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
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
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
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