Simon had trusted me to run the January Whodunnit TAW meeting, and here I was, running across a very wet Parliament Square, ducking under the barrier into Dean’s Yard, and sprinting for the café secreted in the medieval old part of Westminster Abbey – late.
And there was the group, sitting relaxed with coffees and notebooks, sharing and anticipating writing.
After our meet up and write up (a jolly exercise based on tomb inscriptions!), our group of seven went across to 1 Dean’s Yard for more coffee. I had contacted Westminster Abbey Education http://www.westminster-abbey.org/education and had had a very warm and positive response. They were more than happy to meet with us and share what we do alongside what they offer. Elizabeth had given up her Saturday morning to greet us and make us welcome in the Education building, with information about both the Abbey and the Education programme for schools. And then she took us in to the Abbey – through the atmospheric entrance from Dean’s Yard that leads to the cloisters – against the tide of exiting tourists. Elizabeth’s guidance helped us to see the Abbey in a different way. She pointed out the symbols chosen by knights, high up above their seats in the Lady’s Chapel. Then she took us in to the barred off Edward the Confessor’s Sanctuary (only for special tours, as I told the ordinary tourists trying to follow us beyond the rope cordon!). It is incredibly fragile – and despite placed where it is, near the centre of the Abbey, it is incredibly peaceful. Elizabeth gave us a fascinating insight into the history of the place alongside rich writing ideas. We had some time to write in that holy of holy shrines.
It was there that Katherine’s character refused to give in to saintly pressure, knelt by the relic of Edward’s bones encased in a jewelled sarcophagus, and surreptitiously pried off a few gems instead of praying.
For Janet, silent communion on a level with Henry V’s crowned head gave her continuing thoughts of an elegy, linked to an earlier response to the unnamed dead of Bogota.
In the Lady Chapel, where Elizabeth explained the development of the Abbey’s construction as a royal tomb, Humainah heard the voices of the surveyors: ‘Well, there’s nothing for it, we’re just going to have to move Henry VII a few feet to the left to get James I in.’
Of course we all went to Poets’ Corner, and that was where Martin saw these august men clambering up the walls to be noticed more than their peers, and Coleridge eyeing up the scantily clad female mourner across the aisle.
But Westminster Abbey is a symbol of so much to so many, which Alison interpreted through Blake. While Katie thought about the loneliness of the bones beneath our feet, and how they would prefer to feel the vibration of passing people trampling above them.
And for me, listening to the writing of the group (click here for examples), I continue to be encouraged to write for myself and to take my writing experiences in to the class room, rejuvenated – despite of, and because of, a wet cold January day in London.
And with special thanks to Elizabeth and the Abbey Education Centre, without whose generosity the visit could not have happened.
NWP Whodunit (London)