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Features > Pastimes >

Word from Wormingford

Ronald Blythe visits the Aldeburgh Festival to talk on rural literature

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EARLY MORNING in the heatwave, the air still and sullen, the trees cardboard shapes, the birds silent. One can almost hear the dead rose-petals falling. David’s corn is a motionless bluey-green sea. At the moment, the day is holding back its potential and seems uncommitted, but in a little while the sun will spin up in the east like a gold coin. Yesterday, the washing dried in an hour.

The old house creaks a bit, and stays cool. Its pin-tiles cook. Strong eastern scents are burnt out of English roses. I watched a baby owl occupy one of those hedgerow elms that grow to 20 feet and then die. His baby feathers were as yet tumbled and unsettled. He looked down at me from on high. I mowed a bit, raked a bit, and heard a Wim­ble­­don woman howling at every shot. I had left all the windows wide. The white cat, a Quietist, was sleep­ing the heatwave away under a bush.

On Friday, I went to the Aldeburgh Festival to talk about East Anglian writers. As usual, the North Sea was an immense wall about to fall on the borough. I met Martin Bell in the Jubilee Hall, and we sat on the stage, forsaking our notes, as we remembered his father, Adrian, the disturbing short-story writer Mary Mann, Henry William­son, and the youthful Julian Tenny­son, whose Suffolk Scene lived in my bicycle basket throughout my teens.

Afterwards, Vicky and I called on Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, and Imogen Holst in their graves at the far end of the vast churchyard, then drove home, running into the weekenders. Soon, for we each lived down old farm tracks, there would be only animals and children to greet us. And this heat. Late at night, I watered the tomatoes from the stream, and listened to a grown-up owl.

The Armed Forces Service was somewhat a surprise. A bugler arrived, and four British Legions. And George, a little boy, to read the familiar lines about not growing old. We sang Charles Wesley’s “Sol­diers of Christ, arise” for the proces­sional . . . “Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul.” And I draped the flags against a statue of St Alban, a British soldier in Roman uniform who had changed clothes with a priest so that he could escape death during the Diocletian purge of Christianity. Was Alban executed in vestments?

Anyway, my history sermon over, I returned the standards to their bearers, one as young as Alban, one as old as the Second World War, and we sang our way out into the sunshine. The Colonel had read the Beatitudes, which I had lengthened to include, “Ye are the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world.”

When we ritually gather at the Crown for a pint, however, it is to find half-a-dozen of the congrega­tion smoking outside in a kind of purpose-built veranda, and looking like boys behind the bike-shed. Inside the bar, we virtuous ones, including an Air Chief Marshal, politely discuss “belief”. It is 28 June, the feast day of St Austol, who most likely gave his name to St Austell. An absolutely idle afternoon, barring a few weeds, then evensong without bugles. The grit from the new road repairs flies up like hot deterrents.

The Great Bindweed is out and climbing the slow bushes in the track, trumpeting summer. Its huge white bells peal from the ditch. It was called Morning Glory in Somerset, and may have given its name to the even more glorious Ipomoeas of New England.

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