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Word from Wormingford

wormy from standing

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.

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