Word from Wormingford
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
Ronald Blythe feels graveyard chill, and sees signs of spring
EAST WINDS all the week. Now and then, powdery snow blows into a vortex of
bitterness. We process to the graveside, the flimsy-looking black suits of the
young mourners and our robes whirling about in the cold. A thousand years of
this grief on this sward, I think.
Death remains somehow comprehensible, acceptable even, from hospital to
church, but not this hole in the grass. It comes as a shock. The childish
comfort of "Now the day is over", written a few miles away, vanishes as the
clay-stained canvas ropes lower the woman down, down, endlessly down, and the
sons and daughters flinch from the sight. There is a visible reeling back.
Graves are, well, earthy; cremation is, well, tidy.
Red roses are dropped one by one. Only a few yards away, over the churchyard
wall, is mother’s garden. A perfect cottage garden, a Geoff Hamilton garden in
which flowers and fruit and veg all rise together, and which gives us pause
after every service; but it is of little help now.
At the funeral, I have read St Paul’s wonderful peroration to the
Corinthians, changing his charity to love, and Henry has said great prayers,
and a piper has wailed "Amazing Grace", and two medieval bells have ding-donged
over the village, and a sea of cars have waited in the field, and I have dwelt
yet again on death and on body and soul, on mortal life and immortality. But
home to tea by the fire.
A letter from my friends Sue Clifford and Angela King, who 20 years ago
created that inspiring movement Common Ground. They have written a book with
the inclusive title England in Particular: A celebration of the
commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive, which, I
suppose, is more or less what my books are about. Their letter says: "Here the
frogs are busy, jackdaws are cuddling up to each other as well as the
chimney-pots, and honeysuckle is eager to salute the sun. Isn’t that moment
before spring glorious!"
So I go around Bottengoms Farm making sure that, in spite of the icy gale,
spring isn’t lagging behind in the Stour Valley. Carpets of unfrosted primroses
and snowdrops, of winter-tolerant hellebores, and two blackbirds, two
bullfinches, two robins, and a rat, all feeding together.
To King’s Lynn for the Fiction Festival. The trains wander somewhat
haphazardly — as it is Saturday — through the Fens. Ely Cathedral rises from
the black earth in its almost gauzy, fragile yet safe, stone sacred mountain,
all made by hand. At handsome King’s Lynn, the Great Ouse gives me its sullen
wink. In the Town Hall, I talk about my novel The Assassin under the
very eye of Sir Robert Walpole.
It is about a bookworm who murdered a beautiful man who, they thought, was
the ruin of the realm. But it is curious that when one has written a novel it
seems no longer one’s creation but its readers’ possession. I actually had to
think hard to remember one of its characters. And the story itself was told to
me when I was a teenager riding around looking at old churches. An ancient
woman emerged from one of them and said: "A murderer lived here."
The ethics of assassination — had the Hitler plot succeeded, would the
plotters have been murderers? My assassin took a tyrant’s life on the spur of
the moment, but the victim had been his boyhood friend. It was a hot August
morning, not a fenny afternoon in late winter by the Great Ouse.
And so home with the footballers and the wild blizzard.