Canterbury Tales

It’s been a while since my work has taken me somewhere with new photographic opportunities but that changed on Sunday, when five and a half hours behind the wheel brought me to Canterbury, home of the Anglican Church, and the site where the first Christian Mission to Britain was established in the 6th Century.APW_0420

APW_0331On a day when the news was full of Nigel Farage’s damage limitation in which he seemed to be saying “I’m not racist, I just don’t want Romanians and other Eastern and Southern Europeans flooding our country” it was ironic that I was in a location so linked to English tradition, yet established as a result of a missionary from Rome.

Strolling around the city I was reminded very much of York, with medieval defensive walls and gateways pierced by modern traffic flows, literally shambolic streets, a peppering of churches and a dominant cathedral. The clue that I was not so far north was in the building materials; York’s architecture lacks the flint that is commonplace here. (Is it mere coincidence that these two cities each have an Anglican Archbishop?)

I delight in walking streets that are full of stories and surprising views, where old public houses have not yet been abandoned (Britain’s oldest brewery is not so far away after all) and where modern branding is subservient to preservation, though for much of Canterbury that preservation is long overdue. The castle, the cathedral, St Augustine’s monastery and King’s School (possibly the country’s first) all have their share of crumbling masonry at hand.

There are some strange juxtapositions too; the magnificent Cathedral Gate amongst some upmarket retail and cafe options, the large artwork Bulkhead alongside the Dominican Priory where the Canterbury Pilgrims rested after their journey, the lodge opposite the cathedral and, amongst the historic riches, the modernity of the Marlowe Theatre.


Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe

A bronze representing the Canterbury-born playwright sits in genial pose by the river (which seems incongruous given his violent death)  gazing upon the Theatre that now bears his name. Much of the riverside has a suitably timeless feel; London’s Globe Theatre would perhaps sit here more comfortably than it does in the shadow of Tate Modern, but Kit Marlowe is denied such a view. He is condemned to the right angles, the glass, the steel, the concrete of modern functionality.

I’m sure The Marlowe is a great venue, but sitting here, with a gaudy van parked outside extolling a pantomime starring an actress from Eastenders; I can’t help but feel that we’ve failed the man who penned Tamburlaine the Great.

APW_0450There is one other character in my tale who remains unmentioned thus far; Thomas Becket, whose murder here in the 12th Century spawned the pilgrimages that brought wealth to Canterbury and, through Chaucer’s imaginings, literary wealth to generations to follow. Henry II’s enmity with his former friend Becket supposedly lead to the plea “Who will rid me of the troublesome priest?”

Made me think of Farage once again.


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Home At Last*

I know this super highway
This bright familiar sun
I guess that I’m the lucky one
Who wrote that tired sea song
Set on this peaceful shore
You think you’ve heard this one before

My work in Northamptonshire done, it was time to head north once more, and I arrived home just in time to take a short detour to reacquaint myself with the cliffs of South Tyneside bathed in low sunshine.

I seem to have timed my journey to avoid some serious rain for the roadsides are flooded, and car parks awash.  It did however give me the opportunity for another cliche-buster image of Souter Light so that was a nice bonus.

Preparing to leave the National Trust car park was a lady resplendent in a black hat that I knew would make a good portrait.  Patricia was a little concerned, “I always look gormless in photographs.”

I promised that she wouldn’t and as we talked she told me how much she enjoys photography, and that she had recently taken her Pentax to the monastery at Monte Cassino, site of many battles during its long history due to its strategic position overlooking one of the main routes to Rome.  Imagine her disappointment then to find that she had left her battery charger at home.

I’ve had a similar experience when on holiday in the Italian lakes, but was fortunate that other members of my family were better equipped.  In Patricia’s case another visitor to the monastery came to her rescue and has sent her his pictures.

Time to live up to my promise of not making her look gormless then.  It wasn’t too much of a challenge really; I see wit instead.

*Steely Dan – Home At Last

Cultural osmosis

Last week when I met the reluctant Mrs Postlethwaite, I was inspired to do some research into this very English sounding name.  I already suspected it wasn’t as “home grown” as it might seem, since way back in the mists of time I had a primary school teacher (Bernard Thwaites) who told me that thwait was a viking word for a clearing or a farmstead.

It turns out that Postlethwaite means Possel’s Farm or Apostle’s Farm, and historically refers to the location where the name’s bearer originates.  In the latter case Apostle’s Farm would detail a farm owned by one who had played an apostle in some medieval entertainment, rather than indicating an immigrant from the holy land.  Possel however is an Old English name.  Sounds OK on the face of it, however the language that we refer to as Old English was largely in use on the other side of the North Sea as Old Frisian, and is Germanic in origin.

Those people who rail against multiculturalism talk about it diluting our way of life, but what is “our way” if not an amalgam of words, customs and behaviours that have come to these shores through invasion, immigration and imperial expansion?  Consequently defending a culture or way of life is as meaningless as trying to preserve a specific section of water in a flowing river.  We can guide and influence the flow, but little more than that.

I was interested to hear Mary Beard speaking about culture in her new television series about the Romans.  Mortality rates in the city were high (malaria was common) so a constant influx of immigrants to the city was needed or it would cease to function.  Consequently the citizenry of Rome was far more than Italian (by which I mean born in places that we now consider to be Italy since there was no country of that name), it was Greek, Egyptian, Spanish, Germanic for example.  They spoke predominantly Latin or Greek, worshipped Roman gods (that had been assimilated from other cultures) and resented newer immigrants who didn’t do things the way they did!

It seems there is nothing new in human nature.

the Globe theatre
the Globe theatre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There has been a lot of publicity in recent days about a project being run as part of the World Shakespeare Festival (itself part of the 2012 Olympic and Diamond Jubilee celebrations).  The project is called Globe to Globe, and naturally enough is being performed at the Globe Theatre where over 6 weeks, 37 Shakespearean plays are being performed in 37 different languages.

This isn’t just a stunt – each play is being performed by a theatre group who already perform that work, so for example Arpana are performing “All’s Well That Ends Well” in their native Gujerati, and there are other companies performing in Swahili, Mandarin, Italian and Turkish to name but a few.  There’s even a Maori group who have incorporated a Haka.

One of the organisers of the event said that in her view we don’t own Shakespeare any more, he belongs to the world.  Isn’t that how culture should be?

Li Nan is a student at Sunderland University, where along with thousands of other overseas visitors she shares her cultural influences and absorbs those of others.  I’m not sure where her eye-wear idea originated though.  There are no lenses in those frames!