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Word from Wormingford

20 June 2014

A walking tour makes sense if you are about 20, says Ronald Blythe

PENTECOST - 70 days after the resurrection, when the house shakes, and tongues of fire become mitres. The old garden blazes with summer, which is not officially here. Pale-yellow irises, immense red poppies. The white cat hiding from the sun. Jean's horses swigging at the water-trough. Mr Cousins's bees and Tom's aeroplane buzzing around. Myself languid in the heat, and surrounded by Laurie Lee's books - I am supposed to be celebrating his centenary.

He is walking in Spain, just before the civil war. He carries a violin, and is 18, and penniless, joyful, and naïve. His life tumbles around me on the grass. Tumultuous birdsong. Cool aspen music. I planted these tremendous trees 40 years ago, and they have shot up so they can see what is going on over the hill. All the windows are open wide. The wavy pintiled roof sheds mossy cushions. The TV aerial glitters. In a brief silence, when the birds take a break, I catch bell-ringers' practice at Little Horkesley.

The garden is a kind of unintentional botany of autographs, of stolen cuttings, inherited plantings, and remembered species. Sometimes, the giver's name comes to mind, but not the plant. It has two heydays: spring bulbs, and this midsummer splendour.

The old farmhouse is, at this moment, nothing more than a prop to hold up foliage. It smells inside and out of mint and freshly shorn grass. Butterflies have to be rescued from double glazing, and the occasional swallow from my bedroom.

I preach on the moment when not only tongues of fire blazed on heads, but all languages were understood. St Luke's Acts of the Apostles has always enthralled me with its heat and voyagings, its insistence that the followers of Jesus should take to the road or the sea, and not remain a small Palestinian sect.

Of course, there were those who never left home but covered the ground mentally. It is what I am doing now, I tell Laurie Lee. I glimpsed him once when I was young. A friend said: "You see that man at the bar - that's Laurie Lee." He had walked all the way from Gloucestershire into fame. In Cider With Rosie - a great walk book - he describes it quite dangerously; for even now, all this time since, it is enough to make one pack a haversack and take to the road. Only it is best to be about 20 for it to make sense.

A friend starts up the mower. It vies with the bees. The horses toss their manes. David is having his funeral in the church, a Thomas Hardy figure from the last of the old farmworking race. He and his wife sat at the back of the church for always. A long weariness claimed him, wore him out.

The psalms understood such physical exhaustion. "Forsake me not, O God, in my old age." Although, wonderfully, the older one gets, the closer God is, it often seems. But, with the passing of men such as David, the gradual disappearance of those who bodies shaped the village fields, and whose faces met the village weather in all its moods, rural life in its classic shape is concluded.

He was cremated - a hurrying of his body into dust, and different tongues of fire to claim it. The church was full to overflowing for him.

Voices of unseen riders converse as they pass the garden, and there is a slight stumbling of hoofs.

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