Research can be a very dangerous thing. What starts as a well-intentioned quest for knowledge can instead end in gut-wrenching despair. This was certainly the case when I merrily googled “Anglican Cathedrals in the UK” whilst trying to kill some time at work one evening. I had hoped to cast a smug eye over the progress of the cathedral-licking bet, safe in the knowledge (or so I thought) that things were coming along nicely. Instead, my investigations unearthed unspeakable horrors that transformed me from a carefree young man into a quivering, nervous wreck.
I dare not reveal my discoveries just yet, for fear of giving Adam hope and good reason to gloat. All I will say is that this latest development spurned me into action like never before. Suddenly a proper plan was needed or I was lost.
On my way home I madly texted almost everyone in my phone book, pleading for any possible assistance. There were a lot of leads to follow up, lifts to ask for and strangers’ roofs to sleep under. I madly scanned maps on my infuriatingly slow mobile internet and tried to think calmly and logically. Sadly I do not work well under pressure and failed dramatically, being able to do nothing else but utter two words – “bastard” and “Adam” over and over and at increasingly high volume. This, I knew, was a tad harsh as Adam was entirely innocent in this case. Still, it made me feel slightly better and helped calm my nerves.
Eventually I settled on a sound piece of advice from a friend. Focus was needed and a realistic strategy. The demons I had just encountered could be tackled at a later date. Right now it was important to finish the task already set. Scanning my new cathedral calendar I circled a day and got ready to lick once more.
Two days later, on a glorious winter’s morning, I was on a train speeding south from London Victoria. My spirits rose at the prospect of another licking adventure and at the simple joy of travelling. Even if this bet is lost at least I can say that it took me to some strange and wonderful new places that would otherwise never have been visited. Today the Rochester-Canterbury trick would be repeated, this time with a double lick-hit at Chichester and then at its close neighbour in Portsmouth. Some less alarming research during the journey whet my appetite for both cathedrals. Chichester looked a real beauty whereas Portsmouth appeared to be a curious oddity.
It was a splendid journey, other than the brief stop in the frightful town of Crawley, which left such me in such a deep gloom I that I suddenly no longer had an appetite for the day’s adventures. Thank God then when the noble spire of Chichester Cathedral finally came into view to banish memories of that concrete monstrosity.
Once off the train I asked a jolly ticket barrier guard if I could break my journey here, as my ticket was for Portsmouth.
“By all means, young man” he beamed “Welcome to Chichester!”
Other than its spire, the first sign I encountered of the cathedral was the beautiful old gatehouse. Time has worn away its finer details, its statues and capitals sadly eroding away from centuries open to the elements, yet it is still an impressive first taste of what was to come. Once through the archway a series of quiet cobbled streets are revealed, lined with gorgeous houses belonging to cathedral staff and other lucky swines.
The main path leads directly into the cloister, which was beautifully lit in the early afternoon sun and exuded a peaceful air. People lazed here happily, eating lunchtime sandwiches, chatting with friends or (as was the case with amorous one couple) rehearsing the early stages of baby manufacturing. With this scene in mind I recalled a line from the official Chichester Cathedral website, one that had tickled me enormously:
“People visit cathedrals for all sorts of reasons.”
How very true. And so the quest for lick no. 13 began.
It is awfully rude of me to want to get to the licking done straight away each time, but the simple fact is that I cannot relax until it is finished and off my mind. It is better to get the job done and then explore the place, rather than sneaking around anxiously eyeing up every piece of stone in sight.
Luckily the cloisters at Chichester have a whole array of excellent signage, and I was rather spoiled for choice for my photo. However, the best ones were in the busiest areas, directly outside the bustling restaurant and gift shop. Attempting a lick there proved too risky so I found a quieter spot around a corner, close to a NO ENTRY sign which presumably would discourage others from disturbing my special homage to the building. The reason for this sign soon became apparent though, as hoards of choir boys suddenly appeared from an ancient doorway. While they filed past I couldn’t help but make a secret wish that they would stop and sing in angelic voices, in honour of the deed about to take place. They went on their way however, most of them regarding me with withering pre-pubescent disdain, while I smiled on from the shadows, definitely not looking like a paedophile at all.
With them gone I began to repeat the skills learned in Chelmsford by propping my camera up and setting its timer. Each time I had done this and got into lick-position though, some rogue would ruin it by walking by, throwing me into a blind panic but producing some hilarious photos (all stupidly deleted). After five such incidents all went quiet and I tried again, determined to get the photo done regardless of passing lick-deniers.
Literally a second after the above photo was taken a man appeared through a previously unseen doorway, caught sight me and stopped dead in his tracks. My eyes met his, my tongue still firmly in contact with the stone.
“Are you alright?” he asked, his eyes wide open at the sight before him.
“Yethp” I responded, as best I could given the awkward circumstances.
He stood there and hesitated, clearly afraid of going any further. Poor guy. This unexpected episode had probably spoiled a perfectly pleasant day for him up to that point.
“Right” he said, after summoning up some courage and walking past me hastily “Cheerio then.”
“Sthee you” I rasped after him stonily. Quite why I had chosen to keep my tongue in place during this brief encounter was a total mystery. Perhaps the shock of being discovered for the first time had frozen me solid. Whatever it was, I had survived but potentially robbed a good man of his sleep that night.
The photo is a corker, I must say. The eye contact with the camera was a real bonus in this one and really pissed Adam off later, I can joyfully reveal.
With the task complete I was free to explore this wonderful cathedral. It reminded me a little of Salisbury but on a far smaller scale. The architecture was an attractive blend of old and new, with Romanesque, Gothic and modern styles all fused together. By the main entrance a boss of our beloved Queen beamed down on visitors, while that of the Duke of Edinburgh scowled with menace nearby. The place was full of similar little oddities – a gargoyle collection box with a coin slot for a mouth, a carved image of some ancient king balancing a sword in his mouth and a Roman mosaic floor set under thick glass. The choir boys I had encountered earlier were also now in full voice somewhere in the depths of the building and a pleasing hum floated through the air. By the shrine of St. Richard I stopped and breathed it all in.
It would have been a very enjoyable way to spend the rest of the day, aimlessly wandering Chichester’s streets, but I needed to get moving. Somehow 3 hours had passed and the sky was already darkening, putting the next lick of the day in serious doubt.
My buoyant mood was deflated by the painfully slow train west, whose driver seemed to be on a personal mission to piss me off by stopping at every station on the way to Portsmouth. Often we would sit still, engines off for what felt like weeks before eventually creeping lethargically onwards. The joy of the Chichester lick had likewise drained my energy and the thought of having to sneak around in another cathedral was far from appealing. How Adam would have delighted at such knowledge though! That thought drove me on, through the murky streets of Portsmouth and down to the old harbour side.
Apologies to my Portsmothian friends here, but their home city is hardly easy on the eye. One of them later claimed that its ugliness is the fault of the Luftwaffe, though this is a convenient excuse used by many other towns to cover up the shame of 1970s town planners. The closer I got to the cathedral and the sea however, the less concrete misery there was to offend. Fine 18th and 19th centuries houses replaced car parks and roundabouts and served as a reminder of Portsmouth’s long history. A plaque marked the site of an old inn in which Lord Nelson spent his last night in England, its original archway all that was left in that poignant spot.
I knew beforehand that Portsmouth Cathedral was a bit odd. The photo on Wikipedia made me question whether someone had confused it with the entry for bouncy castles. It just didn’t look right at all, but that’s just me being a cathedral snob again for its lack of Gothic attributes. It was also bloody miles from the station, a fact I angrily texted Adam about immediately. He promptly responded by saying that he had had it moved.
There was really no reason to be snobby about the place though, as its unusual appearance was through no fault of its own. Instead we have another old foe, the French, to thank in this case. Bands of their pirates have seen fit over the ages to thoroughly trash the place, leading to frequent rebuilding programmes which have give it its rather confused design.
It was deathly quiet inside. Perhaps it was the lateness of day, or possibly its location in the sleepy old town, but the cathedral echoed with a lack of visitors. This gave me the creeps a little but did mean that I should be able to get the lick done undisturbed. I tried to walk around in quiet dignity but regrettably the sound of my footsteps resembled those of a Stegosaurus in that still space. Before long an elderly attendant appeared from behind a column and glided over to me. His face showed signs of mild irritation at being disturbed so near to closing time, but he still gave me a welcome and a leaflet. I thanked him and began the search for the best place to lick.
Although the building was all but empty, every possible lick-spot was well within view of the old attendant. He liked to scan the empty nave with his piercing eyes, as if he were sat behind a machine gun ready to pepper any wrong-doer at the first sign of trouble. This was unnerving to say the least and I merely smiled and grinned back as if we were sharing some joke, except he didn’t find it funny and was clearly planning where to hide my body. He haunted my every step and filled me with great unease. It soon crossed my mind that word may have spread of my quest in cathedral circles, and that my face had been passed on to this man and many others with strict order to shoot on sight. Whatever the explanation, this guy was on to me.
Just when the only option seemed to be flight, a door opened and a stream of new visitors poured in. The attendant span around in fury and I was able to scuttle off out of sight. Bless those latecomers! I saw this as yet another example of divine intervention on this licking adventure and knew that I had to make the most of this good fortune.
The sign I found was awkwardly placed but would do for me. Setting up the camera on a bookshelf I hastily took up position and was delighted with the result.
I’m sorry to say that I did not stay much longer in Portsmouth Cathedral but left pretty sharpish once the task was complete. I later regretted this as it really is a fascinating place, despite my initial misgivings. I was eager to return to London though and made my way out, with the attendant watching burning holes with his eyes into the back of my head.
Once outside I could hear the irresistible sound of the sea close at hand and walked up to the harbour side. Across the water sat the Isle of Wight, one of its towns twinkling in the early evening light. I scanned my brains to think if the Isle was home to a cathedral in need of a lick, but sadly it is not. It would have been wonderful to have boarded a ferry and continue my journey, keeping the bet going and exploring new shores. It served as a reminder though that seas would have to be crossed at some point, but that was for another time.