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Word from Wormingford

01 February 2013

Ronald Blythe's floor has not revealed the secrets expected

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 look up.

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.


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