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Bristol , United Kingdom
My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, will be published early in 2022 by Indigo Dreams. I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy. https://theleapingword.com

Monday, 30 July 2018

King John wasn't all that bad, you know

My arrival in Worcester, in squalling rain and bluster, was inauspicious. As soon as I reached the walkway by the River Severn, my umbrella blew inside out and all the metal spokes snapped. It looked like a collapsed bat and there was nothing for it but to bin it. 



In relentless rain following weeks of drought, the tale of Old Testament-style flooding told by the bricks set into the wall behind the Cathedral was all too plausible.


Sundays are not great days for Cathedral visiting. The problem is that people tend to use them for worship. But the purpose of my journey was to fetch my mother home from a brief sojourn in Nottingham and I determined to Make The Most It.  
And lo, when I got inside, I wasn't surprised to find a large part of the Cathedral roped off to visitors and a service about to start.


It looked all distant and golden, like a biblical heaven. 


There was nothing for it but to fossick around the bits I could see. Like the nave where I found myself paying attention to things that don't normally hold my interest.

The most riveting thing about Mary is her address, Slaughter Hall. 




1889 pulpit, part of restoration by Sir George Gilbert Scott





There were many tombs - a lot of bishops, and also of unidentifiable men who were probably bishops. It made me wonder what the point is. Better surely to be burnt and scattered, or to be buried with an acorn in your belly button. 

It would give these little fellers a break ...


... and it would be better than running the risk of being sawn in half, like Bishop Someone-or-other looks like he might be in danger of being. 


On the other hand, if you had a tomb like this, you could sail it over the Seas of Oblivion, or hitch it to an Irish cob and journey Down The Deep Lanes. 

Ricardo Eedes, Dean of Worcester, died 1604




1850s-60s font, part of restoration by Sir George Gilbert Scott


The Moore monument, c 1633




Abigail, wife of Godfrey Goldisburgh, Bishop of Gloucester, died 1613
Tired of piety, I wandered off to explore the Chapter House and the Cloisters. 




The latter have a series of stained glass windows by Archibald John Davies of the Bromsgrove School of Applied Arts. They date from the 1930s and give a potted history of the Church with special reference to Worcester. 

There seems to have been a fair bit of burning going on ...


The burning of Tyndale's bibles, c1530


The burning of Bishop John Hooper in Gloucester, 1555


The burning of service books on College Green, Worcester c1547-58


... not to mention assassinating and executioning.


The death of Becket and the penance of Henry II


The execution of Charles I


And look how massive Elizabeth I was! 
 

But I wanted to get into the rest of the Cathedral. It was, I worked out, almost 40 years since I'd last been there and time was running out on my two hour parking slot. And I needed to see the widescreen technicolour stuff, historically speaking ... 


... namely, the tombs of Prince Arthur (elder brother of Henry VIII) ...  


The funeral of Prince Arthur, 1502


... and the tomb of King John. 

Yes, John, so bad they named him just the once. 

The signing of Magna Carta, 1215 and the burial of King John, 1216  


But not unreasonably, given where we were, the worshippers were still worshipping.


I took in a few more tombs.


Sir John Beauchamp of Powick and Alcester with Elizabeth Pateshull, died c 1389


Robert Wilde and Margaret Cooling, husband and wife, died 1607 and 1606 respectively


Then - at last - the red ropes were unhooked and the wrought iron gates opened.


I whizzed through the Crypt, sweating at the thought of my car. I bolted up the North Aisle.


Unidentified knight, c 1240 


I admired roofs ... 


... and the beautiful east window. 


Another knight, 13th century


Aha, Prince Arthur's chantry ...



... and his tomb. Strange to think how different English history might have been had Arthur not died at the age of 15. Not least, how would King Arthur of legend have stood up against the legacy of a later, upstart King Arthur I? 
The time was a quarter of an hour past my car parking slot. Through a gaggle of Japanese tourists I could see another tomb. Had to be John. I waited for them to drift away. 


There he was ... the tyrant and oppressor who inadvertently gave us our charter of liberties.

‘Foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John,’ wrote Matthew Paris in the 1230s.


'Tell you what,' I whispered in the ear of this, the earliest English royal effigy, 'if you fix it for me not to have a parking ticket, I'll tell everyone you weren't that bad ... or at least, better than King Henry VIII.' 


He didn't answer and nor did the creature at his feet, his mouth being too full of sword.






I dashed out of the Cathedral. The car park was minutes away but at every turn I ran into a dead end. 


And I got wetter and wetter. 'Damn you, King John the Only.'


Back at the car, my windscreen was ticketless. Fantastic. 


And although he was rubbish at thinning traffic and stopping torrential rain, later in the day, my new mate proved great at supplying an empty disabled parking bay right next to the service station doors so that my mother could make a beeline for the ladies. 


And also at fixing it for my dinner to come straight out of the oven as I staggered through the door. 


Could be worse, John. You could be King Eadwig.

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