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Word from Wormingford

21 February 2014

Ronald Blythe's outing to London leaves the white cat unimpressed

NATURE's light is tentative and subdued. Wild waves have driven the gulls inland. They bounce around on the muddy field, gorging on horse feed. Not a soul about, and almost painfully quiet.

I choose hymns for matins and evensong, and rewrite a sermon. For there comes a moment when, if it is not blasphemous to say so, I have written what I have written. When nothing should be added.

"Just imagine", I tell myself, "how worrying it must have been for the infant Church to hear that it must accept the variety of human experience." And particularly for Saul/Paul. Many of the first Christians belonged to a religion with set rules, but now, Saul says, you must leave its protection and follow the teachings of Jesus with your own individual gifts - having first found out what they are.

The future saints would always be a nuisance to the Church, because they would either break its rules, or fail to understand them. But orthodoxy had its "beauty of holiness", as the Epiphany tells us. And especially its journeys.

Talking of which, I went to London for the first time in ages. The commuter train lurched into Liverpool Street. Vicky came with me, and then we went our separate ways: she to see her weeks-old nephew, me to a vast literary lunch. Gales were promised, but not until we went home. The City streets were golden; the people, if not quite up to being Thomas Traherne's angels, a nice change from the Wormingford horses, fine though they are.

Home by the early evening. The white cat looked up - her only movement since I left. And thenews of a ruined journey: one that I took every year, to Cornwall, taking care to sit on the left so as not to miss the dramatic sea at Dawlish as it hurled itself at the line. I was going to see the Cornish poets James Turner and Charles Causley. And to walk by myself on the headlands.

My first visit to Penzance was with Mother. We went to a vast Methodist church where the singing overwhelmed us. I can hear it still - just as I can see the Atlantic boiling against the granite. We would ring up to ask if it was fine at St Ives, then walk across from Land's End.

I love Thomas Hardy's Cornwall, with its terrifying cliffs and its unforgettable glimpses of his first wife at St Juliot. It is being cut off by floods, and a railway line going nowhere would have enthralled him. It amazes us, this washing away of the west. Although we did once go to the eight-o'clock communion in a church that had been under water. "They all came and swept it out," the young priest explained. The congregation, he meant. We sang from a wet hymn-book.

But nature is changing. Our defences, our money are a kind of impotence. They cut us down to size - or rather they tell us where and how to live. Some unknown farmer in Shakespeare's day raised my house a foot above the cart track to make it bone dry. Them dry bones. But the heartbreaking interiors when the water gets in! They need no words on the screen.

Blackbirds and linnets devour old cake below my window, itself due east, as the "old people" insisted. Because of the resurrection. The sun was there to wake you up.

In the village, a mile or two away, the days are pulling out. It is what they say. And the Stour is high. And a few trees lie flat on their faces in the drenched fields. And the hellebores are out.

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