Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

As the Pilgrims Turned Their Thoughts to God, I Ran among Them, Weeping and Wailing

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

As the Pilgrims Turned Their Thoughts to God, I Ran among Them, Weeping and Wailing

Article excerpt

The pilgrims had walked all the way from Ely: it took them 57 hours, and when they arrived in Little Walsingham, Norfolk's premier shrine town, most of them were shoeless. There were unworldly teenagers in tweed jackets and seven-year-old girls, heavily made up, from Irish traveller families. Bank holiday brings these itinerant acts of worship to the town, along with ice lollies, traffic jams and police vans.

One pilgrim was carrying a thin, portable Tannoy in a Karrimor rucksack. He sang Latin psalms in a high voice and as he did so, the 15thcentury gates to the grounds of Walsingham Abbey swung open. This was unusual, the attached manor house being privately owned and out of public view for most of the year. My father and I, coffee and cake in hand, ducked into the slipstream behind the devoted to get a rare glimpse of the local des res.

On the grass, exhausted Catholics knelt awaiting their chance to kiss a statue of the Virgin that had been carried in on a small sedan. I moved past them, chewing on my cream horn, thinking what a great party venue this might be, and became more enraptured still when I arrived at a bucolic grove graced by a stream, with a tiny footbridge. I imagined it hung with fairy lights.

It was at this point that I felt a sharp pain on the fourth finger of my right hand and, looking down, saw a black-and-yellow abdomen pulsating there, hooked into my knuckle.

Another striped body was fixed in the fork of my thumb and forefinger. I shook my hand furiously but failed to dislodge them. …

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