Word from Wormingford
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
Ronald Blythe sniffs our mortal remains
THE ASCENSION, and the may full out, heady and sumptuous. Unending birdsong.
Long ago, there was l’Ascension at Vézelay, when I strode up the steep
street to the basilica to squeeze myself into the happy tumult, the bells
rocking, the swallows diving, the organ crashing, the carved faces saying, "It
is always like this at Vézelay on Ascension Day."
It is not quite the same at Little Horkesley, but the enormous wooden knight
and his two wives are stylistically similar to the saints and ordinary folk who
thronged above me in Burgundy, and are a reminder of the common grandeur that
earth and heaven possessed then. Life may have been short, but it was quite
A great Christ in judgement swirls above us all, but his movement includes
blessing, and the Magdalene, to whom Vézelay is dedicated, hasn’t entirely lost
her old inviting smile. Outside there is the smell of new bread, and of old
rooms when doors and windows are flung wide on a hot day. This present tense,
because "travel" has a way of escaping from one’s past and becoming the "now".
And talking of stuffy interiors’ being given an airing, there is an
inescapable whiff of mortality in the farmhouse. At first, I dismiss it with
one of those air fresheners that guarantee that I will dwell in pot-pourri all
the days of my life. But all that the freshener does is to stabilise the
disturbing smell — to give it body, as it were. So for a day or two I live with
it. It causes me to think of dead farmers laid out in the parlour, and, for our
ancestors, the familiarity of decay — although I always leave out Job’s
skin-worms realism when I take a funeral, hardly knowing how to say such things
But — to return to what does not go away at ancient Bottengoms Farm, to what
in fact gets worse and worse. It has to be explained that May is the month for
breaking and entering, and for getting trapped. Birds do not fly into one end
of the banqueting hall and out at the other like Bede’s sparrow: they somehow
get into the bedroom and cannot get out. Kitty out of great kindness brings me
a mouse, lays it at my feet, and then strolls off. The mouse speeds away, and
might well share the study with me for days.
Harold’s bees buzz in the double glazing, and must be rescued. Little feet
are heard overhead, and they could be a squirrel’s. Magnificent hornets zoom
around like World War II bombers, and friends have to be freed from terror.
Thus, reminding myself of all these guests, I take the huge log pile by the
bread oven down — and there it is, a dead rabbit doing what we all do if we do
not go to the crematorium, as Job reminds us.
The poet John Donne, too, could not let such things rest. The horror of them
overwhelmed the naturalness of them. Much better the poet Edward FitzGerald,
who saw our dust as fertiliser for roses, and our last offensiveness as a
personal gift for a scented garden. The rabbit was buried without words where
the old barn stood, while the white cat looked on, say-ing — I thought — "Waste
not, want not."
The Rogation was lovely. Thirty children, 30 grown-ups, 20 cows. The latter
liked our "asking" prayers, but rushed off when we began to sing. We beat no
bounds, just straggled happily behind the cross. It glittered in the sunshine.
Ask, and it shall be given. What more can one ask? No, we may
not process into her orchard, says its owner. "I’ve hung the washing out."