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Word from Wormingford

Hopes are being pinned on recipes, reports Ronald Blythe

wormy from standing

"I AM living on raw emotion," confesses a retiring cricketer on the radio, and so indeed we are. For, at long last, the Wormingford Cookbook makes its début. Forget Elizabeth David, Nigella and Rick: here are recipes that have lain at the back of our kitchen drawers or our consciousness for ages, or possibly since last week.

Collected by Cynthia over these past two years, they are a gift to the social historian, and no mean offering to ourselves.

Desperation forced us to this public exposure of our feeding habits. A busybody, seeing how the churchyard wall bellied forth into the lane, which it had done since we prayed for Queen Victoria, wrote to the paper. In vain we protested its safety. Nor did the authorities smile when we told them that it was caused by the dead having a stretch, as our grandchildren said. No, it must be "tied in", and that would cost £40,000.

It is a lengthy brick wall, but this is a huge sum! It took our breath away. At once we pointed out to the parish that it might not come to church, but it must inevitably come to the churchyard, if only in a plastic bag from the crem. It was its inalienable right, Anglican or Sikh. So it was all backs to the wall.

It was then that Cynthia thought of the Cookbook. So here we are in a tent, the Bishop, too, launching it. And beneath our feet lie generations of poor men whose bait at 10.30 each working morning was bread and cheese and an onion, the morsels chopped off with a clasp knife while the gentle plough horses snuffled into their nosebags.

My contribution to the Cookbook was for Quince Jam. I found it scribbled on an end-paper and dated 1828. There are Portugal quince trees in the garden, with their dense paper-white blossom and furry fruit, twisted limbs and breath-taking scent. One of them writhes over the old horse-pond, and is both young and ancient at the same time, like olives.

The biggest beanfield in the world rolls around my little wood, and the larks sing above it all day long. Below it the "bottoms" are covered with buttercups, millions of them, each petal laid like gold leaf on the valley, precious and bright. The minute stream glitters its way through watercress.

Once outside, I find it hard to go in again — to do anything other than stare and listen and allow the sun to touch me. It reminds me of lying above the seething Atlantic at Land’s End when I was a boy, and becoming mesmerised by the regular biff of water against rock, the crying birds, and the hot sward, and thinking, "Why go home? Why go anywhere?"

I preached on Christ’s homecoming at the Ascensiontide services, contrasting the King in royal state riding on the clouds his chariot with the beloved friend who blessed his companions before he vanished in the Cloud of Unknowing.

Not that I argue with the hymn-writers with their glorious departure language, for, as Mrs Alexander said, "ever on our earthly path a gleam of glory lies"; but the essence of the two Gospel and Acts’ ascensions is that of the clouded vision. At Bethany, the disciples saw so far and no further. They were not bereaved, because the Comforter remained at ground level, and would do so always.

The bell-ringers descend to sing, "Yet he loves the earth he leaves."

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