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Word from Wormingford

09 August 2013

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 hours.

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 them.

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.


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