Dover

Faeries! Normans! Castles! Today was Dover day. By Dover, I mean that area in Southeast England with beautiful white cliffs, Norman castles, and the point of attack and evacuation for millions of foreign and native troops over the years. We started off the day with a visit to the infamous (singular?) Dover Castle. We were welcomed by cold stone and high ramparts, crows and moats, and a general sense of “Old” and “English”, both popular themes so far on this trip. The castle was true to its roots, showing some of the original rooms, bedding, and tools of its earliest inhabitants. We were advised on this trip to think of English Antiquity as the analog to American Enormity. Americans care about really big things. Brits care about really old things. Somehow we’ve ended up somewhere in the middle with obese 60-somethings and a mountain of health care debt. That and giant wheels of cheese. Om nom nom. In any case, Dover Castle lived up to the “old” expectation well. Apparently the phrase “Sleep Tight” comes from the fact that medieval royalty slept on beds with several ropes stretched between bedposts as a pseudo-mattress that they needed to tighten every night before bed. Also! People apparently slept sitting up? And they took an hour anti-nap in the middle of their night’s sleep! (So 4 hours sleep, 1 hour wakefulness, 4 more hours sleep). Who’d have thunk? Apparently the Brits. Rampants were fun. And violent. And authoritative. I saw a howitzer and may or may not have made exploding sounds several times before walking out the castle.

Like attracts like, birds of a feather flock together, and apparently military installations breed more military installations. With genetic variance by descent, of course. The Dover castle seems to be pregnant with a system of underground tunnels built in Napoleon times/early 18th century (fact check?) that were used as an impenetrable military bunker and troop dispenser. This series of tunnels is built into the cliffs of Dover under the Dover Castle and have all the propaganda you could ever consume wrapped into two informative if not slightly jarring 45-minute tours. The first tour is of the tunnel system the English used in WWII as a makeshift hospital. They have all kinds of fun old Hospital equipment (by ‘fun’, I of course mean everything that would be absolutely terrifying to actually have inside your body in an underground hospital – bloody scalpels, tongs, bandages, old-school morphine, etc.) and a little narrative that plays the story of a wounded RAF pilot as you walk through the system. Medicine is still barbaric, don’t get me wrong, but I’m certainly grateful for high-quality anesthetics. Morphine as the know-all end-all only goes far. The second tunnel system is associated with the evacuation of Dunkirk; basically thousands of English troops stranded and surrounded at Dunkirk on the European continent after failing to defend against Nazi invasion were desperately looking for a way out of their hell-hole of a retreat without getting bombed to bits in the English Channel. In response, England deputized all of its civilian boats to form a renegade regatta evacuation force that pulled a miracle number of troops from Nazi Concentration Camps. That certainly doesn’t mean that the Nazis didn’t use English fishing boats as target practice, but it does mean that a remarkable number of English troops could sit out hellfire and brimstone from the sky in their Dover tunnel system.

Intercontinental statecraft naturally led to internal conflict between church state and, after a brief bus-ride discussion with another avid Radiohead fan (Taylor, only married bro, RM from Thailand, High School Basketball player, Minnesota native), our group landed like locusts on Canterbury Cathedral. The name “Canterbury” should scream middle English to you, mostly because everyone has read (or ought to have read) Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a cute way to talk about the origins of the English language. As it turns out, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales aren’t exactly cute and neither is the history behind Canterbury (and, as a matter of fact, the history of the English language may not be quite so simple either). In Canterbury tales, a smattering of English citizens making a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral decide to compete in a story-telling contest to pass the time on the long road. Why Canterbury Cathedral? In ______, the King of England a the “irritable pest” Thomas Beckett, the King’s former best friend and Catholic authority, had a falling out about who was in charge (what is always about between men?) and the King intentionally or unintentionally had has knights assassinate the man. Beckett was murdered in the Cathedral and his blood covered the floors of Canterbury Cathedral with fame and pilgrim money. There is a relic in the Cathedral to celebrate/commemorate/commiserate? Thomas Beckett and the authority of the church. Beyond the historical significance of the Cathedral, the beautiful gothic architecture and stained-glass windows of the place speak for themselves, putting Canterbury Cathedral on the top of the list for Pilgrims then and now. A healthy dose of fudged washed away such contemplative thoughts with a tide of sweet-toothed content. Besides the several hours of reading and a late-night of homework left, the day was done.

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