CHILLY May days. Lilacs cense the mown lawns. Blackbirds do
their best. Horses stay still and converse. The church smells nice.
I gaze anxiously at the ashes - will they escape the plague? The
oaks are in full leaf, and the Stour valley is wondrous to
John and I go to the Thatchers for fish and chips, and to look
at the immense view. We discuss the Etruscans to muzak, and the
insatiable human need to be immemorially entombed. The
Churchyard Handbook is not much help in this direction. It is
generally believed that we will be remembered for 40 years after we
are "gone". But the car park is full of comings and goings above
the Iron Age bones. Fresh hedges are green walls, and Mount Bures'
church spire thrusts into a low sky.
My existence straddles two dioceses: Chelmsford, and St
Edmundsbury & Ipswich; but, since I can't drive, they are as
unreachable as Rome for all practical purposes. Friends return from
them with tales of wondrous singing and preaching. Long ago, I used
to imagine what it must be like to live in a close where every day
was a procession.
Down at the farmhouse, life is a procession of a writer and his
cat. Today, the pair of us pause at the glorious sight of the vast
laburnums in full bloom on the long walk. "Look thy last on all
things lovely," Walter de la Mare said. Not that I feel the
approach of Last Things - rather the reverse, but no one should
miss May or its flowering shrubs.
I once carried an armful of lilac into my grandmother's cottage
when I was a boy. Pandemonium. "Take them out - take them out!"
Then, "Poor child, he doesn't know any better." She was a Suffolk
countrywoman born in the 1870s, and a lover of evensong, and her
existence was rich with superstitions. When she saw television for
the first time, she said: "There is something I want to know: can
they see us?"
Spring brings her near. It was less securely Christian than the
winter, particularly Maytime. But the bumble bee trapped in the
window would give her unwanted messages. Now and then, Canon Hughes
would sit with her of an afternoon, on his round of old ladies, his
Welsh and her Suffolk voices winding in and out for the destined
half an hour.
The Blythe graves tumble about in the village churchyard, their
stones hardly legible. When I took an American cousin to see them,
he was indignant at the wild scene. I explained that this was the
wildflower bit of the churchyard, to do with saving the planet, or
something. He was not appeased.
He stared at the humps and bumps of his relations, and I
remembered a poem by Thomas Hardy, in which a London churchyard was
destroyed to make way for a railway terminus. Thus peasant dust
from centuries past made way for our relations, and theirs would
hold a name briefly - 40 years, maybe - after which the faces of
the dead would vanish from memory. The youthful cousin doubted
But the immortality of certain wildflower sites - bluebells, for
instance - is something I cannot doubt or rationalise. The Tudor
woman Joanna Sturdy, who cast two of our bells (she took on the
business after her husband died), would have seen our Arger Fen
bluebells, I am sure. Anyway, the Maytime rite of going to see them
is never neglected. There they are, in all their jazzy blueness and
multitudinous splendour. Just where they were when we were ten.