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Word from Wormingford

02 November 2011

Ronald Blythe has some visitors from the Antipodes

EVERY now and then, the Australian relations arrive. They are young and, quite rightly, I am a duty call before they fly home. Carl and his wife are in their twenties, quite beautiful, and have read economics at Sydney. I take them to the Stour, where his grandmother and I, as children, fished, wandered, drank Tizer. They look at the water dubiously. A river? I apologise, and tell them that it widens a bit at Harwich.

They tell me how they live in the Boathouse. Where else could a Hungarian-Suffolk and a Mauritian-Suffolk couple live? The Boathouse has a landing-stage on Yowie Bay, from which you can sail upstream, turn right, and arrive where Captain Cook landed. You are not supposed to live in boathouses, but, of course, you do. You would be mad not to. Australians are not so much law-breakers as law-forgetters.

And, anyway, boathouses were invented to give homes to perfect couples. The one thing you must not do in New South Wales is take down a tree. Don’t think that the local government hasn’t got a photo of your trees.

And what about the money crisis, the one that fills our ears and eyes every minute of the day? The golden boy and girl are politely puzzled. They have been touring Europe for only two months; have they missed something? And then I remember how the old, or fairly old, feed on crises, and the young, or wonder­fully youthful, try not to clutter themselves with the news.

I show Carl a photo of his great-grandfather back home from Gallipoli, and mention the terrible wipe-out of the Aussies. The lad in the picture-frame stares back at him.

The next morning, I watch the day break, as usual. The horses on the hill graze into view. The night retreats. Plum-coloured clouds chase it away. The horses are groupies, but they never touch — simply lower their heavy heads to feed. Their tails become spun glass.

I imagine Carl in his Sydney tower, the blue harbour, the memory of rural Hungary, from which his teenage father walked to Paris doing the revolution, Stalin’s tanks. Brief calls leave everything unsaid.

It is Last after Trinity, which means that All Saints’ and All Souls’ are on the doorstep. The living and the dead will come into the church in a kind of procession. We shall hear their names. Don, bell-ringer, verger, chorister, will have just made it. His name will have arrived before his funeral.

All Souls’ was the invention of Odilo of Cluny. It began with an observance at Cluny Abbey itself, and soon spread to the entire Western Church. Odilo, too, was a great traveller. At Cluny, he created something known as the Truce of God, in which armies had to suspend hostilities between Saturday night and Monday morning.

But, also, there was this sad calling of the recent dead into their old places in church. Thus a huge congregation. Here we shall listen to Lamentations: “They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord if my portion, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

“It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait. . . it is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth. . . Let us search and try our ways.”

The dead listen attentively. Lamentations is an ancient dirge, but we get its drift. It fits our sorrow. Garish flowers lie on the graves. Shrivelled leaves blow about. Villagers were laid here before Cluny. A bell rang. Rooks crowded. A surface was disturbed. I read family names. How remote they have become, and so soon.

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