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Word from Wormingford

28 September 2012

BLESSED routine. No appointments in the diary, thus a full day. Blessed Lord, grant thy servants the inestimable joys of routine. Blackberries for breakfast. They have to be eaten up before it's October and they get spitted. I wander about in the soaking orchard, a bedraggled sight. Pale hay where I have begun to scythe, brittle seeding-plants everywhere else. No fruit to squash in the long grass this year. But blackberries galore. My badgers have made a highway from the field edge to the stream. The stream has cut Wormingford off from Little Horkesley for ever and ever.

"But it is a united benefice," I tell it.

"Whoever heard of such a thing?" the stream replies.

The Bishop is coming to see the Vicar off, routinely but lovingly. I shall hold his crozier and hand him his mitre. Each of them has mastered the art of routine - of retaining the freshness of repeated actions. Now what shall we do? Interregnums may be routine, but each one of them is a space that is not at all like its predecessors.

Henry's leaving present is a hefty garden seat that our village joiner has made from the immense old fir tree that swayed dangerously near the tower. It was planted by a priest in the 1890s. The remainder of it is blazing on our hearths. Simon, our woodman, brought it down.

All around, the Suffolk-Essex fields are in different stages of clearance, full cultivation - for the supermarkets - and rest. They are also full of birds, and are lit morning and evening by glaringly beautiful suns. The sky becomes an aerial goldmine of exposed seams, and a vision of the insubstantial. Our vicarage is the grandstand for all this. But my old farmhouse knows only golden mornings, and has never in all its centuries witnessed sunset. All its routines have taken place in broad daylight. And at dead of night.

There is no more compulsive routine than that followed by the true diarist. Diarists are frank about this. James Boswell admitted that he could live no more than he could record. And the self-indulgent Anaïs Nin declared: "The period without the diary remains an ordeal. Every evening I want my diary as one wants opium."

For me, the diary of diaries was written by a young curate on the Welsh border, Francis Kilvert. So what a marvel that they found the family photograph-album to illustrate it. As president of the Kilvert Society, I give myself leave to pore over this black-and-white Victorian Church of England heyday. To identify the serious faces, the "caught" tennis matches, the assembled college students, and the handsome person of Kilvert himself before death carried him out of sight, aged 39.

"Why do I keep this voluminous journal?" he asked himself. "I can hardly tell. Partly because life appears to me such a curious and wonderful thing that it almost seems a pity that such a humble and uneventful life as mine should pass altogether away without some such record as this."

The routine of uneventfulness, this is what I praise in the early- morning orchard. Of Jamie the postman bumping down the track. Of the serving flight of the green woodpecker. Of the white cat cleaning her chops on the wall.

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