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Word from Wormingford

23 May 2007

Ronald Blythe at an asking and a launching

BIBLICAL RAINS for Rogation and for the launching of John Nash, a multi-modal river punt. At first, the downpour is playful, merely drenching us; but then the heavens tip it out, and the willows thrash the surface of the Stour, and the millrace makes white water.

No organist at Mount Bures; so we sing sweetly unaccompanied. The rain is no more than a dark threat at this moment. Rogation, rogare, ask. Ask, beg God not to flatten the May crops, it would have been long ago. But who worries about what goes on in the fields in these days? Who in the village actually sees a field? Who looks at one? The birds, of course; and I at this moment take the fields in as they threaten to become lakes.

Dutifully, with bowed heads, we ask for nothing for ourselves, only that it may soon rain in Australia, that a lost child will be found, that the tent by the river won’t blow across into Suffolk. As John Keble said — is not his College our patron? —

The former and the latter rain,

The summer sun and air,

The green ear, and the golden   grain,

All thine, are ours by prayer.

How can my Rogation sermons cease being farming history, I ask myself. Is there a soul present with “dearth” or “plenty” on his mind? Yet the childlike persistence of this annual asking is at least a reminder of the Fatherhood of God.

We snuff the altar candles, count the offering, seize our umbrellas, and make for the John Nash, where a lovely dark girl, who looks like a figure from an Etruscan frieze come to life, waits to pour a glass of champagne on its hull.

In 1929, a young artist and his wife punted here during the August holidays, she lying, mac on cushions, he in his gaudy pyjamas, poling their boat out of the reeds. I had shown the Box Brownie snaps of this idyll to Francis, with today’s result, the multi-modal river punt awaiting its maiden voyage.

The rain at this moment was no more than a pelting of coin-size drops. Would the young boat-builders finish their casual account of how they created this enchanting craft before we were all swept away by the torrent above? But then, braving this, the John Nash was manned and passengered, unlooped and oared, steered and on its way.

Wormingford millpool spread before it, as it had done for the artist perched on his decidedly non-multi-modal vessel. He had come here via the Western Front, from the roar of Ypres to the crashing of this little stream on the banks of which both Tom Gainsborough and John Constable had set their sights. And within walking distance of each other.

During our long friendship, I rarely heard John Nash refer to either of them. It puzzled me during my youth. Only gradually did I witness what he saw, the day-new river, the flashing of it, the immediacy of its climate, the pike stirring, the roach darting under the bridge.

I would lie, reading, as he sketched, each of us lost for entire afternoons in some dateless present. And then his “Call it a day, old fellow!” But what day? And then, gradually and in the nature of things, the vanishing and just the Stour flowing.

Lunch in the barn to “Brittonic music by Twm Twm”. I quote. Wild stuff. And even wilder music as the rain proper, longer restrained to mere drenchings, unleashes its possibilities. Will the cars and the multi-modal punt join forces and sail out to sea at Harwich? Will it ever be dry morning again?

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