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Word from Wormingford

25 January 2013

Ronald Blythe drinks dusty tea and finds long-lost objects

THE Epiphany continues. Today, snow-light. White-blue hills, sagging boughs. A cold to take one's breath away. Delectable soups on the go. Twenty hardy ramblers descend into the valley. Keith, our Admirable Crichton, descends on me to paint a room - white. And Peter, equally versatile, thinks nothing of driving from Thetford to re-lay the brick floor.

Between them, they expose wonderful and dreadful things, a century or more of lost treasures and dirt too horrible to tell you about. For such is an ancient house: a container of modest antiquities and a lot of rubbish. Here is a George V envelope; here are objects I've been searching for since last winter. And, of course, the rooms being upside down, Paul has arrived, so cups of dusty tea.

A ramblers' club appears on the horizon, clumping its boots and beating its arms. The white cat eats a lot, and travels from radiator to radiator. I walk in the powdery orchard. I put up green woodpeckers, and hasten the squirrel on its way. Will it last? This void of winter?

I think of Georgian families in their box pews and their feet in nice clean straw as the frozen parson held forth. And singing maybe "Turn us again, O God, show the light of thy countenance and we shall be whole," very slowly, as they did then.

I work on some poems for a composer to set. Three or four. I listen to Schubert's sad-grim Earl King from Wigmore Hall, supper on one knee and cat on the other, and listen to the creaky night-time winter. There are hellebores beneath the snow. They bloom on, untouched by cold. Although, pity the poor traveller on a night like this.

I remember the pre-central-heating days of my boyhood, when we baked at the front and froze at the back. Put on another jersey! Think of the homeless! I lie awake, thinking of my million snowdrops and of the owls over the river. I think: where have I put the breadknife?, all sorts of things. Spring cleaning in January is very disturbing. And the dust! I look like a wraith.

Today, a friend flies to Ethiopia to study Coptic manuscripts, but before he did this, he drove a few miles to see Copford Church, there to see the painted Christ in Judgement, who is in darkness until one presses a coin into a pay slot - as one does in the high-rise car park. Then he appears, no gentle Jesus, but someone to bring one to one's knees. There can be no guilty plea. Go to Copford Church near Colchester with some small change. Be awed. This is less a pilgrimage than Addis Ababa, and on flat fields, not 8000 feet in the air.

Christmas is a hundred years past. It is what happens in January. But the Epiphany is timelessly going on and on. This is what happens to light. Ice and snow appeared in the morning, but the stream ran fast, cold, and clear. The dawn was lurid, streaking across Duncan's barn in the best Rothko style. I filled two pails from the stream, just in case of a freeze-up. The sun is hot on my back as I write. A window pane makes winter luxurious. Frozen roses scratch the glass, tight petal-spheres which will never open. To have got so far.

Well, says the neighbour, there's nothing we can do about it. He means winter.

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