I ended up spending 6 nights in Lincoln. It’s not what I intended, but it’s what happened. I didn’t completely succumb to urban relaxation, though. I still fit in 3 significant walks, as well as a visit to the Cathedral and the Guildhall.
I don’t like religion. I have no belief in a higher being and I despise concepts of eternal souls, damnation, paradise, hell or any other sort of afterlife. But I really like churches. I can’t explain it. I got up early on Sunday morning – my first in Lincoln – to go to the Sunday service at the Cathedral. I’ll never understand why more people don’t do this. You get to get into the Cathedral without paying, and you get free entertainment. Sure, you have to sit through some weird verses and what not, but that’s your opportunity to stare at the magnificent architecture.
After the service, I joined the congregation for free coffee in the chapter house. How could I say no? Several clergy-people spoke to me. “Are you a visitor? Yes, I noticed you during the service.” I hope ‘noticing’ me doesn’t mean that I was sitting there picking my nose.
I joined a queue in front of one of the trestle tables, but reaching the front I discovered from the very young man that he had only coffee.
“Jane will get you a tea,” he said, and pointed to a table I hadn’t seen, between the two coffee tables.
I approached Jane, who was at least 95 years old.
“Tea?” I said, not very hopefully.
Jane pulled towards herself a polystyrene cup which already had milk in the bottom, poured in tea from an urn, and pushed the cup forward, all without looking at me. Although she shook, she did not spill a drop. An admirable tea woman, was lady Jane.
I drank my free tea and spoke to a grey haired sprightly woman who listened to my (very abridged) stories with actual interest. She used to be a keen walker herself, but doesn’t think she’s up for it anymore. I told her she probably was, as if I knew anything about it, as if I had anything to tell her about what she is capable of. I’m sure she knows her own body better than I do. But you have to say these things. You have to say, “oh, a few years left in you yet!” Only of course, you can’t say that. You just imply it, with every sympathetic nod, while also implying the exact opposite.
The Chapter House was full, and because I’d lingered in the Cathedral to listen to the organ, I arrived too late to get any free biscuits. Everyone knew just about everyone else, and at one point the choir burst into Happy Birthday for one of the regulars. I think having Happy Birthday sung to you in a mediaeval stone vaulted chapter house would be quite nice.
After my capacity for small talk was exhausted (which coincided perfectly with the end of my tea) I wandered back out into the cloister. There, a dozen small boys in robes – the younger members of the choir – were running around, in and out of the arches, climbing through and straddling ancient alcoves and windows. It was mesmerising. I thought I was in the middle of Hogwarts. Maybe it would be more poetic to say – I felt like I was cast back hundreds of years. But really, it felt like Hogwarts. Especially when their teacher called them up. “All right, boys, let’s go. Time to go back inside.”
And slay dragons, I thought.
Lincoln is a nice city to pass a few days. I took in all the free sights (and none of the paid ones, *cough* the castle *cough*) and I’ll write up a separate post one day about the best free things to do. The campsite I was staying in was about a 45 minute walk from the city, so I never stayed late and never tried out any of Lincoln’s pubs. I did however become quite the regular at the pub across the road from the campsite.
The Monson Arms is a grand old pub whose glory days are well and truly over. It features a central bar, and is flanked on either side by additional lounges, rarely used, one with a stage. I learned at The Collection (Lincoln’s free museum) that the Monson family is a very important family in the region and has been for hundreds of years. The best part of the Monson is that a pint of crappy lager is only 2.20. Fuck. Yeah.
I sat there each night writing up blog posts and chatting to C, sitting in the rarely used right side lounge where it was blessedly quiet. Each night, two men would come in around 5:30 and drink neat whiskey until they stumbled out around 7:00. Between them they had about 150 years and 11 teeth. They were obnoxious to the barman and laughed at one another about how obnoxious they were with the sort of glee that only 150 years of drinking whiskey can give you. They were great.
On my second night at the pub, after finishing up writing, and after the whiskey-men had left, I moved into the front bar. I ordered my pint and while the barmaid poured it I looked at some photos posted behind the bar. There was a picture of what looked like a hand that was missing a finger, the gap a mess of stitches and scabs.
“What’s that?” I asked the barmaid.
“That? Oh that’s my dad’s hand,” she said.
“You know them fences with the three prongs at the top? Well, one night he’s coming home, and he’s a bit drunk, and he decides to climb the fence, like a shortcut. So gets to the top, only he doesn’t know he’s caught his ring, his wedding ring in the prong, does he? And he dropped himself down the other side of the fence. Totally decapitated his finger. Didn’t even notice.”
She handed me my beer, and I handed her my coins.
“Good reason not to get married,” I said, my face pale, to the man sitting next to me.
“Nothing to do with being married,” he said, loudly. “Everything to do with being pissed.”