Art of the apothecary
YOU will be pleased to learn that Team GB's haul of medals at
the Olympics was matched by the Pridmores' at the Portslade
Horticultural Society's 2012 Flower and Vegetable Show. To be sure,
our "Longest Bean" fell far short. But, given the competition, our
fourth prize for a "Dish of Fruit", unlike a fourth at Oxford, was
far from ignominious.
Our "Trug of Vegetables" ("arranged for effect", as the rules
stipulated) won third prize - a bronze to be proud of. But the
show-stopper, for which we were awarded first prize, was our "Vase
of Herbs". Herbs, of course, do not only season food: they have
many medicinal properties. Such is the proven excellence of the
Pridmore herbarium that I am proposing to turn apothecary. In this
venture, I shall be guided by Culpeper's Complete Herbal
Among my opening promotions will be Stinking Motherwort ("let
such as be rich keep it for their poor neighbours"), Dodder of
Thyme ("most effectual for melancholy diseases"), and Goat's Rue
("sudorific, alexipharmic, and very refreshing to wash the feet of
persons tired with over-walking").
THE Olympics sent me back to The Tempest, Shakespeare's
"farewell to his art". Haunting lines from the play, which once I
taught to A-level students, were spoken at the opening ceremonies
of both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games. The Tempest
shatters the artificial distinction we draw between the things we
suppose are illusory, and those we like to think are real. We
imagine that what happens on the stage and what occupies our
day-to-day lives belong to two separate worlds. The curtain falls
on a fantasy world, but then -out of the theatre and on to the bus
- we're back, so we delude ourselves, in "the real world". The
epilogue to The Tempest denies us this comforting
illusion. Prospero, his charms "all o'erthrown", appeals to us, the
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
Prospero has held everyone captive by his enchantments. At the
last - "to the elements be free" - he has let Ariel and the rest
go. Now, in his Nunc Dimittis, he pleads to us, sitting in the
stalls, for his own deliverance.
The play goes on beyond the limits of its five acts. Prospero's
story merges with yours and mine. It is up to us whether Prospero
gains the freedom he, too, longs for, and returns safely to Naples.
It is all so like Mark's Gospel, another unfinished drama that
becomes our own. Is Jesus risen or not? It is up to us - the
business of a Christian lifetime - to choose.
WE SPENT a glorious autumn day with our good friend E. He took
us on a "mystery tour" along the North Downs. The excitement of
such an adventure is sufficient evidence that the child in us is
immortal. Our first stop was Newlands Corner.
Newlands Corner is as near the sky as you can get while still
within reach of London, and astronomers gather there by night to
contemplate the stars. By day, there is a splendid view. Far away
are the South Downs, and below you is Albury, where, in the 1830s,
the restored order of the apostles, crackpot but saintly, gathered
to found the Catholic Apostolic Church.
Our next stop was a hidden pool where our dear friend botanised
in earlier days. Finally, we came to the climax of the tour, the
churchyard of an ancient village church. Our friend invited us to
look at one simple headstone. On it was a name we knew: Delius.
Delius, who was born 150 years ago this year, had asked to be
buried "in some country churchyard in the south of England, where
people could place wild flowers". Delius was an atheist, and he
died of syphilis, but his midnight burial was a Christian
I have long loved Delius's music. Pausing at his grave, in the
churchyard of St Peter's, Limpsfield, I was overwhelmed by a sense
of how good it is that he rests in this holy ground.
And there and then I came to a decision. If there is any room
left in any of them, I, too, would like to be buried in a country
Look at life
OUR youngest grandchild, three-year-old Talia, was with us this
summer. She is a questioning child. Her most frequent question is
unnerving. Whatever you are up to, she has the same disturbing
question: "What are you doing?" It is a deeply philosophical
Answers such as "doing the washing up" or "dealing with my
emails" will not do. As we are well aware, such superficial answers
evade the fundamental question, which most of us fear to face:
"What are you actually doing?"
MY WIFE and I went to church on Sunday, to a church we had not
visited before. We got the time wrong, got lost on the way, and
arrived an hour and a quarter late. The service had evidently
finished, but no one was leaving the church.
When we slipped through the door, we saw why. They were still
enjoying each other's company, as Christians should. Absurdly late
as we were, they made us welcome, and gave us coffee and biscuits.
They were genuinely interested in who we were, and what brought us
to their church.
Which friendly church this was does not matter. Suffice to say
it is in the diocese of Chichester, which sometimes gets a bad