|Photo: Roger Robinson. Released under GNU Free Documentation License|
I went to the Cathedral School in Lichfield: a prep school attached to the Cathedral and which supplied the choir to the Cathedral, although I was never a member of it. It was a very musical school, though, and it was there I started to learn the double bass. Lichfield and its Cathedral left a deep impression on me. It's difficult to be accurate, because the mind plays all sorts of tricks, but I think it's fair to say Lichfield played a major part in shaping me into the person I am.
We parked round the corner from the Cathedral, at the end of the grandly named Prince Rupert's Way, a short street in a housing estate. The name alludes the major role played by Lichfield in the Civil War. We walked from there to the Cathedral Close, much of the way following the route I used to take walking to and from school. Apart from the personal associations, I was really keen to show Daniel the Cathedral. Whatever view one takes of religion, one has to accept that buildings like this are massively important parts of our cultural history. For example, when you walk up to the West Door (that is, the "front door") you are immediately struck by the massive West face of the building - if I'm describing it like a mountain, then that is not wholly inappropriate. To stand at the foot of it is like standing at the foot of a cliff. (It occurred to me, as Daniel and I stood there, that part of my later love of mountains and rock climbing may well have its roots in the years I spent under the shadow of this massive, man-made rock-wall). Looking up at it, you're left in no doubt about the political role of the Church during the last milennium. The wall is covered in statues. All along the foot of the wall, standing on pedestals, are statues of the Apostles. A little higher, over the doors, kings of England sit on thrones. Above them stand row upon row of Old Testament prophets. Above them, at the apex of the wall, stands Christ. I spotted one woman in the wall - The Virgin Mary, over the main door (thinking about it, she may have appeared more than once). The effect is that, more or less, of a stone flow chart of the order of things as one was expected to accept it. Just round the corner stands a statue of Charles II, who contributed much to repairing the damage done to the place during the Civil War. During that war, since Lichfield lacked fortifications, the Royalists defended the Cathedral and its walled Close. The Parliamentarians laid siege, and it was from the spire of the Cathedral that a Royalist sniper, "Dumb Dyott", shot the leading Parliamentarian, Lord Brooke. Life can be symbolic.
Anyway, we had a good look round, both inside and outside. As I don't have a video camera (and even if I had one I'd rather walk around looking than walk around filming) I had a look around Youtube later, too, to see if there was any good amateur footage of the place. I came across this amateur film: I was impressed by the choices the film-maker had made when it came to what to show us. If I'd had a video, I would have shot more or less the same things, although I would have included the tea shop opposite the South Door!
Having spent some time at the Cathedral, we went off into Lichfield itself. I lived there for years, but I don't ever remember going into Samuel Johnson's birthplace: it's now a museum devoted to Johnson. I also realised I'd never read anything he'd written, an omission I've since put right. Born in 1709, he wrote in an era few book-readers rave about. He's most famous -and known to all Blackadder fans- for writing his Dictionary of the English Language:
The most fascinating exhibit to anyone new to Johnson is found in the attic: a first edition of the dictionary itself. There is also a more modern edition you can browse through. Daniel -a QI fan- told me that Johnson had come up with 26 definitions of the word "set", and there they all were, pages of them. You can read it for yourself online, here. This site will even read the book to you if you ask it, in a Stephen Hawking-like electronic voice. However, no-one told it that in those days people printed "f" instead of "s", fo it ftrugglef with the old profe and I muft fay it foundf a bit filly.
One of the great things about poetry is that most poems take less time to read than most works of prose so, if like me you're unfamiliar with what Samuel Johnson wrote, here's a quick one:
A Short Song of Congratulation
by Samuel Johnson
Long-expected one and twenty
Ling'ring year at last has flown,
Pomp and pleasure, pride and plenty
Great Sir John, are all your own.
Loosen'd from the minor's tether,
Free to mortgage or to sell,
Wild as wind, and light as feather
Bid the slaves of thrift farewell.
Call the Bettys, Kates, and Jenneys
Ev'ry name that laughs at care,
Lavish of your Grandsire's guineas,
Show the spirit of an heir.
All that prey on vice and folly
Joy to see their quarry fly,
Here the gamester light and jolly
There the lender grave and sly.
Wealth, Sir John, was made to wander,
Let it wander as it will;
See the jocky, see the pander,
Bid them come, and take their fill.
When the bonny blade carouses,
Pockets full, and spirits high,
What are acres? What are houses?
Only dirt, or wet or dry.
If the Guardian or the Mother
Tell the woes of willful waste,
Scorn their counsel and their pother,
You can hang or drown at last.
If you watched the video of the Cathedral, you'll have seen the pool: Stowe Pool. We walked back past it, back up to the Cathedral, and spent a happy half hour sat in the above-mentioned tea shop. They have a small wood-and-glass conservatory which extends into the back garden and we were lucky enough to find a table there. It felt like the sunniest day of the year so far and we could have sat there for a very long time. If it didn't close at 4, we'd probably still be drowsily propped up there.