yasmin chopin | Birthday trappings
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Birthday trappings

Peterborough Cathedral tesserae mosaic floor

Birthday trappings

Dreary grey weather cloaked his late November birthday. What to do, where to go? A walk followed by pub grub had seemed like a good idea but the damp air cooled our enthusiasm. We decided on a trip to Peterborough for a bit of pre-Christmas shopping and promised ourselves lunch at Bill’s restaurant in Church Street. An early start to the day meant we’d finished poking around the indoor centre by noon and we were fast becoming jaded by the commerciality of Christmas. We forced a path to the automatic sliding doors and, wrapping ourselves against the drizzle, we took a turn outside and mooched about the square. The cathedral entrance beckoned.

‘Let’s take a look at the cathedral, haven’t been there for donkey’s-’ 

‘We visited…when was it… must be ten years ago.’ he said.

An acquiescent response was good enough for me though I knew he would have preferred to sit in a cafe with a large slice of carrot cake. I felt justified in saving him from calorie overload on his seventy-first and coaxed him toward the squat building and its thousand years of history.

Peterborough Cathedral facade

Peterborough Cathedral interior

A half hour here is much better for the mind and body, and the soul possibly I thought as we stamped our feet on the mat in the cathedral portico. Before we could orient ourselves a grey suited man greeted us, he was wearing a red sash. As the words ‘we’re just looking’ formed in my mouth he asked,

‘Would you like to join Sue who is conducting a free tour of the cathedral?’


Places that inspire: Peterborough Cathedral is at the heart of the city. Easy to access, next to the shops, schedule an hour minimum.


Sue smiled and said she’d be starting in five minutes and I, glad for being warm and dry, accepted. In the same instance I hesitated realising I should have checked with my companion. But he was happy. It was free. And a guided tour was better than wandering aimlessly.

We were the only customers for Sue’s tour which left no option to slip away should we get bored so we entered into the spirit of it and listened intently as we were gently manoeuvred clockwise around the building. We saw evidence of the vandalising damage Cromwell’s soldiers had inflicted on the fabric of the building. We stood a few feet above the body of Katherine of Aragon who was buried in 1536 by Old Scarlett a gravedigger who himself lived to the ripe old age of ninety-eight. I remembered the Tudors and how cruelly Henry VIII played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers treated his first wife. (It was slated for its lack of historical accuracy but it was good TV viewing.) With heaviness in the pit of my stomach I was grateful that I hadn’t had to produce babies to order. My eyes moved away from the Royal Standard and toward the Spanish flag.

Peterborough Cathedral Katherine of Aragon Spanish flag

Peterborough Cathedral stained glass window and faceless clock

Peterborough Cathedral Old Scarlett gravedigger

An hour flew past filled with thoughts about floors and ceilings: from the cheeky Roman tesserae workmen who substituted slate for marble to the polished limestone referred to as Alwalton marble; from the medieval art glass window to the faceless clock; and the canted wooden boards on high, decoratively painted to persuade your gaze heavenwards.


On my Talking Interiors page there’s a short video, ‘Wow factor’. Take a look… up!


Donations help keep the place heated; our fivers were but a small contribution to the four thousand pounds (£4,000) it costs every day to keep the place going. We said goodbye to Sue and the man in the red sash who hadn’t moved from the door. Slightly mesmerised by all the information we thrust our hands in our pockets and toddled off to Bill’s to digest and discuss, and toast my friend’s birthday.