IT IS the Royal British Legion flower show in the village hall again. Almost
everything is again. "The committee has power to settle any matter."
Ian and I judge the school paintings. They are wild. Footballers find their
way through orange seas; mum and dad attack each other on scarlet tennis
courts; creatures get out of the way. But there is, again, the inevitable
masterpiece: a pair of stripey arms clasp a rugby ball, the two ovoid shapes
revealing the artist's sense of design.
Exhibitors plant runner-beans, apples, and roses on the kitchen-paper beds
that stretch the length of the room. They include those with a past: Donald
(Kohima), Harold (the Atlantic Convoy), Gordon (El Alamein). The last is being
bossed about by the lady judge whose verdict is final. She feeds him with
crumbs from Victoria sponges and biscuits, leaves, and watches his face.
Marmalade, jams, and home-made wines touch his lips. And hers. They mumble and
collude. Cups glimmer on the platform. The raffle man does a good trade. Out of
the corner of my eye I watch my Victoria plums getting a first and my photos of
A Winter Scene getting the elbow.
Opposite, a large field map of our village shines on the wall - not that it
would get you anywhere these days; for here spreads a foreign country. Please
can you tell me the way to Commollicus, to Duds Hole, to Great Fridgetts? Am I
right for Kinky Field? When all is judged, Donald and I have a pint in the
Crown, for there is nothing more to be done other than give the prizes. There
is a kind of wistfulness, the pleasant regret which for me lurks in Jeremiah's
"The harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we are not saved."
Isaiah, his fellow poet-prophet, once found himself worried about artists'
licence, not to mention art altogether. Show me the artisan who isn't tempted
to go beyond his brief and become an artist, he says. They are to build the
Temple, and the blacksmith and the carpenter will carry the skills of their
trades into idolatry if they are not watched, circumscribed, held back. There
must be no arts-and-crafts movement in the temple.
His warnings, needless to add, were of no avail. The Temple rose, a building
strongly constructed and gloriously adorned. And Isaiah's fears about the
blacksmith and the carpenter's not being able to hold back from creating an
image of God were briefly quelled.
It was the carpenter who worried him most. When the blacksmith returned
home, tired after a day at the forge, he was most likely to drop off after
supper as he sat by the hearth, and no harm done. But the carpenter - this was
quite another story.
The prophet muses upon what led a craftsman into the dangerous business of
art. He begins at the beginning. There is the wildwood, then the planted wood -
"He planteth an ash" - and after the carpenter has done his work for the day
there is firewood to cook his meal and to keep him warm. Not dozing, very much
alive, as artists tend to be, he sees a nice bit of wood lying by his feet and
he begins to whittle it with his knife. Goodness knows how many "father's
chairs" there are whose right arms still show signs of whittling as toys and
pegs and curiously imaginative objects were idly fashioned of an evening. Watch
out! says Isaiah. An honest tradesman is becoming an artist.
The carpenter should be resting after doing the work that was required of
him. But no. He whittles away and "maketh a god, his graven image". But the
carpenter, and eventually the blacksmith, go on "whittling", and, hey presto!
Michelangelo's David and Gormley's Angel of the North, and
the image-filled church. So Isaiah was right.