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Word from Wormingford

  wormy from standing 

IT COMFORTS me somewhat that it is the youthful commuters who now talk about haymaking and cows, putting hedges back and seeing sugarbeet leaves take a shine after a good rain, and not the old farmers.

When the commuters arrived, we all thought that they would put the acres that went with their fine houses out to foster-care. But no. A number of them dash home from the City to feed stock before settling to hear how wicked their children have been in their absence, and what is for dinner.

Occasionally, if one is lucky, it is just possible that an actual farmworker might be spied during the hours when they are away totting up immense figures in Bishopsgate, but generally the farm waits patiently for its owner to return, put on his jeans, and comfort his cattle.

Tom said that he had spent the spring holiday cutting his hay and silage — some of it in the riverside pasture that is still called “Constable’s” on account of its being owned by the artist’s uncle before the Napoleonic wars. This haymaking ended perfectly in heavy rain that penetrated the shorn ground, polished the blue-ish ears of corn, and pounded the willows. Rushing through it, I glimpsed a drenched white cat quietly observing sporadic lightning from a drowning wall.

Later, in the post-storm stillness, I walked to Hugh’s to hear the result of the Flower Festival. We do not put on this yearly show for nothing. No flower-festival takings, no quota. To think that the diocese’s economy rests on such arrangements.

This time the theme — there has to be a theme — was islands. So during Songs of Praise, standing between the school’s lusty Treasure Island and Pip’s cool Iceland, I read: “No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” But when I came to “if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,” President Chirac was the man who came into my head. St John the Divine on the Isle of Patmos dislodged him.

We sang hymns that were clearly entirely of themselves, their once immense messages half lost in favourite tunes. Then we loaded up the takings, switched off the lights, locked in the scent, and left all this floral ingenuity to get on as best it could with the grey severity of the pillars and the blackening painted windows.

Waiting for the key to turn in the lock, I heard the clock go clunk. A kind of “That’s that.” The table-tombs of the Georgian farmers and millers, so useful for the flower arrangers’ sandwiches and wine, were resuming their well-lettered dignity, and the churchyard trees were all standing to attention and getting ready for their secret night-life.

As May crosses into June, we are to read the Book of Ecclesiastes, that matchless confession of world-weariness, although how anyone can be world-weary when the days are at their best, heaven only knows. The Preacher wraps his gloom in such marvellous language that he somewhat undermines his conclusions. When he complains that there is no new thing under the sun, I — at this pre-summer moment — can only ask, “Does there have to be?”

Reading on, disillusioned or not, who can resist this enchanting writer? He is the man who had everything, but who is now an old man for whom everything has turned to dross. He venerates sadness, and makes it beautiful. Yet, at the very end, just before the silver cord is loosed, he finds the light sweet and the sun “pleasant”. As shall we all.

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