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Word from Wormingford

by
13 December 2006

Ronald Blythe, ditching in December, lets his thoughts run on

I REVEL in this April in December, having set aside for the moment such spoil-sport realities as global warming. I am ditching, letting the clean water flow, foot by foot.

The bank is piled high with chopped blackberry, elder, hazel. Bundled in old sweaters, I splosh along. As with all manual labour, the stream of consciousness provides its accompaniment. Irritants and blisses float on its surface, bobbing against each other.

Why are broadcast church services so rehearsed, so martinet? All those barked Amens, all those hymns with the private feeling wrung from them? And, while I am on the subject (some decidedly wintry water having entered my awareness), what is actually happening in Songs of Praise? What does the singer know when for the third time he mouths with all his might, “Shout, as you journey on”? Or even “Hail with united voice”? If only Bishop Ambrose was alive.

I hank weed from the horse-pond, and a robin occupies the dribbling mass. It is a most enchanting afternoon. My wellingtons make nice sucking sounds, and my best garden gloves are liquid balls. It is warm — almost sultry. The geraniums are flowering all over again.

Meanwhile, offstage where I am concerned at this moment, the school is putting on Baboushka in the village hall, and attending woodland classes with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust; and Barry is pleading for new bell-ringers. “The average age of the Wormingford ringers is 66 years.” Parish councillors and school governors are needed. What am I doing in a ditch? Having a rest.

Angels and birds take turns to fill my head. First Raphael, then a pheasant, both wonderfully plumed. Each with a lot to say. When the hedge parts, I can see girls wrapping their horses up in blankets for the winter. Too soon, too soon. The ditch has changed its muddy ways. Its bed is crystal-clear, and glittering with shingle. It tinkles like a tiny xylophone, and looks unseasonably chilly.

Fragments of farm breakages are washed out from its bright flow like gold-dust. What a row there must have been when someone dropped that teapot. The angels and birds having sung their last song, I listen to ghostly plough-horses filling up after the day’s work, drawing the entire pond into them, their feet sinking deeper and deeper into the Advent mulch — the ploughman’s, too. What he would have said about ditching in December, only heaven knew. The white cat makes a fastidious appearance to announce starvation, and “You’ll get your death.” True. Who won’t?

Maggie comes to lunch, and she talks about her New Zealand girlhood, and about her parents, and about Katherine Mansfield fighting off TB so as to get on with her stories. Whenever someone starts discussing Katherine Mansfield, say — or it might be Chekhov or any writer — I long to dash to the bookcase and start re-reading them, usually with a marvellous sensation of having read them before. Even when I myself have written about them long ago.

So many of them, like Katherine Mansfield, hadn’t a minute to spare. No time to dig ditches and muse on birds and angels. No time for the school’s production of Baboushka, and certainly no time to ring bells.

With some Chardonnay from Chili to help us, Maggie and I put the Church of England to rights. We are having long lives. So many wild Decembers, though so few without frosts. My garden rags steam by the boiler. The wind rises and wants to come in, pushing against the windows, hollering down the chimney. Weather — “There’s a lot of it about,” as an old man said.

A new collection of Word from Wormingford, A Year at Bottengoms Farm, has just been published by Canterbury press (£12.99 (CT Bookshop £11.70); from all good bookshops or direct from the publisher: phone 01603 612914; www.canterburypress.co.uk)

With some Chardonnay from Chili to help us, Maggie and I put the Church of England to rights. We are having long lives. So many wild Decembers, though so few without frosts. My garden rags steam by the boiler. The wind rises and wants to come in, pushing against the windows, hollering down the chimney. Weather — “There’s a lot of it about,” as an old man said.

A new collection of Word from Wormingford, A Year at Bottengoms Farm, has just been published by Canterbury press (£12.99 (CT Bookshop £11.70); from all good bookshops or direct from the publisher: phone 01603 612914; www.canterburypress.co.uk)

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