Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Canterbury Tales

If you are at all familiar with Canterbury, or even if you are not, you should have heard of Chaucer.  The medieval author of saucy bawdry who to this day is capable of making school children sob into their school dinners as they try to translate what is effectively gobbledegook to the modern ear. 

Middle English has that effect on people.

The 20 or so tales that form his magnum opus describe the antics of a group of pilgrims as they travelled from Southwark of all places to Canterbury.  During the long journey they needed entertaining and so told stories to each other, some lewd, some romantic, some tragic and some farcical.  These stories collectively became known as the Canterbury Tales.

Now, I can't say for certain exactly what sort of stories you are likely to overhear in The Canterbury Tales these days, but I'm pretty sure that there will be some lewd, some romantic, some tragic and some farcical in there.  After all, human nature hasn't changed all that much in the 700 odd years since Chaucer got his quill out.
The Canterbury Tales is located opposite the Marlowe Theatre, next to Pilgrims.  It has a very different vibe to Pilgrims though.  The Tales (as it is affectionately known by the the locals) attracts a slightly rocky, indie crowd and is definitely a student magnet pub.   The shot list is a fairly strong indication of this.  Sinead and I decided to try out the Cherry Bakewell's (or I may have impulsively marched to the bar and ordered a couple then force fed Sinead - I forget).  They taste just like cough syrup, something my parents used to have to hide from me as I would quite happily gulp it from the bottle, sickness or no sickness. 
The Tales is a bit grubby, a bit shabby and a bit rough around the ages but it is warm, welcoming and inviting, filled with people who are more interested in art and music and debate and conversation than in standing around, waiting for other people to notice them (anyone else think of Cocktail when they read that - fairly sure I just ripped off a line from that film).

The atmosphere is definitely what draws people in -it is unpretentious and friendly and you can banter quite happily with the bar staff and the other punters as you wait to be served.  

In addition to the shooters there is a broad mix of ales, some of which you may find on offer and spirits (boasting the largest spirit measure in Canterbury), as well as your usual mix of lagers.  Prices are reasonable, just watch out for the interval queues from the Marlowe Theatre - you don't want to time your glass running dry with the masses from next door descending!
We finished rehearsal relatively early one night so rocked up for a couple of quiet bevvies and a relax on a Friday night.  This is probably the quietest I have ever seen The Tales.  I've tried to blog it before but given up as all the photo's just came out as the back of someone's jacket and their head, and I'm not tall enough to reach over the crowd for the wide ranging shots like other people.  Tall people.  People who don't need to climb on the kitchen counters to reach something from the top shelf of a cupboard.

The Tales is a late night license venue so attracts huge crowds of people as all the other places give them a kick in the backside at closing time out of the door.  Get here at 11pm and you won't fit in the door, I don't care how hard you suck your gut in.
There is a bit of a gothic vibe to the Tales with its blood red walls, baroque wall paper,  raging fire place, rough hewn wooden furniture, creaking sofas and creepy Victorian portraits.  Like a lot of Canterbury pubs it is also a bit windy inside, more a connection of small, intimate rooms linked by the bar than one large, anonymous space. 
Candles stuffed into Jack Daniels bottles long since drained of their liquor litter the table tops, dripping trails of red wax begging for an inprint of a seal. 
It was these corded bottles that provided the inspiration for one of the most baffling games I have ever witnessed the boys play.  Ben and Tim spent a good 15 minutes staring in fixed fascination at the oozing stub of the candle softly dripping the last of it's life down the neck of the bottle, debating the exact moment in which it would plunge into Jack's belly.
It was fascinating stuff.  You can tell by the fact that Sinead has given up trying to talk to them and is now on her phone.  I'm photographing them, although it has to be said this is more out of puzzlement than fascination.
Elsewhere the crowd was entertained by the mixture of music spilling out of the Jukebox.  Approaching the Jukebox is an act of courage itself - you will be judged based upon your song selection (music snobbery - it's a thing) and woe betide the individual who puts One Direction or Justin Bieber on.  The Tales also puts on regular theme nights of music, such as the Disco evening at the start of March to celebrate the last showing of Thriller at the Marlowe.
I like the Tales.  It's not the most fancy of pubs in Canterbury but it feels genuine, unpretentious and real.

Also the music selection is superb.  Sadly the vocal range of the customers isn't always as good.

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