could not otherwise be spoken.

It was also curious to note that, apart from the greeting when they recognise someone they know, there was hardly any chat going on at all anyway.  It seems that it is more  just a question of coming in and sitting down (or hanging around the bar), and hoping to be seen by somebody – with drinks being bought and passed around.

There was something about the way that the crowd behaved at this place that reminded me of a “Life on Earth” episode on TV  where Sir David Attenborough observes the culture and behaviour of mountain gorillas in Rwanda.  Indeed, in close approximation to that at one stage, an incident broke out where the security guys chased one guy out who had challenged the equivalent of the dominant silverback there with his ladies. The pack leader had pushed the guy away from foisting his attentions on one of the girls – and then the incident happened when the jilted guy took a swing at him, and was fended off, which eventually led to him pulling a knife to get back at him. It was at this point that the security guys got involved and succeeded in chasing the offender out of the club.

The interesting thing was that, when it quietened down later (as when they were about to close, they turned the music off), I remarked to the young twenty something door supervisor (aka “bouncer”) about the nature of the incident – and this led on to a discussion about the general lack of conversation I’d noted, as well as how a good chat – and hearing a good story – used to be a large part of what I liked about going into pubs around England.  I also gave him an idea of some of the people I’d met through those chats, and where they had led me to in discovering the country and its culture – as well as now to an interest in writing about it.  

The guy said he would like to see something said and written about how simply to get young guys to even chat at all nowadays, rather than fight – even if it is like how they now have rap contests in some places to fend off aggression rather than play it out.

We probably chatted for no more than 15 minutes or so, but the guy was nice enough to say that the conversation we had just had was really good  – and the first decent one he had had like that in his four years working there. If his comment is genuine, then how sad is that?

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A Right Royal Mess

In search of what, I was no longer sure, but before leaving Rochester, I had one stop-off to check out. That was to compare the coaching inn there that shares the same name as the one in Dartford (The Royal Victoria and Bull), so I could see if there are any parallels that could be drawn between them in terms of visitors stopping off there on the way to Canterbury – or simply people meeting to share and compare stories, let alone tales. 

The Royal Victoria and Bull, Rochester

Is it irrational, or could it genuinely be a hunch, but I felt I had to see this other place that had been renamed after a visit by Queen Victoria – as she had reputedly stayed in both places, one of them in the year before her coronation and one in the year after – and they had changed their names as a result of each respective visit. Yet I’ve not been able to find a reason why she went to either place as yet (but wouldn’t it be great if it was something to do with making a Royal pilgrimage to Canterbury?)

It seems that the council had got there to see the one in Rochester first, however, as the hotel was shut down – and a mix of reports I’ve found on Trip Advisor fairly much confirms why:  too much noise at night, a smell of dank/stale air, lack of cleanliness of the rooms and generally poor customer service that couldn’t care less.

The telltale sign on the door of the hotel

For a city that takes other aspects of its heritage seriously with support for Charles Dickens and his stories, I was surprised that this heritage listed building has been left to go to rack and ruin – especially given its connection to the monarch of the period that Dickens wrote in, and which the city had just feted.

Added to that, Swank, the new night club that they had put in next door to it, seems to not fit at all with the spirit of the place. 

Indeed, there seems to be a few ironic parallels in this discovery in line with happened to the Youth Hostel at the Old Mill in Winchester, where I had first met the travellers heading in either direction in 1991, as I found that one end of that had been turned into a Pizza Hut and the character-filled Youth Hostel is no longer there when I returned in 2006.  That said, some of Winchester’s tenuous links to Camelot have since been dispelled as romantic fiction tied up with Sir Thomas Malory’s “Morte d’arthur” – and not the real legend – and so there’s less to attract people to the poorly constructed mock-up of The Great Hall and Round Table there.

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Caught Out In Getting To Canterbury

Computer says “No”, was pretty much the answer that I got from the Tourist Information Centre at Rochester about buses that go from there to Canterbury.  They couldn’t even tell me where to connect at all to get there. 

I am glad that I never tried this self-same road back in 1991 then, as I would have been stuck – but then I never had the idea to try and travel anywhere and everywhere by bus back then either.  So it was thanks to a very helpful lady in reception at The Gordon Hotel, who seemed keen to test out the powers of the Internet there with me, that we managed to figure a way out.

For the record – in case anyone else is keen to try this way (although perhaps wait until the book and I will let you into Chaucer’s little secrets on the genuine way to go, as well as telling you why they were possibly secrets too) – the way to get to Canterbury by bus from Rochester is as follows:

  • No. 41 Arriva bus to Chatham, then go to Bay 17 
  • No 101 to Maidstone. Then, once at Maidstone, go to Bay H3 and take
  • No.  333 to Faversham
  • At Faversham you can pick up Stagecoach buses that will then take you on to Canterbury, but bear in mind that they are back around the corner, next to the supermarket, from where the Arriva bus drops you off

    The Medieval Market at Faversham, across from where the bus picks up to go to Canterbury

The South East services section of the Arriva web-site is the one to look at. The following search helped me find the places to get to:  http://www.arrivabus.co.uk/ServiceSearchResults.aspx?regid=1737&txt=Rochester 

The Stagecoach Bus site is a little more straightforward to follow in being able to pick destinations, however it is critical to make sure that it is not a timetable for a school bus and that the timetable actually includes both Faversham and Canterbury on its routes.

I managed to get a bus that got me to Chatham at 1pm and then one to Maidstone at 1.35pm.  However there was quite a wait for buses to get me from Faversham to Canterbury – enough to explore Faversham though. There I found a coaching inn, and one that confirmed what I had discovered about Henry VIII clearing the route up for the Royal way to Canterbury as well as to his fleet and Medway ports in general. It was written on the sign over the door.

Coaching Inn at Faversham

So, taking the detour to Rochester is certainly not the route to follow if wanting to stay true to how Chaucer’s pilgrims would have got there – nor any other for that matter (which is what I will explore more in the book) – but the key thing is to know what or who you might be looking and hoping to meet or find along the way, as much as what you will discover when you get there. 

From taking the Canterbury road of the present day (largely driven by King Henry VIII), I was getting an insight into politics of the Middle Ages as well as Tudor periods and how they, as much as the Kings and Bishops that came later, shaped England before it became part of the United Kingdom under James I.   

One thing I will say, from a pure municipal perspective, is that I found it interesting how services to support “Medway towns” are quite distinct from that of other parts of Kent. There are also several signposts along the way, the moment you leave Maidstone, that indicate you are in a completely different part of Kent from that associated with port towns tied in with The Medway.  

However this is something I had discovered when I got to Dartford too, and tied in with what I had already suspected as shying away from the Monarch’s Road to Canterbury – down to there being suspiciously two Royal Victoria and Bull coaching inns, with one at Dartford and one at Rochester (and possibly much like the shell game of old, leaving the chooser to try and figure out which one is real).  Yet only one of those is the real McCoy as far as having the feeling of a place where pilgrims might meet, and it became very clear to me which one it was from the late night out in Rochester.

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