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Word from Wormingford

10 May 2013

In May time, Ronald  Blythe's thoughts turn to dancing

THE white cat is given to loftiness in her advancing years, sitting high up in fruit trees, and on the ledge of a Tudor chimney, purring away, looking down on us, bursting with achievement. As is the late and lovely spring. Never such a rush of flowers, such drugging scents. Put work aside. Simply be. For - who knows? - such days might not come my way again. The horses roll on their backs; the trees grow greener by the minute. Best of all, both white and purple fritillaries have multiplied in the orchard grass.

It is May Day, the day of days - the day that we once spent in Padstow, drinking beer at 8.30 in the morning as the 'Obby 'Oss [hobby horse] was led out to a haunting song, to process through the slate streets - perhaps the most moving folk festival in Britain. Quite why it should be so escapes all explanation. You have to dance in its wake to prove it so.

And then, those with whom we danced are no longer with us to provide evidence. They have drunk and sung and leapt their way ahead and out of sight, leaving a little music behind - and a pile of curling photos.

My old friend Michael Mayne - for a memorable decade, Dean of Westminster - placed much of his Christian philosophy in an enchanting book, Learning to Dance. "In many ways, I am an unlikely dancer, having only fully mastered the waltz and the Dashing White Sergeant, and, at the age of ten, a passable sailors' hornpipe, yet the ideas of the invitation to the cosmic dance, and of dance as a metaphor for our assorted lives in this mysterious, dancing universe, have gone on expanding in my mind. . ."

Jesus despaired of "this generation", of its joylessness and ingratitude. "You are like children calling out to other children, We have piped for you and you did not dance."

Some years ago, two young neighbours of mine danced down the aisle of Blythburgh Church, in Suffolk, after their wedding. If one is going to dance in church, it may as well be in this angelic building. David, of course, danced before the Ark of the Covenant, being a great poet. In one of his psalms, he turns mourning into dancing, and they conclude with the fortissimo dance music and words of the four final psalms.

Mayne might be said to have taught cosmic dancing wherever he went, and finally at Salisbury, where I "met" George Herbert when I was in my 20s.

The sun is hot on the study window, the May wind chilly. My old friend Antony Pritchett, Vicar of Pickering, is about to pay his annual visit, and we shall do a bit of exploring and a great deal of talking. Each year, I have to provide somewhere different to go, but the talking takes off in fresh directions without the least trouble.

"When did you first decide to be a priest?"

"When I was six."

When did I first decide to be a writer? Who can tell? "How is Merbecke?" Merbecke is Antony's dog.

Friends in Yorkshire or Cornwall, or in a Barbara Pym novel, or wildly dancing in scripture, or at this moment giving the churchyard grass its first good back and sides, are given movement by May time. I am, too; and the mower is raring to go at the first pull. The poppy seed I scattered is up; the climbers I tied back are in bud. So soon. So on the go, everything. "Allus on the goo," the neighbours used to say - and not approvingly.

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