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Word from Wormingford

08 February 2013

Ronald Blythe has a meeting with a fellow archaeologist

THE young archaeologist comes from ultima Norfolk to take my photograph. I put on my best jersey, make coffee, and he shoots me from every direction. The morning is amazing. First, golden clouds, then, May sunshine. An immense tree-touching plane trundles over, but with little noise. The talk runs in various directions, as I don't quite know what I am supposed to do. But there is an element of delight. It includes a confession - dyslexia. What he puts down is never right first time.

I tell him that I am an involuntary archaeologist, because one can barely put a spade into the Bottengoms garden without digging something up. Handmade nails, fragments of what was once whole, iron shoes shed by the steeds of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The archaeologist says what we all say: how moving it is to have in the palm of one's hand this small handmade object.

I remember being on Bodmin Moor with a poet friend, and our sitting by a stone-age hearth, and thinking how it warmed the rough hands of long ago.

And now, this strangely hot January morning. Too good to work. So I may as well dream. It has been a disorganised week because of workmen, but now their surfaces glow, the ancient interior has gone Dutch, and I am able to carry shocked spiders from unwelcome spotlessness to the cosy murk of a garden wall.

It is Candlemas, the feast of lights, which was once called "The Meeting" - i.e. of Christ and Simeon, of the child and the old man. Nunc dimittis, he sang. Lumen ad revelationem, we sing. In the village bus, a grandfather held a baby to give his daughter a rest. They sat very still and at ease, locked in by a pushchair. Reflections from the flooded Stour passed across their faces.

Early catkins in the track, very high up. Hellebores below. The archaeologist drives away, with warnings not to run into Jamie, the postman, who might be coming down at a fair lick. There is a kind of exultancy in descending an old road. Our village is full of spidery lanes that end up at a single dwelling.

But the day is disconcerting. It is forbidding me to be inside. By now, the huge trees, oaks and aspens, are serene below and in a passion above, thrashing the sky, sending down dead wood, roaring at the top of their voices, and at odds with everything that surrounds them. The gale is sorting them out, throwing their birds off course and confusing the turn of the month. When I was young, the miller would say: "Did you listen to the tempest last night?" Who says "tempest" now? Fine words fall in and out.

Keith arrives to give me the time of day, and to admire the transformation he has wrought in the old room. We have coffee and chocolates, and I write a sticker for the child's chair I have given to his little grandson, Isaac. How pleasant it is to be too interrupted to toil. Just to hear the commotion of trees, the disturbance of water, the words of an old man ages ago, Nunc dimittis. Just to listen to arrivals and departures from Liverpool Street, to read Malachi. Bulbs tip the surface, no more. A dead rose must come out, and a live one must not quite go where it has been.


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