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Pastimes >

Word from Wormingford

Ronald Blythe notes that most of today’s talk is about money

THE SPRING arrived on Monday. Thousands of snowdrops in my wood, which had hung there in a closed, waiting state, opened up. Birdsong became loud and bell-like. There was an exultant calling from bare trees. Even the men prodding about in the squishy mess that was supposed to be the lower cart-track, searching for a leakage, sounded joyful. They raised their voices in childlike delight when the water level began to rise around their wellies. “We’ve found the spring!” they cried.

I turned off the radio. It has been running money, money, money without stop. I was born when farmers hadn’t two pennies to rub together, as they said. This was bad. But isn’t it equally bad to have millions of pounds to rub along with? To pile up this when one is old, as the rich men’s faces on the screen frequently are? Who is counting? Everybody, it seems. Eventually, the total becomes astro­nomical, and pointless even to Mr Peston; for all I see are his wide eyes as the figures stretch them beyond comprehension.

In the old manor house on its Saxon mound (to prevent the Stour from seeping in) we discuss the parish’s future. The young are dubious, the old philosophical. It was here before Domesday, and how can it not be here after Madoff, as it were? Of course, the village bodger and not the diocesan architect kept the church more or less watertight. The books showed the care and expense. “Mr Smith, for mending the tower, £3.”

Young men straight from the commuters’ train and still in their smart suits tot up what we have and what may be required of us. Stone window-frames made in 1450 need repairing. They must have accepted the lowest estimate. George Herbert used to say, “Nothing lasts but the Church!” To his mother’s horror, he paid for the rebuilding of Bemerton and Leighton Bromswold out of his own pocket, the latter as an archi­tectural version of his poetry.

After the meeting, Tom and I talk about his herd of Lincolns and how very soon — well, April — he will open the shed doors, and, after a moment of disbelief at such good fortune, these cows will rush out of prison into the water-meadows, leaping and bellowing with bliss.

Tom loves his animals too much for his own comfort. He gives them names, which they say is a mistake. A heifer to the slaughter is one thing; Kevin to the slaughter, another.

Me: “You haven’t got a bullock named Kevin?”

Tom’s wife: “Yes, he had.”

Alas, poor Kevin. Alas, poor Tom. I tell the white cat, “Your name is Kitty.” She looks amazed.

At night, the ancient rooms say, “It will soon be Lent.” All day, I write my Tithe Map book, only breaking off for reccies round what used to be my fields, getting cold and muddy.

Having to help judge a literary prize, I read, read, and read. The authors are all strange to me, as indeed are some of their publishers. There was a time when it was all familiar, the names, the colophons on the spines, the puffs on the backs. In a way it is refreshing — and an education.

I read the obituary of Edward Upward, died aged 105, whose life contained all my youthful reading and all 20th-century politics, all its ideals and rebellion. All of its excel­lent literary style.

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