THREE days before Michaelmas - farmers' quarter-day. Warm
sunshine, Victorias squishy underfoot, sweet decay in the air. The
harvest all gone, its stubble all ploughed in. The first ash leaves
sailing down. The ducks in rowdy echelon overhead. Everything as it
was and as it should be.
The Friends of Essex Churches arrive in ours to hear me talking
about John Constable, a local boy. His mother would write: "My dear
John, I was much pleased with the attention and intention of your
intelligent letter, by this day's post; the milk of human kindness
is to me an exhilarating cup, and most delightful admixture . . .
besides being so cheap and easily given. . .
"The account you give of your best love and
our great favourite is most grateful, and my wish and
prayers are that I may be permitted to see you both happy and
rewarded according to your deserts."
Her son has fallen in love with Maria Bicknell. It is the
midsummer of 1812. They would court on the Langham hills, the
youthful artist being considered a fortune hunter by her family.
John would be walking to Wormingford Hall, which his uncle had
rented from the squire, Mr Tufnell.
They say that there are many more trees in the Stour Valley than
then. There would certainly have been many more harvesters - the
two-legged kind. Only David in his combine, now, and he so
furtively that I missed seeing him. Just his fresh ruts.
But three harvest festivals when Jesus walked Palestine, eating
an ear or two on the way. How disgraceful. Call yourself a prophet?
Phyllida will save a whole sheaf from her fields to put up front at
harvest festival. Today's village can only cope with symbols, not
You have to be old to have lifted a stook. They were
surprisingly weighty and prickly. Once they had been carted to the
stack yard, the field would flower for a month or more with what we
called the aftermath - second shootings of corn and scarlet
pimpernel. Belated poppies and scabious.
The aftermath was a study in modesty. Also a country walk. We
are in a Stone Age settlement; so I search the aftermath for
artefacts, and the study window-sill is crowded with worked
It is the eve of St Michael and All Angels, and Christopher and
I are in Fordham Church to hear a piano recital. As always, my
attention is disturbed by history, and Mendelssohn and Ravel have
to fight for precedence against such claimants as the once-occupier
of the Lady chapel, medieval carpentry, and the new west-end
But the youthful pianist soon drives away these sideshows. He
plays Mompou's bell music in a landscape of church bells. He was
walking in Paris with his girlfriend when they heard the midnight
bell. Our bells sound up and down the Stour, according to the
Coming home, the car lights disturb the Little Owls that live in
the sloe bushes above the farm track. They wing around indignantly.
Humans have no business being abroad at such an hour. One of the
Mompou pieces was called "Carts of Galicia".