I had made some very grand cathedral plans for the Christmas holidays home in York, perhaps too grand. The rest of the Yorkshire holy houses – namely Bradford, Sheffield, Wakefield and Ripon- were all to be licked off the list with a festive flourish, and there were even whispers of forays up to Newcastle and down to Southwell. Regrettably, due to a mixture of my own disorganised self and a lack of transport (plus a huge bottle of mead), none of this came to pass.
It wasn’t until Christmas Day itself, when my gaze fell upon a wonderful new 2012 calendar (which fittingly contained images of England’s cathedral cities) that I was stirred into action. The very first page of it sent an sickening reminder that the bet was almost a year old and that my licking adventures were badly behind schedule. Taking a stiff drink to steady my nerves, a plan was swiftly made.
There were few windows of opportunity in those damp December days, as I soon had to return to London for a couple of days of work. In between my duties at the Jewel Tower however, a free day presented itself and it was to Chelmsford that I made my merry licking way that New Year’s Eve Eve.
After a largely uneventful journey, during which the train sped past the over-growing Olympic Stadium, Chelmsford was reached in next to no time. Given the ease of the trip I wondered why it had taken me so long to make it out here. My heart rejoiced at being able to tick off another cathedral, but sank once more at the thought of those still left to tongue, in distant corners of the country. Time was running down fast.
Stepping off the train and into the fresh Essex air I made straight for the cathedral, so eager was I to keep this bet alive and well. Oxford had been the last lick over a month ago, a fact that would no doubt warm Adam’s heart had he been aware of it. He was still remaining strangely blazé about the whole thing, refusing to acknowledge my licking prowess and achievements thus far. This, people seemed to agree, was deeply unnerving. It was as if he knew something I didn’t, as if he had an ace up his sleeve that would bring my whole quest crashing down at any moment, but kept it to himself. Pushing these dark thoughts aside I rounded a corner and the cathedral came gladly into view.
It was not a stunner of a cathedral but it would certainly do for me. It was more of a large church, showing its age with an interesting mixture of building styles from different ages all thrown together.
Now with over 10 licks under my belt, experience switched my mind immediately into licking mode. The first things to look for are signs. Without these it is trickier to prove your location. This place had them in adundance but all in awkward places. The best stood by the front gate, an excellent photo opportunity but too far from the cathedral itself. More sat in the churchyard but were infuriatingly distant from a decent wall to press my tongue against. The only other sign was to be found in the most unideal spot of all- just inside the main door. Here sat a bored old lady in official cathedral garb, serving a steady stream of visitors. It would be folly to do the deed so close their watchful eyes, so I hoped that another chance would present itself inside.
Going on the lucky experience at Oxford I wasn’t ruling out another miraculous appearance of signage. Added to this the presence of just one old lady (compared with the hoard that had almost thwarted my plans at St. Albans) lifted my spirits as I stepped into the gloomy interior.
The old lady looked up from her book and gave me a tired nod of welcome before handing me a pamphlet of information. The stuff she handed me was aimed for children, so she either thought me simple-minded or was not talking her job terribly seriously.
The cathdral was around the same size of its Oxford cousin, possibly a yard or two longer, but roughly of the same dimensions. Its dimunative size meant less places to hide the act of licking, but this only added to the challenge. I took a seat in one of the pews and scanned the place for good lick spots, admiring the architecture as I did so.
Although it is far from the jaw-dropping, chest-beating magnificence of the likes of Durham and Salisbury, Chelmsford Cathedral had a wonderfully tranquil air to it. I refrain strongly from using the word “quaint” here. People who use that word are asking for a punch in the face. It was peaceful and that’s what I liked about it. Although it was busy with visitors we all shuffled around quietly in respect of the place, smiling at oneanother in a very Church of England way.
The painted ceiling over the nave was beautiful though, as was the shining sculpture of Christ in Glory, whose arms aloft pose looked both deeply meaningful and as if he was about to do a bungee jump.
The most enlightening part for me though was the Cathedra. This is the Bishop’s chair (indeed, “Kathedra” is Greek for “chair”), where the main man sits when visiting. As my brilliant Young Persons’ Guide revealed, chairs such as this give religious buildings cathedral status. This information finally cleared up that infuriating debate, one which had almost brought friends and family to blows since the bet began.
Having spent some time appreciating the place fully, my attentions turned once more to the all-important lick. As no useful signs were to be found inside, I was forced to try again out in the cold.
On the way out I thanked the old lady, remarking what an impressive cathedral this was.
“My dear”, she said with a smirk “this place is nice, but it ain’t impressive!”
A little taken aback by this lack of cathedral love, I made my way out into the cold.
It was a thankless task, capturing that Chelmsford lick. Try as I might there was no totally suitable location from which to capture my actions. I had that very day finally worked out how to use the timer on my camera after 5 years of befuddlement, and had even brought along a nifty little stand to sit it on. If anything the stand made me look more of a twat, as I adjusted it on the pavement outside trying to avoid the heavy footsteps of bemused passers by. The plan was to get this photo done as quickly as possible, when either no one was in sight or watching what I was up to. On a few occasions I almost managed it, but from nowhere some rogue would appear and send me scuttling off.
My attempts outside proved fruitless anyway, as my camera was unable to capture the official signage in great detail. Sighing with resignation, I made my way back to the main door. The old lady gave me a queer look at my return and I muttered some words about my admiration for the place to explain my reappearance. She regarded me as one would a turd on a shoe and returned to her book.
Setting up the camera in a fine spot, propped up by some sort of hymn book, I succeeded in finding a superb angle for the photo. The only downside was that it was in full view of the old lady. I prayed that she had lost all interest in me and would remain glued to her book so that I could capture the lick unobserved.
In this respect things went well but there was no way of preventing other people appearing suddenly and ruining the whole thing. This happened a whopping five times and on each occasion I had to pretend I was not in fact licking a wall but merely posing for a photo in a highly unusual manner. Most of the incomers looked at me with alarm and quickened their pace, whilst one (a drunk man with a huge black beard) asked if he could take the picture for me. I probably would have said yes out of politeness had he not then offered me a swig of his foul-smelling whisky, which he had somehow managed to pour everywhere but his mouth. At this point I could almost hear the old lady’s blood vessels burst with irritation. Still though, she had not yet figured out what I was up to.
Having pursuaded the drunk that I had no need of his doubtless stunning camera work I made one last, desperate attempt. So what if I was observed? What was the worst that the old lady could do but huff a bit and call me a scallywag? I was being a scallywag in truth and she would merely be confirming this fact. So, making sure the camera angle was just perfect, I set the timer, got into position and licked away merrily.
To say that I was happy with the result is an understatement. I gathered up my belongings and almost skipped back to the station with glee. As far as I knew I had avoided detection and had captured a sterling solo photo to boot. More importantly the bet was up and running again. Although the Christmas licking programme had failed to live up to expectations, Chelmsford was a proud moment and an excellent way to end the year. I knew though that I would soon have to pick up the pace. 2012 will be the year of the lick.