AUGUST ended in airy sunshine, and, mercifully, in the début of
my dear hornets. Every year, there is a dragged-out absence, and
then, suddenly, the annoyed hum as they knock into the lampshades
and have to be shown the door. What handsome creatures they
Then, a journey to the Welsh Marches. England drops behind, and
the western hills come into view, soft in their greys and purples.
To Presteigne, that little town on the River Lugg ("light") whose
mystery I have never been able to fathom.
It is the Festival of Music and the Arts. A few strings of faded
bunting announce that something is going on, but the music! Who
would not cross England to hear it? My contribution is a lecture on
the potter's contribution to human happiness, given as a sermon in
St Andrew's, at the eucharist. We sing "Christ is made the sure
foundation." It is altogether wonderful; hundreds of voices pouring
perpetual melody. I am singing it still, days later.
My host is the poet Edward Storey, whose contribution is to sing
the enchantment of neighbouring Discoed, a minute parish two miles
away - a shepherd's place, a bird-gathering place, where, from my
early morning window, I can watch sheep cropping Offa's Dyke.
These annual excursions are precious. I see and hear many of the
same things, but each time differently. And Debbie, who once talked
to me about being ordained, will be, in a few days' time, in
Hereford Cathedral. She brings me bread and wine. The festival
choir sings William Byrd's Mass for Four Voices. It threads its way
into countless subconsciouses. All these visitors! Although here
and there a recognisable Presteigne face.
At the end, each of us, ungratefully, describes ourselves as a
"pilgrim through this barren land". In my sermon, I describe God's
asking each one of us: "My beautiful world - why didn't you enjoy
Home, through what should have been the Bank Holiday traffic.
Only there wasn't any. Just a long run on sparse roads. And
Bosworth and Naseby battlefields under our tyres. In my frequently
hopeless way, I take a wrong turn, and we are in a mesh of sunken
lanes. They are worth the confusion. Signposts point to the most
unlikely destinations. How curious it is to hear them singing
"consubstantial, co-eternal". The Essex countryside, in particular,
newly harvested and looking too tempting merely to drive through,
and, of course, full of song. Even my old farm-track added a few
notes. Four horses in Lower Bottom lifted up their heads.
But in the late-summer garden, nature had better things to do.
Taught by my betters not to cut down plants the moment they start
to seed, I touched the "impatients" balsam, and felt the thrilling
push of the pod between my fingers. I was a child again. Its
contents flew. Life! That is the thing.
I scythed part of the orchard so that its seed fell into that
furry darkness in which fruited trees are rooted, and made a proper
step between August and September. The white cat climbed to the
topmost branches and gazed down. Greengages were on the turn. And
still the Presteigne eucharist rewound itself and played all over
again. And the quietness of the Presteigne streets took over the
noisiness of the Bottengoms lane, now that all my hornets were
bumping their way into the grapevine.