It was my stepfather who instilled in me a love of churches and cathedrals. He was an enthusiast. We used to go on holidays to what seemed to my schoolfriends, strange places. Other kids went to Blackpool, Majorca or stayed at home. We went to Cornwall, Somerset, Suffolk and Dorset. For much of the time we did not even have a car. We stayed in cottages rather than hotels, at a time when no-one else we knew did such a thing (early 1970s – the cottages got a little more sophisticated as the years went by.) Most of these holidays were down South because that is from where stepfather hailed. He was a man of woods, churchyards, country pubs and pipe smoke.
One particularly special trip was to Salisbury Cathedral. I would be about 13 or 14 years old or so. I remember that it rained that day harder than I had seen in many years. We entered this truly amazing space, soaked to the skin – really soaked. A man, one of the clergy, came to talk to us. I can’t remember what was said but I was in awe. I grew up in the industrial north, whichis not without its own cathedrals – to capitalism – but this was something else! Salisbury Cathedral is absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful.
I think it was on that holiday that we also did brass rubbings in Gloucester Cathedral. I truly don’t mean to sound like a snob but it’s no wonder I was seen as rather, well, bohemian. Bringing a brass rubbing home to’t mill town was a bit different from bringing back a stick of rock from Blackpool. (We did spend a lot of time in Blackpool too, I must add. We weren’t that bohemian!) They were really happy times.