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Word from Wormingford (1)

01 September 2010

Ronald Blythe returns from his travels to find the white cat waiting.

TO SALISBURY, to be briefly with the dear ones there, Alison and Judy. One should have pockets of friends here, there, and everywhere. The weather rainy, with small allowances of sun; the countryside between stations empty, unpeopled. An hour with the composer Alec Roth in George Herbert’s rectory, a few min­utes at his altar across the road. The minuscule relics, a tile that says GH 1632, a door that he opened and closed. Then to Wilton, to talk about him to the Prayer Book Society. Then a circular glimpse of the Earl of Pembroke’s palace, with Marcus Aurelius high on his horse at the entrance.

Back to Bottengoms. The Satur­day Underground shining with club­bers and lovers. The night pulls in near Woking, so that when at last I arrive at my orchard, its only illum­ina­tion is the white cat, fuming below a pear tree.

On Monday, a curious happening. At a grand dinner to raise funds for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the guest on my left says that her name is Teresa Salisbury. Or was, before she married. When I tell her that I have just come from Salis­bury, she tells me about an English teacher at Keele University who taught her George Herbert, and that if she ever came to church it would be because of him. A line or two of him hangs in her head: she quotes, uncertainly, “The Collar”, while all around us 100 guests roar their way through the courses.

We are in a great Tudor room. Tudor songs are sung by a choir. This huge, hospitable space was no more than the brick gatehouse to a mansion that would never be built, its young lord dying before his vast enterprise could be com­pleted.

Holiday homes are raffled. The day departs through a tall window. In the nearby church, in one of my most loved wall-paintings, St Christopher will be for ever carrying his Lord across an Essex stream, while on its bank a lad, unaware of this, will be for ever fishing.

My pre-dinner speech (I thought it was to be after-dinner) extols the Essex marshes, and the wild tulips at Panfield, but most of all John Ray, the botanist, son of the Black Notley blacksmith, and England’s Linnaeus. Tom drives me home via Lord Marney’s leaning oaks. Sometimes, conversion comes through a sliver of Herbert — a cutting from his complex acceptance of “my Joy, my Love, my Heart”, no more.

Keith will soon be here to paint the house. He is working his way round the village. I will be his autumn task. White windows and walls the colour of the pots that they dig up on the archaeological site. He will unhook the roof-high climbers and fix a knocker to the door. No expense shall be spared. The brick sills upon which the whole structure balances will be covered with pitch; the slate plaque to John Nash RA and his wife Christine will be wiped; the grapevine will be slimmed down. And who will see it? A rider-by. A walker-past. A caller now and then. Certainly no one in a bus. Another Tom in his aeroplane, godlike above my trees, will look down on me. This is only right.

Lesley Leggett, our master bell-ringer, has gone his way. No more his changes, his peals, his flying tunes, his mathematical worship. For count­less Sundays he rung among the brass knights. I see him in his place.

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