Highway robbery in the cathedral

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It now costs pounds 2 to get into Canterbury Cathedral, complained an Independent correspondent last week. He wasn't the only one. My wife, who grew up in Kent, was in Canterbury at the weekend and was horrified to find that the friendly place she used to slip into for a few moments' repose and respite now had an entry charge.

I was horrified, too, for a different reason. It means that some very important documents will have to be changed.

For instance, do you remember the poem by Philip Larkin called "Church Going"? It's the one that starts:

Once I am sure there's nothing going on

I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

Another church: matting, seats and stone ...

It wouldn't work now, would it? It would have to go something like this:

Once I am sure there's nothing going on

I try to go inside, but can't get in.

The handle will not yield. And there upon

The door the vicar's stuck a note up with a pin.

"Sorry the church is locked, but thieves have been

And taken all our silver. If you really want

To borrow the key to see our nave and screen,

You're welcome. PS. Leave two quid in the font."

The most drastic alterations of all will have to be made to the play that actually takes place inside Canterbury Cathedral, TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. If you thought the Chorus of Women of Canterbury were miserable in the original, imagine how much more miserable they will be now ...


Here let us stand, close by the cathedral. Here let us wait.

Is there safety in the cathedral, or is there danger?

This is something we shall never know.

We cannot enter, for we have no dough.

In TS Eliot's day it was all right. We got in free.

We were not happy, but at least we got in free.

We did our grumbling and our moaning in the dry,

Safe from rain and passing vagabonds.

He was a good man, Eliot, old Tom the laureate.

He stood us in a corner of the nave

Where we could see the death of Becket free.

The view was partially restricted, it is true,

By huge unwieldy Norman columns,

But some you win and some you lose.

And now we stand here in the rain

Because this new archbishop, this George Carey,

Won't let us in the church we know so well.

The snag, of course, is that if four young knights did come to Canterbury Cathedral, they wouldn't find it so simple to carry out their assassination ...



You are welcome. Have you ridden far?


Not far today. The roads were chock-a-block.

I've never seen it quite so bad midweek.

At first we came along the new M2,

But that was full of roadworks Chatham way,

So then we thought it best to hit the old A2 ...


Enough of this! We come on royal business!


We charge you, archbishop, with foul treason!

(There is a long pause. Nobody speaks.)


If that is all you have to say, let me say this ...


There is much more to say, but he is not here.

The Fourth Knight, I mean. He has a lot of lines.

But he is not here. He cannot join us here.


Believe me when I say I'm sorry.

What is it keeps him from us here?


Money. The lack of. Two pounds is all he needs

To enter the cathedral. But he has it not.

And now he stands outside, in the rusty rain,

Chatting to a lot of local women.


Could not you, his friends, lend him the cash?


I wish we could, but now we are all skint,

After paying to enter. So we wondered if ...


I could lend you the money to get him in?

Is this not an ironic situation,

To help to pay for my own assassination!

Etc, etc. Send a large SAE for full details.