Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Ely Loons

When I was very young, we spent a particularly happy summer in a cottage in Suffolk. I don't know if that part of England is generally sunny but, at least in my memory, for the weeks we were there it seemed to be always bright and warm. It also seemed to be wonderfully empty, its flat golden landscape quite undisturbed by traffic, unless you counted the Massey-Ferguson combine harvesters that moved steadily across the fields.

I divided most of my time between a) bicycling to the local village shop to buy boiled sweets and toffees, b) lying on my bed and reading while sucking the boiled sweets and toffees and c) developing a peculiarly intense relationship with the cottageowners' hamster, until he escaped my over-zealous attentions by disappearing down a burrow in the garden, (and was replaced by another rather more likeable and therefore less interesting specimen, bought from a stout woman with bad teeth who sold all kinds of vermin from a stall in Ipswich market).

There is no such thing as paradise on earth, of course, and therefore I was dragged away from sweets, books and furry animals from time to time, in order to be taken on 'excursions'. One of these was to Ely Cathedral.

I remember the place as very beautiful. Strangely, I don't any more. Nothing has actually changed in the intervening years, except that the Church of England has become revoltingly rapacious. Therefore, instead of  entering the cathedral and being struck by the loveliness of the building's interior, you walk in and find yourself face-to-face with a large wall-mounted flat screen TV.

On the television, the absurdly large prices the church now charges visitors who want to enter the cathedral are displayed, together with information about the gift shop (which has been slotted into a space that I suspect was once a pretty chapel for private prayer). Somehow, this ugliness took the gloss of Ely's flying buttresses when I visited a couple of months ago, even though they're really just as lovely as they ever were.

And, in fact, even the tackiness of the interior redesign couldn't dim my enthusiasm for one aspect of Ely Cathedral - the gargoyles. They were the first gargoyles I'd ever noticed, and I remember thinking as I gazed up at them, 'Ah, at last I understand what I was put on earth for - to be a gargoyle-maker'. Sadly, it didn't take long to discover that I'd been born far too late. Never mind - sometimes dreams are better than reality: I'd probably never have been able to match the sheer character of some of the works that adorn Ely now:


  1. Very impressive gargoyles. Shame about the big screen tv and the gift shop

  2. Nurse - I especially like the man who appears to be picking his nose (picture 6, I think)