In his wooden house, by a wood fire, Ronald Blythe muses on Advent
I WALK to Advent matins in a thin cold drizzle. Supermarket shoppers zip
past. I can hear our bells getting into their stride. How pleased Widow Sturdy
would have been to know that the bell she fashioned in her foundry was in good
ringing order all these centuries later.
The footballers are not yet in their stride. Damp, noisy, and listless, they
trot up and down to keep warm. Their dogs gaze from car windows telling each
other, "More fool they!" In church, strangers take up an entire pew. Well! I
light the Advent candle, say the Advent words, sing the Advent tunes:
Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
Sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
(And there, long ago, is dear Mr Pratt Green, waiting for me at Norwich
Long ago, prophets knew
Christ would come, born a Jew.
What a dark day it is. Black shiny lanes, lightless furrows, horses in their
gloomy blankets, shadows tramping home with the Sunday papers, but my little
white cat illuminates the ebony piano, having knocked all the photos down.
Shall we light a fire? Shall we read all afternoon? Shall we garden? Shall we,
heck! as Gordon would say. I listen to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, or
some of them, and, although it would seem impossible, the day grows darker
without its actually falling into night.
Returning via the orchard, I had noticed the reluctance of the leaves to
reach ground. More sticks than foliage had been shaken out of the oaks, and the
walnut was deathly in its sodden unshed growth. There were lots of wrens, tiny
feathery balls with tails cocked, and, fast as lightning, having supper. The
vast ivy on the ancient pear rustled with inmates and had become a bird town.
Everywhere, inner Advent light and outer darkness.
Roger Deakin arrives, and we discuss wood — wood as a material, ours being a
part of the country which lacks stone. We have flint, of course, flinty fields,
flint mines even, but little that one could call stone. So we have done what we
could with wood. East Anglia is for wood architects, wood artists, wood saints,
woodland poets, and wood crafts. Looking around at the uses we have put it to,
you would think that there would not be a tree standing — but the area remains
The dark day polishes the beams of Bottengoms, showing off the adze marks.
How many trees were chopped down to make this small farmhouse? Have a guess. It
is Tudor Ikea plus straw stuffing, all the beams slotted into place for
eternity, and the brick floors scrubbed hollow.
Visitors coming to it at nightfall, such as the poor Vicar, are apt to
wander around in a botanical version of outer darkness, shocked by startled
pheasants going off like rockets. Or lacerated by yuccas. I comfort them. Are
they not experiencing the genuine 100-per-cent authentic rural November
teatime? They should praise God for it.
Sparks thread their way overhead. Each contains hundreds of folk on their
way to New York, Rome, Moscow, those by the windows staring down at my spark.