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Word from Wormingford

10 October 2014

Wet grass and windfalls remind Ronald Blythe of a childhood treat

ANGELIC days. Two feet of white cat stretch out in the sun. But the first ash leaves sail down, wavering in the air before landing. The grass is soaking wet and ruled with badger trails. Undaunted blackbirds sing as though it is May. It is warm and bright, yet at the same time a little sad. The orchard smells of rotting falls, and I think of Aunt Aggie's triangular orchard and its tall hedges and padlocked gate - a kind of Suffolk Eden after sinful boys had been driven out.

Now and then we would be admitted, led by Aunt with her stick, to find an apple in the dank grass. Wiping it on one bosom, she would give it to us. "Eat it on the good side, dear." All the picked apples would be laid out in Eaters and Keepers order in the apple-room to scent her clapboarded cottage out until Christmas at least, when it would reek of home-made wine and cake.

In the village churchyard, a suckling was splitting her gravestone, and moss was devouring her name. All around her Blythe and Allen humps posed problems for the mower. There used to be crab-apples and bullaces in the churchyard hedge. And over it the cries of Acton United on Saturday afternoons. They vied with the rookery.

Peace, peace the gravestones whispered hopefully. But Bottengoms is comparatively silent in October, that yellow month. And full of flowers: late roses, self-heal all the year round, and summer plants reluctant to call it a day.

The artist John Nash taught me to look at seeds, to value their shapes, to regard them aesthetically as well as horticulturally. Or deadheadedly. "They are part of the life of the plant, don't forget." The friend who comes to mow the lawns, when asked what he thought of the garden, said it was "unusual".

And never more so when October thins it out, and yet at the same time fills it with senescence. And such warm weather! As for the churchyard horse-chestnuts, the ones the Victorian priest planted in the 1890s, they celebrated conker time with their usual glossy panache.

The conkers lie in their exquisite casings like Fabergé jewels. I put a few in my pocket after matins for old times' sake. I think of boastful "tenners" and "twentiers", long ago.

To this day, I carry a conker scar on the palm of my right hand: I was skewering it when it skewered me. Our churchyard horse-chestnuts are a wonder. The village would not be the same were they felled. "Lift up your hearts! Life up ye conker trees!" And the rooks agree.

To Norwich Cathedral to see the new windows. No glassy saints but their realm of pure colour. Visit them at once if you are in Norfolk. John McLean, who made them, reminds us that colour is the most emotive aspect of church windows, but it was George Herbert's lesson, 

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy

that continues to teach us how to approach them, and never more so than this pure-colour addition to religious art. "I feel I had permission for the quadrants of colour tumbling across the design," the artist says.

One thinks of Matisse, and then of so many things that one would not have thought of in a Norman cathedral before. Stunning, captivating, loaded with prayer colour.

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