Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Educated in Cambridge and Ely

Honestly, anyone slowly stirring coffee spoons in miserable isolation while the kids slump equally glum at school could do worse than consider home education. It gets you out the house.

Here we are, rising at dawn. We drive to a Tesco car park and jump on a coach to become lost in Cambridge, while the driver swings round and round looking for a theatre. We're late, but it doesn't matter. Today our home ed group has the dedicated attention of the theatre company Indefinite Articles for a shadow and light performance of The Magic Lamp using water, oil and overhead projectors.

This is lovely theatre for children who like making shadows with the bedside table lamp, although I think the narrator doesn't today quite pull off the multiple personalities required for old Arabia. He's a dab hand with a light beam, though.

And the fun doesn't end there. It's back on the coach and off to Ely for the cathedral. You see? You can learn something if you put that coffee cup down and start wandering about old England pretending to educate your offspring.

Ely is a cute little place, and I like it. It's nothing more than a small market town and it has an air that suggests the inhabitants like to think it is genteel and prosperous. The Oxfam shop in the high street probably considers itself on a par with Oxford and Ealing.

Yet in this comfortable and homely little town, there is an enormous and imposing don't-mess-with-me cathedral, towering over everything and everyone, watching, probably, just in case you have a mind to sin.

It's so huge that it spurns the day trippers with their crude photo cameras. You can see it's not possible to fit it all into the frame.

And you can see the sort of impact it has on the pilgrim gritlets. Here they are. See the jubilation in those footsteps? That's the thought of being locked in a cathedral for two hours for their own good.

But this says something about this huge monument. Its shadow spreads large, damping down the green spaces and narrow streets. If it wasn't for the ridiculously ambitious architecture - the sort of medieval madness that knows the height of a structure by the point at which it falls down - then I would say this building is way over-the-top domineering and oppressive and out of all proportion to its place. Yet this is exactly why we all come to it; the space inside the cathedral is huge and compelling. Shafts and beams of light pattern the stone, shifting gracefully as the light through the windows lifts and falls each day.

Here we have the power of the church, right in the bog, I tell the gritlets. The story goes that the cathedral owes something to Etheldreda who popped her clogs sometime in the seventh century. Pilgrims started to flock to the small eel island here in the marshy flatness of fenland. Very soon, and probably turning a bob or two from this holidaying business, the enterprising Norman bishop Simeon ordered the building of a cathedral. It was finished in 1189. And, business being business, the cathedral still charges an entrance fee.

Now, at this point you'd probably think we'd had enough education, what with the Christian imagery, candle tour and all. But no, because it's the stained glass museum next, followed by a do it yourself stained glass workshop.

The stained glass museum is fascinating, and if you're wandering past Ely cathedral, I'd recommend it. Here's Mary, being told she's going to have a baby.

Those hands in elevated Gollygosh surprise? That face beautifully serene? I bet at the first scan the sonographer didn't blurt out There's three in here! like she did with me. Then Mary wouldn't look quite so calm.

There. Now it's back to the coach and home again in the dark, munching on treacle flapjacks that Grit made yesterday in preparation.

You see? There are worse things to do with a life than spend a year or so home educating, if you are stirring those coffee spoons and staring out the window, wondering what next to do.


Mr Farty said...

And I thought Jazz Hands was a 20th century phenomenon...we always learn something new here.

Katherine said...

Lovely post. Imagining Mary with three. The father, the Son, the Son, the Son and the Holy Ghost... Chortle.

sharon said...

Ely Cathedral is magnificent. Really dominates the landscape for miles around. I suppose that was a great help to the pilgrims in days gone by, no excuses for getting lost on the way!

The Finely Tuned Woman said...

I must say that you do end up in some interesting places and a cathedral sounds right up my alley. The gritlets are very stoic, taking it all in at their age, although there was a cathedral in my hometown and I was very impressed with it as a child.

Jax said...

Must pay Ely another visit when we relocate, thanks for reminder :)

Oh, and Merry Season's Greetings - happy day after day after boxing day as Small is singing.