Our goal after Scotland was to drive down to Oxford where we would make camp for about 7 days while Cindy attends a conference. On one of the first days there, we made a trip down to Canterbury to see some friends from Australia who have since relocated back to their home country of England. I had been in Canterbury about 25 years ago. For a town that is on the order of 1500 years old, I can say that nothing much has changed.
We met up with one of Cindy’s friends from grad school, Mary McVee, and headed southwest to Canterbury to meet Dr. Andrew Peterson and his family at The Foundry, a brew pub in Canterbury, just off High Street. The drive down was uneventful – along the Ring Road which surrounds London (the M25, where M stands for motorway) – and parking was surprisingly easy. But for future reference, the thing to do is go as early as possible. Parking is at a premium, notwithstanding our experience.
Canterbury Cathedral houses the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the primate of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion owing to the importance of St Augustine, who served as the apostle to the pagan Kingdom of Kent around the turn of the 7th century.
The city’s cathedral became a major focus of pilgrimage following the 1170 martyrdom of Thomas Becket, although it had already been a well-trodden pilgrim destination since the murder of St Alphege by the men of King Canute in 1012. A journey of pilgrims to Becket’s shrine served as the frame for Chaucer’s 14th century classic The Canterbury Tales.
Canterbury is a popular tourist destination: consistently one of the most-visited cities in the United Kingdom, so it is no surprise that the city’s economy is heavily reliant upon tourism. The city has been occupied since Paleolithic times and served as the capital of the Celtic Cantiaci and Jute Kingdom of Kent. Many historical structures fill the area, including a city wall founded in Roman times and rebuilt in the 14th century, the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey and a Norman castle, and the oldest continuously operating school in the world, the King’s School.
Modern additions include the Marlowe Theatre and the St Lawrence Ground, home of the Kent County Cricket Club. There is also a substantial student population, brought about by the presence of the University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University (where our friend Ansrew teaches), the University for the Creative Arts, and the Girne American University Canterbury campus. Canterbury remains, however, a small city in terms of geographical size and population, when compared with other British cities.
The River Stour runs through the middle of the town, and at times even under the town. This picture is taken from a famous bridge along High Street in the center of town. Note, if you can, the dunking chair above the boats. This was used to determine if a woman was indeed a witch. The reasoning went something like this: if she survived a dunking sure to kill any normal person, then she must be a witch and therefore must be killed. Go figure.
The River Stour was one of the first improved rivers or canals in England. It was in 1705 that Parliament mandated public navigation rights along the river and provided the basis of a joint stock company of London and Suffolk investors who raised £4,800 to cut and manage the river. Although partly supplanted by railways, lighters (men who would walk along boats floating through the river) were still working on the Stour above Manningtree almost until World War II. As of 2016 they still operate as far as Mistley. Fascinating stuff if you ask me.
Chaucer is an interesting guy. He wrote, of course, The Canterbury Tales, which contrasts with other literature of the period in the naturalism of its narrative, the variety of stories the pilgrims tell, and the varied characters who are engaged in the pilgrimage. Many of the stories narrated by the pilgrims seem to fit their individual characters and social standing, although some of the stories seem ill-fitting to their narrators, perhaps as a result of the incomplete state of the work.
Chaucer drew on real life for his cast of pilgrims: the innkeeper shares the name of a contemporary keeper of an inn in Southwark, and real-life identities for the Wife of Bath, the Merchant, the Man of Law, and the Student, have been suggested. The many jobs that Chaucer held in medieval society—page, soldier, messenger, valet, bureaucrat, foreman and administrator—probably exposed him to many of the types of people he depicted in the Tales. A possible indication that his career as a writer was appreciated came when Edward III granted Chaucer “a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life” for some unspecified task.
But did you know that he was also a CPA? Yes, he was, and for a time he was the Chief Financial Officer for several of the port companies along the River Thames.
He was born around 1343 and died (we think) in 1400.
As mentioned, we met up with Andrew Peterson and his family. Dr. Peterson, like Cindy, was a professor at the University of South Australia while we were there, and is a delightful man. His family, even more so. His wife, Jessica, and their two boys, Oliver (Ollie) and George, joined us for lunch at The Foundry, one of many brew pubs sprouting up around England (much like in the USA).
Ollie and George are caught up in the spinner craze, which we had only heard about in passing. Designed, apparently, as toys for children with ADHD, they have taken off. Quite literally. I was amazed at the machining that goes into these little devices. Put simply, a fidget spinner is a toy that consists of a bearing in the center of a multi-lobed flat structure made from metal or plastic designed to spin along its axis with little effort. Fidget spinners only became popular toys this year, although similar devices had already been invented as early as 1993. The toy is popular among schoolchildren and consequently some schools have banned the spinners for being a distraction, while other schools allowed the toy to be used discreetly. The toy has been advertised as helping people who have trouble with focusing or fidgeting by relieving nervous energy or psychological stress. As of May 2017, there is no scientific evidence that they are effective as a treatment for autism or ADHD.
Andrew’s area of research is into compassion as an element of teaching school children. He has written a book on the subject and has appeared in several TV and radio spots explaining his quest to understand how we can teach our children to be more compassionate.
Onward now to Oxford and our home for the next few days.