Friday, 8 June 2007


It is Friday. I decide we'll all be pilgrims today and drive to Canterbury. I do contemplate making everyone walk over the chalk downs with a stick and a floppy hat, medieval style, so we can get into the full drama of the day, but reckon I'll probably have enough drama without going out of my way to create it.

We're late setting off, and within seconds of being in the car, the arguing starts. Anticipating this I've got my iPod with me, so just plug in my ears, turn up the volume and listen to the La's instead. It is brilliant. I wish I'd thought of this on Monday. The La's nearly drown out the screams and 'Nincompoop baby!' for a good 40 minutes.

When we arrive in Canterbury and park behind M&S I regretfully decide to hide the iPod. I reckon that dancing down the High Street to the La's deliberately ignoring three clearly not-at-school children squabbling and weeping might look bad to the good folk of Canterbury, and before I know it our happy pilgrimage will have a Local Authority Truancy Officer summoned up on a concerned citizen's mobile phone along with Social Services and a policewoman with a walkie-talkie.

But how I wish I could keep listening. We're barely a footstep inside Canterbury Museum when Squirrel starts with the 'I'm leaving this family' routine. She says she cannot see the little video screen on the Digibox that we collect at reception. Now the Digibox is lovely. I think every museum should have one. It's like having your own hand-held video with lots of facts and presentations and even bits of drama about the Vikings and the Normans and the Tudors who've all lived and worked in Canterbury. I'm tempted to hog the Digibox all for myself and consider it's an act of great selflessness to let anyone see it at all, so I'm not particularly sympathetic to Squirrel's complaints.

As if having a bolshy, foot dragging Squirrel was not enough, the burglar alarm starts. I'm with Tiger in the Tudor room arguing about why it should be me who presses the buttons on the Digibox when the most ear-piercing alarm splits my head apart and I look up to see Shark sliding around the side of a glass mounting box with a hang dog expression. Immediately I shout 'What have you touched?' which I admit does not give her the presumption of innocence.

The screaming alarm is torture, but I reckon at this point it is better for us all to stand there and face the music than for me to suggest everyone now run off. And I do face the music. Within seconds I have the attentions of the museum staff who suggest their alarm system is linked to the police station and here I am apologising and grovelling and saying what a lovely museum it is and the Digibox is lovely and I'm sure my daughter did not intend to nick your fifteenth century bowl.

When we've done with the museum, or rather they've had enough of us and gratuitously pointed out the exit, we head off to the Canterbury Tales. I think this will be a great introduction to storytelling and to Chaucer and to Canterbury and will support all the lovely history work we do at home. If you've not been here, it's like a waxwork show of medieval scenes with some of Chaucer's stories re-told over an audio system. It's quite fun, semi-dark, and not scary. Unless you are Tiger.

Tiger is scared of the darkened room ahead when we start, so the audio lady gives her a torch. This means I listen to Chaucer's introduction as he sits by the fireside, looking at a door marked FIRE. I try and wrestle the torch off Tiger so that we don't have to listen to the Miller's Tale while we stare at a door marked STAFF. I am only partially successful at this because when I do wrestle the torch from her I drop it and break it. Then Squirrel's audio tour won't stay attached to her ears and for some reason her audio unit starts screeching horribly so I give her mine and spend the Wife of Bath's Tale fiddling with the controls on Squirrel's audio trying to make it work.

By the time we're approaching the Cathedral on our waxy pilgrimage story we're all walking in the same direction at the same time which is pretty good for us. The tour ends by leading us out into the gift shop in traditional style where everyone oohs and aahs over the fairy jewelry box and tries to get me to part with £29.95 for the privilege of taking it home and fighting over it. I politely decline and insist everyone now must go to the real Cathedral and go ooh and aah over that instead.

By this time I have dwindling interest in the real Cathedral. It is jolly expensive to get in; Squirrel has started her 'I'm leaving this family' line because I won't buy the jewelry box; we're historians, not at all religious, and the maximum five hours I can park behind M&S is nearly up.

So it's back to the car, back to the van, and some more of the La's for me. Apart from the burglar incident and the rather normal accident-prone procession round the Canterbury Tales waxwork show, my exposure to the fighting has been limited today, so I'm counting it as a success. The first, I'd say, on our holiday to Kent. And the last day of the holiday. Now if I was a proper pilgrim, I could say there's a blessing here somewhere.

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