ALL HALLOWS. A furtive sun, a drift of, mercifully, unblemished
ash-leaves. They sail across the study window, semi-shrivelled and
blotched like old hands. But the rose John Clare flowers, and a
yucca promises to, any minute now. Which is unwise of it. The
season is both lively and deathly. Winter wheat is ruled across the
fields down by the Stour. And, to maintain the geographic pattern,
echelons of geese fly over the old roof as regular as
My old farmer neighbour, a Framlingham
boy, has died. His sons are into onions in a big way. Strings of
them, red and white, dangle in my larder. Enough to last a year. I
have taken the tender plants in from the frost, scythed the
orchard, and am about to tidy up, in a fashion. For nothing
approaching neatness will be accomplished until after Christmas. At
the moment "The King of Glory passes on his way."
James, from the University, arrives,
to confess that he does not write letters. He emails. Sloth, of
course. He devours cake. Never? He shakes his head, and I shake
mine. I point to two shelves of Letters in my library, and there he
is, a professor, without a letter to his name. A succession of
visitors make their way down the muddy track, and are granted
audience. The white cat sits on them in turn, dribbling with joy.
The village is pensive. The surface of the lanes shines. The hedges
are machine-cut to within an inch of their lives. They are what is
called a parallel universe.
But the water beneath the bridge
swirls about any old how on the surface, though with deep, dark
thoughts. Another fall, another bitter time to come. This is where
Widermund kept the ford. I see him as one of those St Christopher
young men, splashing across shallow rivers with dace and carp
swimming between his legs. He would have waded a dozen steps from
Suffolk to Essex, heard the watermill, witnessed the kingfisher.
"Do you keep a diary?" I ask the letterless teacher. He shakes his
head. "Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host."
Ladies appear to sell me a poppy.
People on the telly wear them weeks before Remembrance Sunday. Why
is this? It seems more to do with respectability than with
Last Sunday, I preached on Amos, a
hero of mine. An unlicensed preacher, this young fruit-farmer from
Tekoa had the nerve to "lift his voice". He lifted it against
liturgy and contentment, against national happiness. God said:
"Prophesy unto my people."
"He showed me a basket of summer fruit
and said: 'Amos, what do you see?' And I said: 'A basket of summer
fruit.' And God said: 'The end is come upon my people.'" We hear
the sadness in his voice.
Summer fruit ends the orchard year.
Only this year, there was no fruit. Not a pear, not a plum. I
imagined Amos and God in the sycamore fig orchard. A burst of
October wind rattled my trees. Now and then, civilisation begins to
crumble, and an unprofessional person says what has to be done. And
those in power say: "Who gives him leave to speak?"
God tells his orchardman, "I will
smite the winter house with the summer house. . . I will not hear
the melody of your viols. . . I despise your feast days." This was
too much for the high priest. He told Amos to go where he couldn't
hear him and prophesy there. Minor prophets can be a trial,
especially when they write so well.