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Word from Wormingford

14 February 2014

Ronald Blythe is hoping for a priest who likes ancient waterways

THE farm track lurches along from puddle to puddle. The unseen brook below me is a village Tiber. The air is soft, the sky low and colourless. But the catkins - never such pollen ropes! They swing like censers, rocking the blackbirds. We are to remember the apostle Matthias and George Herbert: the first by the luck of the draw, the second by his poetry. And still they promise rain. But the rain is a treat, being so soft and languid. Now and then, a little wind troubles the bare trees.

We await a priest and some shuffling of the benefice. Each vicar is a little reign. We say: "In Arthur's time. . ." or "In John's time. . .". So far, not in a woman's time, although we would be glad to say this. Our only stipulation is that an incumbent should enjoy what is here, the tremendous view of the Stour valley, the unstoppable flood by the church gates as an ancient waterway breaks cover.

Water is an imperious element that insists on its own ways, and this is all part of the most celebrated river in English art. John Constable splashed his way through miles of it. And I remember the water meadows further upstream, how they turned into seas in late winter, with gulls flocking over them and ditchers busy in them. Sodden toil. Wet feet - no wellingtons, army greatcoats, and a sense of uselessness as the floods did whatever they liked, year after year.

Below the village, old cuts and solutions are evidence of attempts to manage the flow. But nothing like the Somerset Levels, where the inhabitants blame the authorities, knowing in their hearts that nothing can be done.

It is the time to stare at flint towers. Bar a few granite boulders dragged in our direction during the Ice Age, all we have is flint, and this in abundance. It became our jewellery. Rich men wrote their names in it on the churches they created. It was a mineral blackletter which did not weather, but which stayed sharp and glassy. And never so polished as in a wet Lent.

Tramping around my old Suffolk village the other day, there,on the foot of the tower, was the indelible flint homage to the Virgin Mary, bright as a button. Some unknown stone artist made it - set it - centuries before the Reformation. Neither man nor winter could rub it out.

Adrian will soon tidy up the garden for the spring. It will take its shape once more. At the moment, it is all hellebores - "showy flowers and poisonous parts", the dictionary says, primly. And fine they are. Best not to walk any-where other than on a solid path. The underlying squelch speaks of a garden floating on lakes.

And Ash Wednesday looms. Like a good Christian, I read T. S. Eliot.

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.

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