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Word from Wormingford

29 August 2007

Ronald Blythe gardens in a high wind

NORTHERLY winds rage above and the sound is Wagnerian. Oaks and ashes clash, clouds race, rain flurries, and summer flowers take a thrashing. Now and then, having put on my gardening rags, I venture forth to renew my wall-scraping, these having lost all definition. The white cat watches from her favourite throne, the ancient stone sink in which generations of farm children were scrubbed. I can hear their protest above the tempest.

Tomorrow — Aldeburgh! Will the uproar last? I half-hope that it will. Already I can hear its mighty slap on the shingle and see its hurling darkness. I am going to Britten’s old house where, ages ago, I walked with him in the garden. There were walls there, high and protective, above which the coastal gales raged.

How does one listen to the radio without hearing all this news? It is a problem. Now, they even hang Thought for the Day on a news item, so I try not to listen to that. Unless, of course, it is a Sikh thought or a Rabbi Blue thought. And further footling grumbles. Why do TV newscasters straddle? The only worthwhile straddler is Evan Davies, whose gleeful conveyance of dreadful economics is a treat. There he stands, rocking and grinning away, every figure to hand. It is almost worth having one’s bank balance take a dip.

Presenters may have to watch the thin line which exists between youthful informality and vulgarity. Summing up the wonderful Elgar concert at the Proms, Aled Jones cries: “Not bad for the son of a piano-tuner!” But enough of this quibbling. There are Victorias to pick and branches to sweep from lawns.

We all go to Gordon’s party. It is a highlight of the Wormingford season. The field has been harvested to make a car park. The garden has been weeded. Henry, the Vicar, has raised his beautiful tent which, clearly, has come straight from the Field of the Cloth of Gold. It billows fretfully and inhospitably, for the Northerlies are no respecter of garden parties.

Thus we crowd the farmhouse itself, and are cheerful whilst intermittent showers rattle the conservatory glass like lover’s pebbles against a bedroom window. Talking to Tom about his herd of Lincolns, I find myself remembering Parson Woodforde sending his “saucy” man Scurle to Norwich to gether some news and bring it back to the rectory, and of the yearly Tithe party when — well, I had better not say what happened during this great spree. It was the eighteenth century, after all.

The Ipomoea which Richard Mabey gave me — sent in a wet parcel through the post — doles out its Morning Glory a flower or two at a time. Its name means “similar to bindweed”. There are hundreds of species of it. Mine has bright purple flowers which bloom and wither in a day.

There is a kind of infallible succession of them, and their credo is clearly “less is more”. They climb a bamboo stick by the front door, but unambitiously, staring beautifully out east and not up at the rose giddily waving above them. Their huge cousins trumpet along the track and wind themselves up in the telegraph wires, and make mats in the ditch, and are altogether glorious in themselves, though you would have to preach a sermon to make the neighbours admit it. In hedge-bindweed’s case, less is obviously not more. Although nothing can be whiter than white, it makes a good try. Children used to love it.

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