SULTRY August, and tall perennials outgrow their strength. I tie
up the toppling hollyhocks, and the bees do not chase me as they
did the Amorites, but hang on for all they are worth. It is
wonderfully still. Motionless. Except, of course, for the bees.
William Blake, contemplating their notorious business, said that
they had no time for sorrow.
Once upon a time, the work ethic ran amok, but what a disaster
it is when it can no longer be practised. When everything has been
done. Leisure is leisure only when work calls the tune. "How doth
the little busy bee improve the shining hour?" asked the Taylor
sisters, who lived just up the road. But if an hour shines, why
attempt to improve it?
Jonathan has improved the far-from-shining track - to the relief
of those who travel to Bottengoms - splitting its flints with his
machine. And not, I trust, wrecking the home of my beloved mining
bees. These creatures apart, bees can be roughly divided into the
social and the solitary. Rather like us, I suppose. Rather like the
ancient Christian desert-dwellers and monastic communities.
Religious choose to live in silence, or within a buzz. Writers tend
to have silence thrust on them, even when they have a family.
When a relation came to tea, the dumb telly was the object of
her concern for me. "Is it broken?" She would have driven off to
get me a talking one that very minute. Hers talks from morn till
night, and is guaranteed to do so. But, then, so do the bees. The
white cat switches on when I am near, and off when I am in the
study. August has a summery rumble to it, even before the combines
lurch from their sheds. It must be the bees, improving their
In the evening, balsam seed scatters like grapeshot. When I show
the children how to encourage this by the gentlest touch of the
pod, they scream with excitement, the move-ment being so strong
between their fingers. They find giving a hand to nature quite a
nerve. "Now me!" Balsam flowers, like silk boats, rock above
I want August to trail its days and take ages to reach
September. Not so parents, I am told. There should be legislation
to put boys and girls out of their screen-fed dens in August. There
are children in our village whom no one has ever glimpsed. Old
commands in my old house ring up the stairs: "Out, out! Do your
chores, then don't come back till teatime. Find another mouse."
What happened in John Clare's village in August? He is at pains
to report it. Although it was in rural Northamptonshire a century
and a half ago, it was still rather similar in rural Suffolk
between the wars, when I was a boy.
Not that I haven't kept up with change. Or the bits of it that
suit me. So this from Clare's August: his publishers had told him
to tell the bourgeoisie what country folk did in August: they
hadn't noticed. Well, there was no Bank Holiday for them, for a
start. Just a lot of hot work. No one was at home. Everyone was in
the fields, including:
The ruddy child, nursed in the lap of Care
In Toils rude strife to do his little share,
Beside its mother poddles o'er the land,
Sunburnt, and stooping with aweary hand,
Picking its tiny glean of corn orheat,
While crackling stubbles woundits little feet. . .
. . . and, I think, on the blazing hill field opposite. Only
beyond all memory.