The last two weeks have been some of the most surreal of my life, culminating in the moment shown below:
It began one early morning in my beautiful home city of York, anxiously awaiting a photographer outside the Minster. This would be the final cathedral-lick in England: no.42 on the list and one left until last, mainly for purely symbolic reasons. A couple of months before this situation had seemed an impossible and unobtainable goal. But somehow it had been reached, thanks to a little determination and the kindness and generosity of many good people. Mad dashes to Leicester, Southwell, Lincoln, Exeter, Truro, Chester, Liverpool and Carlisle (all of which will be described here soon) had all been completed successfully, and now the press wanted to witness the last English lick, and with it a bizarre milestone.
The original plan of course was for this to be the day that the bet’s loser should do the dreaded streak, although a lot had happened over the previous 13 months that had changed everything. Adam was far, far away and very much clothed, and no human shield around the building was in sight, unless you count the small huddles of bored Dutch and German teenagers lounging on the steps outside. Thank goodness things had turned out the way they had, otherwise it would have been naked flesh adorning the papers.
I still would not have put it past Adam to have arranged something dastardly to hinder me on this penultimate day of the challenge. To me every car that drove past concealed a gunman or a rabble of thugs ready to bundle me into the boot. Every passer-by had a poisoned dart and blowpipe ready for when I turned my back. An old man hobbled past with a stick that I was certain concealed a blade of some kind, and when he had done me in his rubbery mask would be peeled back to reveal the laughing face of my nemesis: Drury.
My dad (who had joined me for this momentous occasion) sensed my nerves and suggested that we get the lick over and done with and in secret. As he often does, he spoke wise words. The last, official English cathedral-lick was a modest affair but a triumphant one, witnessed by just ourselves and the pigeons. By now we both knew the drill: find a decent sign, take up position and lick. This was quickly done and celebrated with a mutual clenching of fists and high-fives that went largely unnoticed. The task was done (in England at least) and it felt like a great burden had been partially lifted from my shoulders. The Minster tasted good, really good.
In our jollity we captured another photo of me in the guise of a licking Godzilla, leering over a model of the Minster. When Doug the photographer arrived we showed him the result. He was delighted and insisted on trying something similar with his bigger, flashier camera.
So began a series of tourist-baffling poses in perhaps the strangest photo shoot of all time. My tongue (unsurprisingly) was the star of the show and took up most of room in the many pictures captured by Doug. It soon resembled sandpaper after the amount of stone it came into contact with. All sorts of conflicting thoughts flashed through my head at this point, mainly ones questioning my own sanity. My poor dad, I kept thinking, what must he make of it all? He was happy enough though, taking photos of his own and cracking jokes. He has always backed me up and has fully embraced this licking lark.
Perhaps my favourite photo of the day (which hopefully Doug will be able to provide) involved a poor family from Norwich, who Doug persuaded to stand in the background of one picture, looking on and pointing in baffled disapproval. If they are reading this then please accept my apologies for ruining your holiday.
Just over a week later the story was in The Sun (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4392312/Lawrence-Edmonds-cathedral-licking-tour-of-England.html). Texts from friends and family began pouring in before I had even seen the paper, which to my surprise and alarm took up a whole page! My face, my gurning ugly face was all across the country and the internet and at the mercy of the baying masses. What if the Queen saw it?! Quite why she would, or why this thought alarmed me so much is unclear, but it struck the fear of God into me. Speaking of which, what did God think? Does he read The Sun? Even if he does he must have been aware of the bet, seeing as I had taken the trouble to go and lick 42 of his houses. Would he strike me down somehow? I expected a lightning bolt to tear through me at any moment, but then realised that I had confused him with Zeus. Oh crap, what if he had got wind of it and was pissed off too? He definitely read The Sun, the horny bastard. So passed an anxious day.
By the following afternoon things seemed to have calmed down, much to my relief. That was until the work telephone rang.
“Hello Lawrence, this is the Church Times.”
This made me almost drop the phone. God was pissed off! Thankfully though they thought the whole thing was a great laugh and wanted to learn more. This was a huge relief and was an excellent chance to underline that fact that I am not some kind of church pervert but do actually care about and appreciate the places I have licked. You can read their excellent article here: http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2012/29-june/news/uk/man-has-42-english-cathedrals-licked
More calls arrived that day, from national and regional papers, radio stations and TV news.
“Give us a few words on Lincoln Cathedral” one of them begged. “What does your girlfriend think of it all?” smirked another. The story made the news in Taiwan, Croatia and Hungary. Christian chat online forums were alive with discussion. One wonderful person wrote “I’m not sure what germs he picked up from all that stone, but I sure hope he found Jesus, too!”
It was all good-natured stuff from curious observers and slowly I began to think that maybe I hadn’t ruined my life after all. A highly enjoyable interview with Radio York and an article in YorkMix (http://www.yorkmix.com/people/yorks-cathedral-licker-sets-tongues-wagging/) confirmed this. If my own city had rejected me then it would have all been over.
A few more days passed and the story seemed to have run its course. However, little did I know that just a few hundred yards away from where I work a debate was in full swing inside the House of Lords on the plight of English cathedrals:
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara:
“Somehow cathedrals seem to attract people to visit them. We have agreed that there are 42 of them. I happened in my research to come across a story in the Sun newspaper recently about an English Heritage worker who has visited all 42 of England’s Anglican cathedrals and licked every one. He now plans to carry on licking in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. He said:
“We’ve no idea why the bet was centred on licking cathedrals-it just was. I’ve tasted a lot of new places”.
A distinct guffaw was audible from one corner of the House, which warmed my heart immeasurably. One can only hope that they came from the bishops of Worcester and Birmingham, who were both present. I had not been able to give their cathedrals the time and attention they both deserve; I do hope they will forgive me for that (and for licking their cathedrals as well).
So, now Westminster was aware of what I was up to. The government – of the United Kingdom – knows everything. The bloody government. The Queen had to know by now too. I tried hard to think clearly after this bombshell had been dropped, but my thoughts were drowned out by imaginary mob shouts of “Send him to the Tower!” Guy Fawkes (a fellow man of York) had been executed close to my workplace too, which was a dire omen.
You must forgive my paranoia – I was convinced my head would be on a spike on London Bridge my nightfall. But then, had my actions really been that awful? The mere fact that my quest had been mentioned in such a significant debate had to mean something. As the lords and bishops described the troubles of England’s cathedrals, highlighting falling attendances and dwindling revenues, my foolhardy licking quest had raised a smile or two and made a few people laugh. The next day it would be forgotten, but at the time I hope that it gave those present some heart that there are people out there that love our cathedrals. I might have a strange way of showing it, but I really do.