Its our last morning in Maidstone UK. Yay, yippee, hurrah and thank Christ, oops sorry God. We are in the carpark of the Innkeeper’s Inn awaiting a taxi to transport us somewhere nice. Anywhere nice. Coorow for instance. But first, I have a phone call to make. So excuse me.
‘Hello God, its Earthling Wooly Mammoth here from the small Blue Planet. Just to the left of the Intergalactic Highway that your son Jesus travelled on after Pontius Pilate gave him a bit of biffo and hung him on a cross. That’s if my memory serves me correctly. No. Ah, you don’t recollect aye. Well, it was 2018 years ago God. Remember. Yay you do. Did he make it in one piece? These days God, a soul has to dodge all those fanatical Muslim Tea Towel ISIS Heads out in intergalactic space with AK 47’s looking for the promised 23 Virgins each. Cripes, you had better tell Archangel Gabriel that he has competition for those Vestal Virgins. He he he. Got it. Right, your’e not in the mood for one of my jokes. Aye, whats that about your Son Jesus and his Mum Mary. You are laughing about what. Oh, the Immaculate thing. Really, was it a prototype IVF. By bloody cripes God thats amazing back then. Hey, how do you manage that God to Jesus to Christ bizzo. Teleport yourself about aye. And are you the Boogy Man as well. He he he. OK, your’e busy so I’ll get to the point of this call. Well I just wanted to let you know that Sue, my wife, and I, on our twelve week expedition to Europe, yes yes yes I’m getting to the bloody point, have been very dutiful and visited as many of your churches as possible. Yes, I know, your’e thinking I’m only dutiful when there is no Bethlehem Type Inn open, hmm. Or bottle of Jamesons within arms length. Whats that. Begging your pardon, you occasionally stuff things up in the duty sense as well. Whats that. Getting your nose out of joint. Ha ha Ha. Go laugh with whats his name, ah, Archangel Gabriel. And whats he doing with those Vestal virgins. And just who created Black Holes, Quarks, Red Dwarfs, Quantum Mechanics, Vladimir, Donald, Pauline, Clive and Tony. Not to mention Jeans with Holes in them. Hmm. And by cripes it makes one giggle and laugh by Christ. Oops sorry God, apologies. I’m telling you this hoping that I get a few millennium off spending time with the Devil when I cark it. My head in a bucket of hot number two’s. No you have it wrong, I visited as many churches as possible, This of course assumes that you really are the real God responsible for the mess our tiny Blue Planet is in. Perhaps you should have diverted that meteorite that wiped out the dinosaur’s. You have competition out there you know. What with the Protestants, Catholics, Rag Heads, Muslims, Falun Gong, Sikhism, Tea Towel Heads, Ku Klux Kan’s, Buddhists, Atheists, and Greenies. Cripes, the lines gone dead. Bloody gPhone. Means a visit to the Granny Smith Apple Franchise.
Well anyway, whether you are listening or not, I report in that All Saints Church Maidstone, UK, Borough of Kent, wins the ‘Bestus Church in Europe Competition’. As judged by an ageing excommunicated Catholic. Moi. I judged it the Bestus based on the fact its bloody interesting not just to the religious minded but to church geeks like me.
Ive been through the doors of most of Europes grand churches. I even got inside St Peters when the Pope wasn’t looking and found that its bloated with riches beyond belief. Paintings, statues, fresco’s, tapestry’s, silver and gold jewellery, chalices and ornaments. And men in dresses. One of the Pope’s, Leo X, back centuries ago, had a pet Elephant named ‘Hanno’ who died of Irritable Bowel Syndrome right inside one of the Vatican City courtyards. Leo was so distraught, he had the papal woodcarver, Pinocchio’s Dad Geppetto, carve Hanno’s image in one of its door panels. The only probiotic they had to treat Hanno back then, was a length of lead hose.
Another Pope, several in fact, had wives, girlfriends and children. Check out Pope Clement 1523 – 1534. Thus he and others committing the mortal sin of Hanky Panky. Yay for the Pope’s. It should be allowed today. Move the Popery and the Catholic Boys Dress Up Club into the married/partner 21st century and leave the children alone. Climbing on your high horse there a bit sonny boy. You feel better now. ‘Yes Mum much better. Lets share a sherry and play a game of draughts.
I’ve even been inside and climbed up Paris’s Notre Dame windy stone staircase to say gidday to Quasimodo dinging and donging his bells. I’ve seen Irelands, Scotlands, Englands, Hollands, Belgiums, Frances and Australia’s best churches. Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to Maidstone’s All Saints Church. Its in the Borough of Kent. Born in the late 14th century, on the site of a Saxon Chapel, Saint Mary’s, which was bowled over. All Saints Maidstone is virtually unchanged from 1396 when it was completed. But by cripes, it looks its age.
In fact it reeks of old age. It contains history, knowledge and secrets in its architecture, its walls, floors, its perpendicularity, (Whats that mean sonny boy. ‘Dunno Mum but it sounds good’), its space, its worn uneven floor where lie numerous engraved slabs marking graves. In its hundreds of wall plaques, statues, carvings, memorials, statements, paintings and frescoes some bearing the marks of Cromwell’s soldiers knives and bayonets as they tried to deface Catholic imagery. As do the heavy timber entry doors bear musket ball indentations during one of Englands Civil Wars. Its like a moth eaten well thumbed stone Encyclopedia of English and Maidstone history.
All messily encrypted and set into the lining of its walls and floor. Its not a fancy looking pile of stone in fact it looks like it needs some botox, make-up and tummy tucks. Or a good reliable Laxative followed by a colonoscopy. It was described a few centuries ago as the Grandest Perpendicular Church in England. I have no idea what that means. Perhaps that person had a hog’s head of scrumpy on board. And thats just the inside. Outside its buttressed walls of hard blue grey limestone named ‘Rag Stone’ are partly capped with a crenellated parapet like it’s for bowmen to fire their arrows. The walls and parapets are all grimy, dirty, sooty as the stone has been crying tears as anybody, anything aged does. But in this case, for centuries. Set amidst a gloomy higgly piggly graveyard, where tall tombstones sit leaning drunkenly, shrouded in grime, the details of the skeleton who lies at its feet barely readable. Weeds add to the misty, lumpy moors feel.
Amongst the hundreds of wall decorations, is a plaque dedicated to a Reverend Lawrence Washington 1602-1653. Rev Laurie is buried in the church yard. Hundreds of Yanks come each year to visit his grave and to have a squiz at his wall plaque. For what reason? Well his wall plaque has the prototype for the American Stars and Stripes Flag. Theres the stripes and theres the stars. You see, the Rev was the g-g-grandfather of George Washington who had a say in the initial Yank Flag. And those modern day Yanks think they thought up the design. It was pinched from the pommies.
But wait there’s more. For back in time again, on 1 June 1648, during England’s second official civil war, there’s one going on at the moment over Brexit, a rag tag bunch of some 2,000 ‘Royalist’, the ‘Cavaliers’, soldiers made up of mainly cavaliers with citizens, seamen and watermen, faced off against and fought 4,000 battle hardened veterans on the Parliamentarian, ‘Roundhead’ side. They all fought to the death, at night, in heavy rain. Silly buggers. The hill on which squats the church of All Saints Maidstone, ran red with blood as hundreds fell dead. The smarter scaredy-cat Royalist soldiers, with horses, as the Cavaliers were essentially horse mounted, hid inside the church behind its solid doors as the Parliamentarians tried to batter the doors down. Their lives were saved by a catholic God and a kindly protestant Parliamentarian General. Not to mention solid oak doors. This was another English Civil War lasting from 1642 to 1652 and was about the right of the ‘people’ or Parliamentarians to govern the country rather than the ‘Royalist’ monarchy. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell whose nickname was ‘Old Ironsides’, took over and he was a real bastard particularly to the Irish. Being known as a ‘Puritan Moses’, a Protestant, and as the Irish were Catholic, and as he had better ‘Toys’ at his disposal, he defeated but never subjugated the Irish. Yay for Guinness and ‘blight’ free Tatties.
Maidstone where we were ensconced in the former First Light Dragoons timber framed three story barracks, now the Innkeepers Inn, grr grr, just a stone’s throw from All Saints World’s Best Church, had a population of 113,137 in year 2011. The town got its name, apparently, from stones set in the Medway River just down there. Where the Maids would come and wash, rinse and chat standing on the stones. Viola – Maidstone. The River Medway, is itself suffering from a bout of dysentery. Far too many people washing their clothes and themselves in its water.
I do not know what all those 113,137 people do all day apart from mope about, slowly stroll along the malls, ginking at the shops, each other, smoke, drag children, shopping trolleys, dogs and their Mum hoping to lose her. And their kids.
Don’t bother coming here. Its town centre projects a grim, grimy setting for a grim, grimy movie starring Boris Karloff, Vladimir, Kim Jong-un, Donald and Bronwyn Bishop. The retail centre generally, sad looking with a mix of ancient, old and recent buildings. Many cafes, restaurants, English, Indian, Chinese, Turkish, McDonalds, KFC, Salmonella, you name it. A few quaint pubs but lonely inside. Many ragged down and outers strolling wearily about dragging on a ciggy. Some lay, coffee cup in front hoping for a penny. Older people, Onslow and Daisy’s parents, the life seemingly sucked from them, haul their shopping trolley along as this is their daily outing. Right in the city centre is the gaol built in the late 18th century possibly to provide employment as promised by a successful Mayoral candidate. Its now an eyesore particularly to the over 419 inmates. Mind you, the rest of what we saw in our wanderings, pushes closely for second place. Over a G & T, Susan and I rated what we saw 5/10. Sorry Maidstone. The G & T rated 8/10.
Bye bye Maidstone, all Saints Church and Innkeepers Inn. We will not be back. Au revoir Mon Cherie.
Have a ‘Jolly Hockey Sticks’ day from She, Susan 😘 and He, Des 😇 XX