KEITH the builder works on
the old farmhouse with a kind of inherited understanding of its
materials and structure. A lath-and-plaster wall is taken back to
its fundamentals. Anything later than, say, 1660 is swept away by
what seems to me a hand that itself is contemporaneous with this
date. But I do not enquire. I watch. His "history" and my history
are unable to speak to each other.
Dust of ages fills the room.
Yet the white cat remains white. Bodging falls to the floor. Keith
neither swears at the work of these crude menders, nor honours what
remains of the art of the Tudor builders as he frees the laths from
pale crumbling daub.
The laths were made from
flat strips of riven oak or beech which, when freed from the
collapsed daub, are as good as new. Other parts of the house were
constructed with a basketwork of willow sticks and grass.
Electrical fittings are johnny-come-lately threads. Keith allows
them all, somewhat alarmingly, to hang out.
At one o'clock, he stops
working, and I stop watching, and we have a glass of port. After he
has gone home, I pore over the wall as one might pore over an old
painting, tracing its outline, its prickle of little handmade
nails, its wooden Meccano of beams, seeing both its fragility and
its lasting strength. The next day, Keith re-lays the brick floor,
a modern addition circa 1750.
Where do natural craftsmen
get their eye? Why haven't I got an eye? Keith's tools, scores of
them, lie like treasure in the box that was given
to him when he was 16. There
cannot be many houses hereabouts where its contents haven't come in
handy. Beside the tools, there are "finds", such as a scrap of
blacksmith's work: "That'll come in handy."
The weather being
springlike, I garden. The birds sing. I find a way to get dead
leaves out of the yuccas without being pierced. I dig up a dead
rose, Duchess of somewhere or other, and plant a new one, a
Christmas present, in its place. Though not exactly in its place;
for this is something one must not do.
Taking an Epiphany matins at
Little Horkesley, I tell them the story of the conversion of
Buddha, the Enlightened One. I have told it to them before, but it
An Indian prince, youthful
and beautiful, is driven in his carriage beyond his palace and its
gardens for the first time. He has never seen ageing, illness. . .
Such things had been kept from him. He sees a shaven-headed man in
a simple yellow robe, and is told: "He is what is called a
wanderer, my Lord. Someone who has gone forth."
"What is that - to have gone
"It means to lead a holy
life, my Lord; one which is filled only with good actions,
harmlessness, and kindness."
The Buddha alighted. "I will
Which, after the upset at his local synagogue, is what Jesus
did; what both he and the Buddha, and countless of their followers,
did, carrying light wherever they went. If you follow a star, you
have to look up. Epiphany should be when we see God plainly, when
we walk in the light.