Wednesday 28 March 2012

A Canterbury Tale

I saw Canterbury today.

I used to see her everyday.

I worked in the city for fifteen years and got to know her very well, but she and I fell out of love. The grasping hand of our landlords, the crowds of foreign schoolchildren, the snarling city traffic that meant one had to be at work before 8.00am and leave after 7.00pm to avoid sitting in a jam - these began as little niggles that a young man could overlook, but gnawed away inside until the relationship became unsustainable, and I had to walk away.

Since I moved my business out of the city ten years ago, I have barely been back, although I'm only fifteen miles away. Save for the odd trip to deliver my son to University - a journey which only skirts the city - or the occasional service at the Cathedral, I have visited Canterbury maybe two or three times a year.

It's fair to say, I've got along pretty well without her.

Well, I saw her again today.

We met coincidentally, as old flames often do. I shouldn't have seen her at all. I was engaged to accompany some singing exams which, in the usual scheme of things, would have been taken in Dover, but due to a clash of dates were held in the Dominican Priory in Canterbury.

Do you know the Dominican Priory? My goodness, there is an extraordinary building! Nestling in the shadow of the new Marlowe Theatre, separated from it only by a rather charmless pathway, it is a relic from a bygone age. The walls are plastered with newspaper cuttings, photographs, paintings, scouts and guides memorabilia - a miniature museum of Canterbury life!

With me today was my daughter Libby, who was taking her first - and, she insists, her last - singing exam. We arrived somewhat early so we decided to wander into the city.

The riverside gardens were busy with denizens dining al fresco in the glorious spring sunshine. Daffodils nodded in the gentle breeze, and tourists relaxed as their boats were gently coaxed up-river towards The Weavers by handsome young gentlemen.

Walking up the High Street, some of those old feelings of resentment started coming back to me. The thronging masses made it impossible to walk in a straight line, and there are still too many unruly European youths for my liking, but there were also plenty of delightful young ladies, the finest fruits of Canterbury's loins, and eager young men in their sharp suits, bustling along in their lunch hours, or en route to their next appointment.

The Cathedral clock rang out its unchanging melody - one day I shall have to compose something using those chimes, rather as Bernard Rose employed the chimes of the Magdalen clock in his Preces & Responses - and Bell Harry Tower rose magnificently as ever above the city skyline.

It was a fleeting visit, to be sure, a chance encounter with a past love that is probably best forgotten. To flirt with her again would be dangerous and almost certainly ultimately meaningless. But it is difficult to escape the feeling that, after seeing Canterbury at her absolute finest, wrapping herself in the yellow and green robe of spring, something stirred within me.

It's too early to say for sure, but between you and me, I think I may have fallen in love with her again.