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Word from Wormingford

  wormy from standing

THE great ash over the horse-pond is still no more than a tall tangle of sprouting sticks, while the 12 oaks by the boundary ditch are in full leaf canopy. The May skies are capricious, battering us with hailstones one minute, casting us warm looks the next. No sooner is the grass mown than it grows an inch before dusk. Late blossom and the first roses scent the chilly air.

Some gadding. Alan and I show a friend places we know backwards, and do our Pevsner stuff. The ancient lanes twist through the fields, their corners hidden beneath campion and cow parsley. Richard Mabey called the latter “arguably the most important spring landscape flower in Britain”, and who could dispute this? Anthriscus sylvestris, you make the roadsides a wedding all the way.

Nettles are at their best. As for the far rectangles and squares of hard yellow that the farmers have laid into the landscape with what must have been a palette knife, well, we can only grieve that the Impressionists missed oilseed rape. It being the fashion to loathe it, my companions eye my pleasure warily. What will he say next? And thus to the home country of Polstead, Kersey, Lindsey, Boxford, Assington, the land of teenage bike rides and private adventures and self-discovery.

Now and then, in a neighbouring church, I read the “pray for” messages that are tucked into the board at the back, feeling that I am invading private territory. Ballpoint petitions. “Remember Geoffrey who has not long to live.” “Pray for Vivienne who has worry.” A woman could have stood on these very stones and written — if she could — “Jesu, return my love from Jerusalem.”

Early evening; so we pass the returning commuters, they and we politely edging into lay-bys. There should be nightingales; but don’t lower the window, because it’s as cold as Christmas. Then back down the track with groceries and church guides and tomato plants, our heads a muddle of flushwork and broken bits of the Reformation. We will take our friend in the other direction next time.

How huge today’s service books are, we recollect. Hymn-books for giants, prayer-books in which we go backwards and forwards on Sundays. How they dip in poor old hands! Which reminds me of my intended turn-out. Here on the shelf where they have mouldered for decades is a splutter of of Bibles and BCPs with broken backs and loose leaves. Corinthians coming before Exodus, matins dropping palm crosses and pre-war calendar texts. Fly leaves belonging to the dead. Gilded initials, even a coat of arms. And nice morocco smells.

So what to do? Put them all back. How small they are! How perfectly hand-fitting and pocket-filling! Nearby is a glorious facsimile of a Book of Hours, all gold leaf and azure, with prayers bordered by toil and gardens, sports and festivals. Should the lady have carried it to church, it would have entertained her during the sermon.

The shops are not busy, they say. One can feel this as one wanders through the local towns. There might be an excess of them, I think — knowing nothing about them. Or could it not be that each of us has what they sell, and is making it last? The middle-aged are certainly pension-scared, and all of a sudden. The young, of course, knowing that they will live for ever, go clubbing. To them, the VE Day celebrations are like remembering Agincourt. They talk to me at the University, and it is a lesson in reverse.

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