Norwich - beautiful, big league. Canterbury - not good, sad

Steve Downes says Norwich is beautiful

Steve Downes says Norwich is beautiful - Credit: Paul Hurst/

It's easy to take for granted the place where you live.

Familiarity has a habit of breeding contempt, and we begin to magnify the faults of a place, losing sight of its many positive aspects.

Those of us who live in and around Norwich are not immune to that negativity.

Yes, most of Anglia Square is an eyesore, some of the cycle lanes are bewildering, traffic can be chaotic and the brain statues on Hay Hill are a bit rubbish.

But I have been to countless English towns and cities and I convinced that we should have a superiority complex: our feet have landed in a place without equal.

The latest city that I visited for the first time was Canterbury, on Thursday.

In many ways, Norwich and Canterbury are similar. The population is about the same, they have a rich medieval history and a beautiful cathedral.

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I was quite excited about seeing Norwich's brother-from-another-mother, hoping it'd be a treasure.

But - sorry, Canterbury's tourism bosses - it's shabby, depressing and soulless.

It shouldn't be. For it has a collection of some of the most beautiful and eye-catching ancient buildings that I've ever seen.

However, a pretty face can be ruined by garish and clumsy make-up. In the same way, a 14th century building can be spoilt by being turned into a vape shop with a cheap and tacky colour scheme.

What should be the most characterful Canterbury streets - the equivalent of, say, Norwich Lanes - are besmirched by countless shops with hideous signage.

My partner and I were hoping to find a concentration of independent shops like art galleries, clothes stores and cafes. But the good ones were few and far between, and forced to rub shoulders with the bad and the ugly.

Overall, the centre looked like the place that town planning forgot.

In Trump tweet style:

Norwich - beautiful, big league. Canterbury - not good, sad.

We tried to save some of the day by visiting the cathedral, which would surely not let us down.

Then we saw the sign: adult admission £12.50.

I didn't say it out loud, but I thought: 'Go to Hell.' There was no way we were going to pay £25 to look around a place that should be free of charge.

Any compulsory fee for a cathedral or church is a rank display of hypocrisy and bad faith.

The Reformation was launched in part to oppose the sale of indulgences by greedy priests - one aspect of a culture of profiting from people's beliefs.

If Martin Luther or Huldrych Zwingli saw the 21st century Canterbury Cathedral entry fees, I suspect they'd prepare to nail up some new theses or turn over some tables.

Christians often regard churches as houses of God. They also claim they are in God's family and go to church to talk to Him and often have supper.

It'd be a rum old do if you were invited to your parents' for a family meal and they charged an entry fee, wouldn't it?

There is also the little matter of Christianity being founded on the doctrine of faith.

Pray, believe, receive - or say they say.

It's not an act of faith to force visitors to cough up £12.50, it's an act of no faith. It says: 'We don't really believe that God will provide, so let's go commercial.'

If it's getting tight, get the club members - sorry, congregation - to dig a bit deeper, pray a little harder, believe with a more determined expression.

If faith isn't enough (and I have the mental and emotional scars that say it isn't), sell some land or see what you can get for some of the family silver - the chalices, bowls and the big stuff that gets processed around cathedrals on high days and holidays.

There's a big market for vintage gear, so a hipster fair should pull in a few quid.

The counter argument is that a cathedral is a national treasure and should be funded accordingly. But you can't ask the godless great unwashed to pay for your cathedral unless you're prepared to make it into a genuine community building.

That's not going to happen though - it might get a bit loud, messy and sweary.

Anyway, I didn't make it inside Canterbury Cathedral because I object to being mugged, but the fact of the entrance fee was the final negative to contrast with Norwich.

At the moment, there is no charge to enter Norwich Cathedral, just lots of signs suggesting a minimum donation. That's just the right side of the line, as it could be argued that it's an act of faith to rely on people's donations.

It had better not change, though. Do not make me WhatsTwit or InstaFace my own theses.

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