KEITH has painted the
ancient room, and Peter has relayed its topsy-turvy brick floor.
The latter has not been done since c.1750. Each of them
works unhurriedly. I watch them with awe. How is it done, this
getting everything in perfect line? Peter's notion of bliss is to
mend a ha-ha in hot sunshine wearing a straw hat; Keith's, to be
able to do anything. The white cat, matted with historic dust,
observes their every motion.
When Peter's floor emerges,
it is a pale orange-brown-grey; when Keith's ceiling shows its real
self, it is like the snowy garden. The legend that treasures hide
away beneath loose brick floors is not substanti-ated. All we find
are a few rat walks and the original sand. When I throw in some
historic information, Peter and Keith are tolerant. What do writers
know about work? Writers are there to make tea. Obviously, I have
dwelt amid squalor for years.
Peter was in his teens when
he began to re-lay floors, and now he is half a century. "What
about your poor knees?" Terrible. Most great craftsmen are achy in
middle age. It is to be expected. A publisher friend even suffers
on his computer.
Mid-January, and primroses
in flower. An Epiphany reading from Paul's letter to the Romans
insists that they "renew their minds". At this moment, everyone is
down by the Jordan, seeking a ritual cleansing, including Jesus
himself. It is a great moment for Christianity, this presence of
him in the queue. I imagine them all by the water's edge, taking
their clothes off, and John, aghast; for look who has joined it.
Baptismal renewal. Fresh vision. The dove descending, as the poet
says. These river scenes disturb the city. A deputation is sent to
ask John if he is the Messiah. Instead of saying "I am Zachariah's
son," which might explain a great deal, John tells it: "I am a
voice crying in the wilderness." More poetry. I am entranced by the
Epiphany story, and repeat it to the congregation every
mid-January. I tell them that when you follow a star, you have to
All great religions look up,
so to speak. It is their function. I am reading about the Buddha,
that enlightened one whose teachings have done less harm to
humanity than all the rest. Evident on the screen in this smiling
man is love, wisdom, courage, and holiness (wholeness). Like Jesus,
the Buddha never wrote a book, just told stories. His title means,
among other things, "enlightened".
Finding my way through the
orchard after the Benefice Songs of Praise, black branches lead me
astray, although an enormous moon shines down; for things are not
what they usually are on a winter's night. In the far distance, a
telly jumps about in the kitchen window.
We have been singing "The
old rugged cross", which you will not find in most books, although
present in every cemetery and churchyard. A mounted calvary.
Something to hold on to. Social history comes in here. The
precarious health, the rocky wages, the fragility of existence -
and only the other day. I can see the farmworkers of my boyhood
staggering in the ruts.
The same birds sang, and the same flowers bloomed, and the same
East Anglian weather blew across the sky. And big boots and bare
feet marked my old brick kitchen floor. I expect Peter to say:
"Look, a hairpin!" But not a sign of either loss or gain. History
can leave us little to go by.