Firstly, what you need to know about me is that when I have to eat, I really have to eat. I mean, try getting me to do anything when I'm hungry, and see how far it gets you. Conversation? Forget it. I'm too busy rocking back and forth. Decision-making goes out the window. If there's a chance that there might be some food hiding somewhere around the building, all I can think about it is finding, taking and eating it. I can't concentrate; I lose my temper; I behave dreadfully. This is not to excuse how I behaved in the cathedral, but rather to place it in a context you can all understand. We've all been hungry, you know? It's important to acknowledge this. But yes, you're absolutely right, people don't generally do That Thing I Did, hungry or not.
Now, I love tours. Don't even talk to me about those audio-guide ones, though - give me need a real, live, flesh-and-blood tour guide with a positive attitude, a wealth of knowledge and a clearance badge any day. Someone I can lean on when my eyes go wibbly from food-lack, or question after the tour with my list of questions which I compile as I absorb information and get confused about some of it. I've been on every type of tour you could possibly name, unless there's a new kind I haven't heard about, like a rollercoaster tour or something, which you can keep to yourself, buddy, because I hate rollercoasters, I can't hear at speed, the tour would be too short anyway and - perhaps most importantly - I find it difficult to eat when my eyes are closed. Eating without seeing is a mountain I have yet to scale with dignity. So forget that - it's not happening, unless they invent a slow-motion version along a flat track, which they have, now that I think of it, and it's called a steam train, and yes, I've done a guided steam railway tour and it was excellent. Ran out of scones, though.
How many tours have I been on, or On how many tours have I been? I've lost count, but there's an alphabetized folder in the attic conversion which houses the ticket stubs (mint in most cases, save for the coffee museum one, which got blood on it). I've seen cider presses, stamp collections, model railways, 14th-century castles, 16th-century castles, no 15th-century castles, pleasure gardens, Roman baths, pump houses, caves, you name it. Well, I name it. That's just a glimpse into my touring résumé.
My behaviour at almost all times has been exemplary. I've listened to the histories, laughed along with the racier anecdotes, shaken my head in disbelief at the horror of incongruous post-Baroque brickwork and taken no longer than the appropriate twelve seconds to marvel at each fragment of erotic pottery being passed around the tour group. When it comes to sampling the wares, I never sip too much nettle wine or horse brandy or cake beer, as it makes me sneeze and that plays havoc with my subsequent bicycling. I'm courteous, if thorough, with the staff and always purchase at least three and at most five items from the gift shop, because a) memories and b) upkeep. Long story short, I know the ropes. In fact, I know the History of Rope, thanks to a wonderfully illuminating (albeit musty) tour of one of the finer Rope Musea. Heck, I even know the plural of "museum". As now do you.
It's not much of a stretch to say I'm a veteran of the touring scene, such as it is. As scenes go, it's a quiet one. And yet the outcry following last Tuesday's events has been deafening. Not since the days of the Safari Prankster has the public been so vocal in its defence of our glorious monuments. If anything, my actions, regrettable though they are, have united the people in support of our heritage and put cultural matters back in the spotlight for this brief and unfortunate moment. I'm not saying I acted out of a sense of civic duty - nothing was further from my mind at the time, I assure you - but the upshot of this, all going well, will be increased tour attendance and larger plasterwork budgets.
So to the matter at hand. What set me off? Well, I've mentioned how I get when I'm hungry. I feel I must reiterate that. I once collapsed in a monkey sanctuary - partly as an act of protest, partly as an act of starvation - when I discovered that the tea room was closed for renovation. What's more, a one-way system was in place in the Cathedral, meaning that where there was ingress, there was no egress, and vice-versa. A generally fluid system, well-meaning, tidy and perfectly adequate in a guided tour environment, but less than ideal in cases of extreme agitation and disorientation, particularly when we'd already bypassed the corridor to the café, which I'd been assured would be accessible through the gift shop. This I knew to be an outright lie, as I'd studied the cathedral layout diligently on the way in, as is my wont, and found that the café only had one door. I ask you! One door! And I hadn't eaten since breakfast - admittedly, a large breakfast - unless you count the extra sausages I had wrapped up and taken with me in my pockets and finished on that interminable barge excursion. Waste of time, by the way, that barge. Take a carriage instead. Fewer flies.
My ravenousness accelerated with a ferocity normally attributed only to the humble leafhopper (Insect and Reptile World, summer 1998), and with it, my concentration was diminishing lamentably. I found myself drifting out of our guide's hitherto fascinating history of the cathedral organ; where normally I would be privy to the entire sentence, I was now hearing garbled nonsense like "bombings continued... pedals...shipped...oarsman...1962...bucket". I'm quite sure I rested my head on a Swiss gentleman's backpack, having no idea where else to put it. When I summoned the strength to gaze once more at the magnificent ceiling - "a wedding gift from the Archbishop of Narnia", as far as I could make out - all sense of perspective and reason began to elude me. Where once there was a pillar, now there were undulating sheaves of linguine. What once resembled a scene from the life of the local abbot now seemed to depict a wolf devouring a penitent chicken wing. I could take no more. Who could withstand such a barrage of impossible delights, in the heavy heat of confusion? No man, that's who!
I did what I thought I had to do. The only thing that felt right. I stumbled fearlessly over the rope barrier (not technically rope, since it wasn't braided, but I won't split hairs). I mounted the red carpet staircase on my belly, clawing my way upwards with a desperation usually reserved for the gallows (Museum of Gallows and Buckets, spring 2002). I was deaf to the protestations of my fellow tourees, and indeed the tour guide, the once-patient, now-horrified Ralph. My mind had loosed itself from its moorings and was bound for pastures new; what meagre energy I now possessed was being channelled into my last attempt at survival, mounting the peak of the world with a hunger that raged with the fire of a thousand suns (roughly equivalent to 100 trillion H-bombs per second - Mobile Astronomy Exhibition information leaflet, 1993 and 1996). This was my Everest, my Thermopylae, my Alamo.
And right there in full view of my peers, in the light of a hundred and fifty-eight stained-glass Bible scenes, I ate the lectern. I ate the whole bloody thing. From top to bottom, I tore asunder a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year-old cathedral lectern with my bare hands, running on empty, chewed on its soft wood, swallowed it whole in surprisingly splinter-free fistfuls, all the while grunting like a brute at all those who threatened to approach. I'll never forget the horrible moans - my horrible moans - that accompanied the hideous act, nor the way time slipped by as I went through the motions of dismantling and gorging on what I took to be a slab of cured meat but turned out, as I was eventually dragged out, to have been the cathedral lectern. I cannot apologize enough. Nothing I say or do can or will repair the damage I've done, to those innocent bystanders, to the Cathedral, to the image of this fine publication or indeed to my teeth. All I can do now is resign.
Yours in contrition,
The Senior Travel Editor.
This piece will appear in Astonishing Sod's first book, I'm With "I'm With Stupid".
For more of his writing, visit his website.