EACH December, I wander about the town in search of the
charity-card shop, this time as I come, reassured, from the
dentist. And there it is, with a lady sweeping its pavement, and
its racks of greetings and fearful diseases, snowy churches, and
Renaissance nativities. And there, as usual, is my baptismal
Suffolk church, covered in drift - only serendipitously
Looking for a familiar scene, I find, centre-stage, Great Aunt
Agnes's and Uncle Fred's gravestones. He had died early from
Western Front gas. She had been low in our estimation, feeding us
with bread and butter instead of cake when we called after a
three-mile hike through the prickly cornfields.
Her house was a clapboard wonder. We stepped down into it when
we called. Remote faces from the trenches stared at us as we
parked, good as gold, on her slippery couch as she sawed away at a
home-made loaf, holding it against her stout body. But here she is,
in the charity-card shop, next to good-looking - they always said -
Fred. I bought two packs.
The white cat mutters at birds. She has come inside until the
spring. Bullfinches and robins whirl around the new feeder. The
farm track has stopped being a river. Washed sparkling clean, it
dries out in a cloudy sun. I take a memorial service for a
neighbour in a packed church. "Afterwards in the village hall". And
so it goes on. Life. And just as it always did. For, as Ludwig
Wittgenstein said, "Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as
resting when you are walking in snow. You doze off and die in your
Having finished a new book, may I not rest? "At rest" was the
popular epitaph in a country churchyard. How they toiled! Now they
"sleep". And so soundly that Barry's mower never wakes them up. I
trust that my ashes won't "sleep". I run my eyes over their trunks
apprehensively. So far, so smooth. So alive! Even in
I cast away the old Lectionary. It is my first Advent gesture.
Whom have we here? Anyone know? Ambrose, Nicholas Ferrar, John of
Damascus, Mary . . . with child? We sing the Advent hymns, sonorous
with titles. "Come, thou long-expected Jesus." I begin the
clearance of sodden leaves - and find patches of pink cyclamen.
Dead sticks have rattled down. Late roses have pushed through the
guttering. Last year's Christmas puddings have made their presence
Shopping on the eight-o'clock school bus, how different things
are! What used to be a zoo on wheels is now part silence, part
murmur. Forty or so teenagers. Pairs of lovers, solitary dreamers,
youngsters giving nothing away but simply travelling - like the boy
in Thomas Hardy's poem with the train ticket in his hat. At Bures
Hamlet, buses from opposite directions have to squeeze between the
banks, and people who are reading look up.
I rode on these buses when I was 12. When we passed the Treble
Tile pub, the conductor would call out "the Terrible Tile" and
laugh at his wit. Everyone smoked. We rode in a travelling ashtray.
But the views are exactly the same. And we still say "Thank you" to
the driver as we get off. He calls me Sir. Old women call him Dear.
I read Patrick Leigh Fermor's The Traveller's Tree,
careful not to forget my stop.
Village Hours, the latest collection from Wormingford, is
out now (Canterbury Press, £14.99 (CT Bookshop £13.49);