I’m from the Seattle area. When I think of old buildings, the late 1800’s comes to mind. Here in Canterbury, that would be considered somewhat recent. There is newer construction in Canterbury, of course. Most of it would be outside the old city, or if it is inside the city it is post-war rebuilding after bombing raids destroyed certain areas.
One bit of brand new construction is the Marlowe Theatre. It has been totally redesigned and is under construction now. All but the fly tower, where the backdrops are raised and lowered, has been demolished. That was the one part of the theatre everyone wanted gone. But then it wouldn’t be much of a theatre, would it? Oh, well. A huge crane seems permanently parked at the site and there is an odd lack of activity at times (ah, a neologism? Lacktivity?). The Marlowe is a Canterbury landmark, and those familiar with literature will recognize the name. The Marlowe is named after the town’s literary star, Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of the great Elizabethan writer, whats-his-name.
Folks here affectionately referred to the old Marlowe as the ugliest building in Canterbury. The men that lead the boat tours on the River Stour, which flows right through the town, are not shy about saying it as they approach the building site. I’ve heard the people in the boats laugh at this comment. Everyone has a building in their own town they feel that way about, right?
It’s an odd feeling walking through Canterbury. First, it’s confusing. It’s a medieval mess of narrow streets. Town planning wasn’t a big thing then, I’m told. Need a road? Just put it here. Needs must. Second, it feels odd because it’s so old. I look around at the buildings, some still straight as an arrow, others sort of leaning a bit (you’d be tired, too, if you were nine-hundred years old), and I wonder how many generations have lived and worked here. How many births and deaths? How many triumphs and frustrations? How much faith, how much doubt? How many of the businesses catered to the Christian pilgrims who came to witness the site of St. Thomas’s martyrdom? What did the locals think of all the pilgrims?
I say it feels odd, but it’s also sort of comforting. I like the way the buildings seem to lean in a bit to the street, especially on the narrow lanes. There’s something quiet and settled about that. The people come and go through the centuries; the buildings remain neighbours. They fit together. They hold the history, the smallest vibrations of the past, the footsteps, the laughter, the sighs. It’s all there.
No doubt you’re wondering if I’ve found the local Starbucks yet. Well, folks, it’s right next to the main entrance into the cathedral.
Christians need caffeine, too, you know. The other Starbucks is on the high street (there had to be another one, didn’t there?) I can tell you it was only just the other day I enjoyed a fine coffee beverage there. Decaf, of course. It was just as good as any Starbucks. (Um, what is she trying to say here?) They really are all the same. As much fun as I like to have at their expense, the continuity is a good thing, I think. If I ever get homesick for something that seems like Seattle (or Mukilteo, or Spokane, or Los Angeles, or even somewhere I’ve never been), I know where to go. It is good people-watching in that square outside of Starbucks. The kids come and hang out after school, to include a young skinny emo guy who plays his guitar and sings. His peers toss spare change into his pack as do some tourists. He earns his own pocket money it seems. Good lad. There was also a guy wandering around the other day who was blindfolded and had big microphones strapped to each hand and seemed to be listening through an earpiece. He had a minder who was taking notes. I dearly wish I had asked what was going on. Most everyone pretended not to notice him.
I’m told this response is very British. Apparently you could walk around the streets of London in a fluffy pink pig suit and no one would seem to notice you. Well, that’s London. But you could wear the same fluffy pink pig suit on the streets of any little village and I bet no one would blink. What do they say behind closed doors, I wonder. Hello, darling, I’m home. There’s someone dressed as a dirty great pig in the square. What’s for tea?
I have a favourite pub (or two or three) in Canterbury. The Hobgoblin is a fine pub, very rock and roll friendly unlike most of the others. It reminds me a little bit of Seattle. Mostly a younger crowd but very mellow. The brewery which does Hobgoblin Ale does other ones, too, like The Dog’s Bollocks. But that’s a seasonal ale…naturally.
Another nice pub is The Thomas Becket. I’m pretty sure the original Thomas Becket didn’t own a pub. He was far too busy getting his head chopped off at the Cathedral just down the road. It’s a nice place and I suppose some tourists stumble in but it does seem like a locals pub. I met a gentleman in there the other day who was 87 and had stormed the beach at Normandy. I thanked him, of course. One of the things I like about that pub is that they hang hops vines over the ceiling beams. This, my partner informs me, is a bit of a tradition in pubs.
The pub we’d likely consider our local is just around the corner and down the street a bit. It’s called The Unicorn. This one seems to be mostly locals. It’s currently owned by a friendly South African bloke. I’m told a certain hunky star who hails from Canterbury has been seen, and most importantly not bothered, in the pub; whereas, if he goes to the touristy places in the old part of town, he’s mobbed.
Whenever I need peace and quiet, I step into the church on the corner, St. Dunstan’s. Even though it is on an extremely busy corner and there is nearly always traffic, once you step inside, all of that goes away. It’s incredibly still. Yes, the walls are very thick and that does account for part of the quiet, but there is something else at work there. A thousand years of worship, I think, have made it quiet and peaceful. A thousand years. Imagine.
St. Dunstan's Bell Tower
Inside St. Dunstan's
Window in St. Dunstan's. The guy in the middle looks familiar...