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Word from Wormingford

22 November 2013

Ronald Blythe and the white cat begin their orisons early

ROUND about 6 a.m., should you be calling, you will find the white cat and me at our matins. The sun will soon be up and gathering strength, and it will send a golden line along the rim of Duncan's field. This, at all times of day, is as far as I can see.

I am reminded of the commendatory prayer, "Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight." An oak that was no more than a twig when I came here is a fine tree which catches the morning blaze. What a business it must have been, ploughing up to the horizon. Not a sign now of all this toil. Just autumn grass and the perpetual munch, the dawn appearing, the day's work ahead.

No point in clearing up after the gale until all the orange leaves are down. A rose - Duke of Wellington - is in full flower. The new lectionary has not arrived; so I don't quite know what season it is. "You are cut off down there," an old chap says. True. All this early brilliance, and not knowing the time. You have to walk a mile to see the church clock. It is golden like the sun. Barry keeps it in order.

Now and then, I have to wait until it has told the time before announcing the first hymn. "Good morning on a lovely day. Let us begin our worship with 'Jesu, the very thought of thee'," which is Barry's favourite. Mrs Cardy's was Addison's "When all thy mercies, O my God". And off we go.

I think of Sir John Tavener and his Russian Orthodox music. We arrive; he leaves. The dawn breaks. The nights pull in. Georgians sleep on the north, we on the south. And somewhere lie the ploughmen who topped my horizon, turned around, and followed the rut to my house. This, donkey's years before they fixed a clock to the tower.

A fine fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica - "drop tree") is a flourish of bells by my front door. The first frost will see them off. I have to take the annual bell-ringers' service - this is famous ringing country. "Have you put it in your diary?" Yes, yes. Our ringers are great travellers, driving to Cornwall, Edinburgh, you name it. They are non-parochial and without horizons. "We rang in Liverpool last Tuesday." Really? So, what with the commuters and the ringers, I am the permanent stay-at-home, the man below the hill who at this moment is being showered with turning leaves, acorns, and dead wood.

It is Benjamin Britten's 100th birthday. He would have been walking the marshes as usual, staring ahead, passing the yacht club, seeing the boats being wintered out of the corner of his eye. And then leaving the earth at much the same age as Tavener. Last autumn, I gathered maple leaves from his grave.

Aldeburgh will soon be wild, the North Sea flinging the shingle about, the dog walkers putting a brave face on the wind. They call it "getting a breather". Sheltered in my river valley, I call it "before Advent". The grapevine hangs in tatters, and on to anything it can get its tendrils on. And everywhere there is this turning, turning, this dying colour, this packing-up of the summer. The poet John Clare described it so well.

With sudden stir the startled forest sings
Winter's returning song - cloud races cloud,
And the horizon throws away its shroud

Like me, he is betimes to find some length in the shortening days.

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