Taking the Plunge: Re-Visiting Portsmouth Cathedral

Pool covers bring a worshipper home to Portsmouth.

As Nelson Mandelda once said:

“There is nothing like┬áreturning to a place┬áthat remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

My job takes me all over the country, but in all my years as a delivery man for a swimming pool supplier I’d never had to return to Portsmouth. My relationship with this place was not what you’d describe as ‘chequered’, but I’d nonetheless made a silent pledge with myself to not return, that was until it popped up on my delivery schedule. The kinds of memories that I have of Portsmouth are the kind of primal recollections that linger in the head free of definition or any kind of context. They were embedded so early in my life that they have become almost unattainable in their vagueness.

Do you remember the first time you entered a church or a cathedral? Do you remember the first time you were held by your grandmother? Can you recall the first time you encountered the soothing scent of lavender?

It was a delivery of swimming pool covers that took me back to the city of Portsmouth, a place that I’d never planned on returning to.

The name didn’t register in my mind when I saw it appear on my docket for the day. The name after all, so utterly utilitarian in its plain-faced description, doesn’t conjure up any kind of fanciful English ideals. Just like its name, the city itself had left no lasting impression on my mind. No street names triggered any memories as I trundled through Portsmouth’s streets with my payload and before I knew it I’d delivered the swimming pool covers with time to spare.

Having no other jobs to complete that day and with a wilful intent to uncover the source of my frustratingly nagging memories, I dove into my phone to look for what had stopped me returning to this otherwise featureless place. When scanning through a list of attractions an interior photo of a church caught my eye; plain white, blindingly bright and pure, it stopped me in my tracks. I set my navigation and made a beeline for Portsmouth Cathedral.

The smell of lavender was the first thing that I noticed. How had I forgotten? Soothing and clearing my mind, I walked slowly towards the building’s entrance. Churches, cathedrals, chapels: these are all things that I tend to ignore when driving around the country. Like coffee shops and supermarkets my brain had long ago told me to not pay attention to their details. This felt like the first time that I was looking at a Cathedral since, well, since the first time I looked at a Cathedral.

I was a child again. Four years old and tiny, I now remembered looking up at the building staggered by its immensity and yet comforted by the embrace of my Grandmother. Lavender.

She had worn lavender perfume that day and although I had not returned there with her again, it was a memory that I am glad I reclaimed for myself.