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Features > Pastimes >

Word from Wormingford

The electrician finds the hornets, reports Ronald Blythe

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RAIN sweeps across the corn in silvery-grey sheets. The harvest has start-stopped, and the combines have crept back into their lairs like nervous dragons. Then the sun comes out, as blatant as you like.

Then Carl and Phil arrive with a great splash of electrics; for the deed is done, or soon will be. The farmhouse is to be rewired. They look without comment at the fuse-box, a museum piece. Then they ascend to the loft, a vast space straight out of Gormenghast. I dreaded this. I thought that it would fill the rewirers with horror and scorn. On the contrary, they are young, and they wander about in the beamy dust with wonder and grins.

But when they descend, Phil is pale. They have found a wasps’ nest, and he is terrified of wasps. The nest actually belongs to my hornets, who have lived up there since William and Mary. Only I don’t tell Phil this.

Carl is a gardener, is 29, and plays boules. “Everybody plays boules where I live.” He is waiting for an allotment. “Only, sad to say, a holder must pass away before I get one.” I cut him some bamboo rods.

They work quietly and neatly from top to bottom of the house. Fearful wires and switches are pulled out, and state-of-the-art ones are set in. At elevenses, we have coffee and talk about the housing ladder; at four o’clock, we have tea, and talk about the weekend. Carl reckons that a Saturday night costs him £125, what with a drink or two, the dancing, and the taxi home.

They work like artists on the ancient cat’s cradle of my electrics. I look into their world. It is good and true and gifted. When Carl comes into the study, he says, “A typewriter! You don’t often hear one of them.” He listens as one would to a wind-up gramophone. He has cobwebs in his hair. By Friday, it will all have been done, the rewiring, the fearless switches, the new points. And to think that I was born by candlelight.

On Sunday, I preached on Memory. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “Do this in remembrance of me.” What I actually talked about was not forgetting. I remembered Paul telling the Ephesians to remember that Christ brought them to life. His difficulty — horror, even — was the inescapable memory of who he had been.

I remember a bad painting of the Sea of Galilee which I fantasised about during Sunday school. The ships in the picture would sail to romantic ports and out of the frame. Nothing could prevent their voyagings. On the wall of the little Norman church down the river the ship with the striped sail on the south wall is art. Medieval boys would have daydreamed it sailing off the plaster into the Stour and then into the ocean. It is the common experience to have, running side by side, religious conventions and personal religious imaginings. They make us what we are.

We sing Psalm 97. “There is sprung up a light for the righteous

. . . for such as are true-hearted.” I announce the Farm Walk, the Bicycle Ride, the new postcard of the St George and the Dragon window. Anything else? As I have a farm walk every day, I will probably scythe the orchard and swipe down the seeding nettles and horsetail.

I say farewell to Carl and Phil and hail to their work. Now I can say “safe as houses” without a qualm. Room after old room is bright with their efficiency. The hornets go back to sleep. The ship on the landing can sail to wherever it was the artist Francis Unwin had in mind.

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