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Word from Wormingford

23 August 2013

Ronald Blythe watches August activity in the midst of seasonal sloth

MID August. Mr Cousins's bees are rifling my flowers in the late afternoons of hot days. Distant throbs betray a combine harvester, the first machine in the field. Barely a bird. Just this still warmth and motionless skies. Bell-ringing practice to go with so many bell-shaped blooms. I imagine Barry calling the tune. Just a handful of neighbours maintain the three churches, change their frontals, Hoover their carpets, polish their brass, unlock, lock up, count the candles, turn the pages of the visitors' books. Turn the pages, too, of the dead.

Immensely grand folk sleep here and there, nodding away until Kingdom come. Here is Jane Austen's cousin or aunt from Cawton. How did she get to Little Horkesley? Someone will know. Here are John Constable's uncles from Wormingford mill, with a confident Esq.

Here is the poor young man who apologised to me for wearing a hat in church, cancer having robbed him of his hair. Here is beloved Gordon, who survived the Western desert and was photographed with Monty. Here is John Nash, who painted the Stour valley all his days. Here, making sharp corners for the tower, are Roman bricks, warm to the touch still. Here are noticeboards naming a vanished vicar, or rector. Here is summer weather. I sit on a burning bench and thank God for it.

In Swann's Way an old man tells a young man: "In my heart of hearts, I care for nothing in the world now but a few churches, books - two or three, pictures - rather more, perhaps, and the light of the moon when the fresh breeze of youth (such as yours) wafts to my nostrils the scent of gardens whose flowers my old eyes are not sharp enough, now, to distin-guish."

Mercifully, I see not only the confident bell-shaped blooms of August, but the insects that rock them. How active the month is! Although, personally speaking, I have to admit that torpor reigns. Only those whose names on tombs remind me of their old busyness are less active than I.

Squinting through my lashes, I think I can pick out the blue smudge of hill on which they crowned Edmund, king and martyr, on Christmas Day, long ago. What else happened round about 860? Well, the convolvulus would have rioted in August, sure as fate. And the mother of the Lord would be high in the sacred firmament. And the husbandmen would be sharpening their sickles, or just lolling about in the sun.

And the mindless taking of life by the raiders, just like that by the Cairo authorities at the moment, would have been going on here and there in the name of government. Or possibly not. And possibly some enchanting seasonal sloth, with the August sun on one's neck, and a slowdown in one's heart, it being too soon to gather anything except pollen.

They say that Edmund would have been about 30 - which is far too soon to die. Morons stripped him, tied him to a tree, and made him into a target. This mindless taking of life and rattling of weapons - in August!

I think that my Garrya elliptica is on its last legs. Named after Michael Garry, of the Hudson Bay Company, it is propping up yards of grapevine. But if you chop it down it will rise again. A neighbouring holly says: "Yes, yes! Give me more light." But the white cat says: "Let it be."


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