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Word from Wormingford

03 August 2012

Ronald Blythe spends a pleasant evening in the Patron's chair

THE Friends of St Andrew's meet by the river. The Stour fingers its way through the secret reeds. The day has been hot, and now the evening is Mediterranean, with a cobalt sky in which a Chagall moon lies on its back. Unbeknown to most of us, we sit on a purpose-built Saxon mound that keeps the winter floods away.

Some of us have been to the City, and one would have thought that the Friends' finances would be elementary, but what church money has ever been this? And so we put on our thinking caps, as mother would say: other than I, who, financially illiterate, sit in the Patron's chair. And so the evening passes, pleasantly interrupted by salad and wine.

The great debate is, of course, about lavatories and Early English windows. The Vicar, Henry, will not be here to see what happens either way. The comings and goings of incumbents in a rural parish are dramatic, and we will miss him. Unlike artists and writers, he will retire. Our Friends are both retired and still toiling, friends in both senses, beloved neighbours and faraway commuters, and thus the summer night passes. We sit in Essex, Tom's cows munch in Suffolk, and the river passes to make a dividing line.

You can have some yearly fund-raising in a country parish, but not too much fund-raising, which breeds alarm. Not to say exhaustion. A conglomeration of Stone Age and Roman materials, which is also in a kind of everlasting debate on a slight rise, will see us all out, whatever we do or don't do.

But neither we nor the diocesan architects will stand for laissez-faire. We are like little boys with coins in our pockets, who are torn between spending and keeping them there. And thus the gentle argument goes on. And thus my, if I may say so, deep knowledge of village things knows that this will always be so.

The ancient garden is scented. It is where the brass-rubbing knights and ladies in the ringing chamber walked, smelling the same warm air, listening to the late birds, and maybe discussing whether their riches would run to a clerestory. Anything to get them into heaven. Spare no expense!

A Swiss lady has sent me, as she does year after year, a packet of Alpine seeds. They are all in flower, and, although obviously hollyhocks, marigolds, cornflowers, etc., they are smaller and far greater-hued than their English relations. The white cat hides from the sun in their shade. A distant, unrecognisable figure is getting in a bit of hay. The horses stand in profile, flicking off flies. Strangers come and go, and are given a cup of tea.

Peter-Paul the composer arrives to have a talk. We bake against the nettles. How impossible, now, to think of the rain, the washed-away lane, the coldness of only last week. Even of the slugs that devoured my runner beans. At the top, a hare walks, not runs. In church, we sang "Christ is made the sure foundation", which was rather going it for 17 people. Such a sumptuous hymn; such a glory to match the glory of summer. It rose and fell like the wind-stirred wheat. I preach on the Lord - and the sea.

Later, much mowing, much tying-up of top-heavy tomatoes, much flipping with a book. Angularis fundamentum goes on singing in my head.

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