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word from Wormingford

by
02 November 2006

"NOT the least of this strange business", the ancient farmhouse tells me, "is the silence. You may love it, but I find it most unnatural. From Shakespeare's day to when you were a boy there never was silence here."
 
And behind the Gerald Finzi - "Lo, the full, final Sacrifice" - there comes the sound of bubbling coppers, rowdy poultry, rowdier boys, bawling mothers, jingling horses, singing girls, screeching pigs, recalcitrant tractors, hungry labourers, banging doors, sawings and diggings, commands and shouts.
 
"Now, that is what I call a house," says the house. "Not this tapping. Not this voice on the telephone saying, 'I am Gareth, and our conservatory specialist is in your area.'"
 
An old man called here some years ago and told me that it was his birthplace. He had travelled far since then: Kenya, everywhere. He climbed the steep stairs to see where he had slept with his brother, and tears filled his eyes. They had swung on the beam support. His name was John Smith.
 
"Do you remember John Smith?" I asked Rosa. She had sung in the choir for eighty years. There was no one like her for keeping the tune. I might go out of tune in all directions, but never Rosa. Of course she knew John Smith - "He was the boy who ran." If we are to leave something behind, let it be our swiftness of foot.
 
Taking matins, I am startled to hear that Saul is not told by Jesus that it is hard for him "to kick against the pricks". This cruel goading of mules by means of a piece of wood studded with nails would upset me more than some of the atrocities of the Old Testament, when I was a child and had the phrase explained to me.
 
I saw the poor, bleeding creature being forced along the dusty road. I saw the future apostle driven ever forward by Christ. It struck me as just the kind of simile that he would use. But now he does not.
 
I check it in my Greek Testa-
ment - no kicking against the pricks. Wyclif's translation of
1 Corinthians 15 is "Forsoth the pricke of deeth is synne." In the King James Bible this is changed to "The sting of death is sin." I think we are goaded towards evil, painfully, bloodily.
 
However, we rise to sing Canon Ellerton on the ravening wolf being stopped in his tracks by - a Shepherd; and we omit verse 2, although I don't know why.
 
Time and human conduct, nationality and custom, politeness, science, every mortal thing, have made their mark on what Jesus
said all those years ago, but they have failed to distort his teaching. There is an earthy lyricism about
it, a common sense and vision combined, which resists language change. But who can blame some learned man, eager to make it accessible to ploughboys and
dairy girls, the former driving
oxen up and down the field, for adding a relevant sentence or
two?

 Lord, teach thy Church the
     lesson,
 Still in her darkest hour
 Of weakness and of danger
 To trust thy hidden power.

 Returning to the conversation I am having with the farmhouse, it reminds me that it never was what round here was known as a "Tye", some remote pasture or common, Cuckoo Tye, Nedging Tye, Bulmer Tye, Kersey Tye - though some of these have grown up into villages proper - but a farm from the word go. So where has all its natural din gone? Tap, tap, Mahler, rooms where you hear a pin drop - and a cat purr.

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