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Word from Wormingford

12 December 2014

Glorious tombs and an old pub draw Ronald Blythe to a small town

MURKY warm December days. Strangely pleasant. We drive to Framlingham on the spur of the moment. The little town, with its great history, is still and wet. I remember once coming home from baking Sydney, and loving the raindrops sliding down the plane windows at Heathrow.

Advent is in the air: an almost tangible time when we "put on the armour of light" - an enchanting activity - and when "love is the fulfilling of the law". The car splashes past endless empty fields, which are faintly ruled with sugar beet. Framlingham Castle, with its 13 towers, has an ephemeral look, as though it might blow away, and Framlingham School comes and goes on the horizon, as though telling us "Don't take me for granted."

It was built to educate the sons of Suffolk farmers with money left over from building the Crystal Palace. This sensible idea came from the Prince Consort, whose statue presides in the distance.

We make for the Crown, and have lunch by the fire. Inertia reigns. The old room is full of ghosts: neighbours from long ago; schoolmasters taking a break; my friend the poet James Turner, who vanished to Cornwall; the Falstaffian rector in his cassock, tweeds, and tennis clothes; and my bike in the courtyard.

It was at Framlingham Castle that Mary Tudor learned of the death of her half-brother, Edward VI, and the accession of poor Lady Jane Grey to the throne. Vast events in a quiet countryside. And now a handful of folk in a bar, and the Christmas decorations.

My favourite reason for coming to Framlingham, however, is to marvel yet again at the glorious tombs of the Dukes of Norfolk, especially the one with its Genesis frieze - a favourite of Benjamin Britten, and from which he took his church parable Noye's Fludde. He was fascinated, as I was, by the extraordinary things that filled our local churches, and, should one be a composer or a writer, were there for the taking. He would drive off in his big old car on the spur of the moment, as I had done this week, to look once again at what he regarded as his by right of birth: some view, some object in a vast or tiny village church.

But Advent. The liturgy trembles with expectation and dread, with joy and fear. The Creator enters his creation as a child. Advent for Adventus, coming. The liturgical year begins. Long ago, it was as severely kept as Lent. But, now, shopping shouts it down. Some scenes on television of bargain hunters were little less than disgusting.

For me, music expresses it far more than words. Music in which Jesus is given such beautiful names: Emmanuel, Desire of Nations, Wisdom from on High, Dayspring, Lord of David's Key, names filled with urgency and longing. George Herbert added to the list: "Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life. . . Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength. . . Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart."

I rake the main paths, and push barrow-loads of sodden leaves out of sight. Robins fly ahead. Keith arrives. May he take some holly? It is berry-less, but shining, an immense wall of it glittering and clattering when the wind gets into it. Geoffrey Grigson said that working holly into Christian belief was easy. It was thorny and blood-coloured. People once believed that the Cross was made from it. In old ballads, Holly is the man, and Ivy the woman.

But I prefer to see it as it is: evergreen, ever present in the farmhouse garden, and stuck behind the pictures on Christmas Eve.

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