Medway licks

Taking full advantage of a day off work, I caught the 10 a.m. train from London Victoria down into Kent. To start with I had only one destination and one cathedral in mind : Canterbury. As it turned out I made a slight detour and achieved one extra, unexpected lick.

The journey from London was immensely dull until Rochester Castle appeared, as if from nowhere, sat watching over the River Medway. As the train skirted the water I got a better view of this stupendous castle, the kind you would dream of as a kid, with an almost complete standing keep and soaring towers. As I got all dewy-eyed over this, the cathedral also appeared, much to my joint delight and alarm. Hurriedly checking my licking-list, Rochester stood out proudly at number 32. I decided to take a chance and jump off here, as strokes of fortune like this are too good to ignore and could fundamentally be the difference between winning the bet and being a naked loser.

Thankfully there were no ticket barriers at Rochester station and I didn’t have to try and blag my way out, which given my intended mission could easily have ended in my arrest. Greatly relieved and feeling slightly smug, I made my merry way towards the cathedral. I had been there 2 years before and knew the way, that part was easy. However, the prospect of having to ask a complete stranger to photograph me tonguing the cathedral was deeply troubling.

My doubts increased upon reaching the cathedral grounds, which were filled with 3 distinct groups of people : old ladies with ice-creams, jolly Dutch tourists and a whole throng of vicars discussing holy matters. Two of these groups would almost certainly disapprove of my venture, so asking them was out of the question. God bless the Dutch then. I’ve always been a fan of those people. If you can count on one nationality to be up for taking a photo of you licking an ecclesiastical building, it’s the Dutch.

So, I waited nervously in a carefully chosen spot for a suitable photographer to pass by. Annoyingly the much more attractive and interesting side of the cathedral was closed off for filming, so I had to make do with a simple wall. There was a very handily placed sign right next to it though, clearly displaying the name of the cathedral.

Soon a sea of Dutchness came my way and I chose one middle-aged man at random. I shyly asked if he could take a photo of me and he happily agreed, but then came the dreaded moment:

“Just to let you know, I am going to lick the cathedral.”

His face dropped. “You’re doing what?”

“I have to lick the cathedral for a bet and need photographic proof. It’s weird, I know, sorry.”

He began to look uneasy and backed off slightly, looking to his friends for support. A short conversation followed between them and they looked at me aghast. By now a small crowd had gathered, including some of the old biddies and vicars, and whispers of disapproval were spreading.

Before they could lynch me I asked my man to make sure of capturing both the sign and myself in the photo. I slid down the bank and got into position, tongue firmly pressed against the sandy stone. The Dutchman seemed to be taking an awfully long time about it. Perhaps he wanted me to suffer and allow more muttering onlookers to congregate and block my escape.

 After what seemed like an eternity he announced that we was done, briskly handed me back the camera and fled the scene. The crowd of onlookers remained, regarding me as some sort of church-humping pervert. I consoled myself with the fact that, as embarrasing as this was, losing this bet and having to streak in my home city would be infinitely more humiliating.

Making my way through the muttering crowds I checked the photo. The swine had completely ignored my simple instructions! He had captured the licking but not the sign. Cursing him I considered leaving and returning to Rochester at a future date, but that’s not how bets are won. Reluctantly I returned and looked out for a more suitable photographer.

One was soon found: a young Dutchman on his own filming the crowds and cathedral walls. He seemed less appalled at my request and did a perfect job. With cathedral grit soiling my mouth I made my way triumphantly back to the station and on to Canterbury.

Canterbury. I’d been meaning to go there for years and now I had a good excuse. The embarrasment experienced in Rochester had rattled me a little, but I was determined to carry on.

Arriving at Canterbury East, the route into the centre of town takes you along the impressive city walls, punctuated with towers and past the remains of a Norman castle. This I enjoyed greatly, but not the tracksuited hoodlum he followed my every step. Perhaps he knew of my intentions at the cathedral, which dominated the skyline in the distance.

People had said that Canterbury is much like my home city of York, and so it is. The winding cobbled streets were certainly reminiscent, as were the old churches, gatehouses and city walls. Tourists also packed the streets, but this has been the case for centuries here, with pilgrims travelling to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket. This I was also keen to see, but not lick.

This was the first (and probably not the last) cathedral I’d had to pay for the privilege of licking. Rather than being able to walk gaily up to its walls, visitors must first pass through the beautiful gatehouse to hand out £9 before any licking or other activities can take place.

Once through and into the cathedral grounds, I instantly sought out a suitable licking location, ideally one with some sort of official signage. Frustratingly none were to be found anywhere, so I delved into the murkiness of the cathedral to try my luck there instead. The search was just as fruitless here too and I was reluctant to do the deed inside the building, where disapproving holy eyes were more likely to spot me. As at Rochester and Norwich, the place was infested with vicars, priests and seemingly all followers of the Christian faith. Even the crypt was swarming with them and soon despair set in, both at their presence and the lack of any helpful signage for photo identification purposes. In the end I decided to repeat the Norwich trick and include an easily identifiable feature of the building in the photo. This was achieved in the cloister, from where there was a splendid view of the main towers. With no one suitable to help take the photo it was instead down to me. I am very proud of my effort, which only took two attempts and fulfills all the bet criteria.

With my task complete I could explore the rest of the cathedral in peace. The highlight for me was the ceiling boss of the great Henry Yevele, master mason of late 14th-century England and architect of my workplace in Westminster, the Jewel Tower.

Elswhere in the cathedral I was surprised to find the tombs of the Black Prince and that usurping Lancastrian bastard Henry IV. The old shrine of St. Thomas had been ransacked long ago by another toerag Henry, the 8th one, and now stood bare, which was a disappointment. The site of Becket’s murder is open for all to see and is much less grand than expected.

Having sated my cathedral lust I left the place, exploring the city a little before catching the train back to London a very happy man. Two cathedral licks in just a few hours was a very good day’s work.