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Word from Wormingford

26 September 2014

Ronald Blythe succumbs to late-summer sloth

THE classic September days take their time as they succeed each other. No hurry. They are turning Old Master-gold. Come out and do nothing, they say. A nine-months-old baby calls and bumps about on his bottom, talking in Czech and English, but it is all double Dutch to me. He lives in the Barbican. High up? Low down? Is there grass? "Oh, yes." I have only his parents' word for it. His round blue eyes shine.

The white cat lies on the garden wall, taking it all in. Chiff-chaffs talk monotonously in their thicket; otherwise the late summer quietness prevails.

Alone, I call my sloth "meditation". The postman brings proofs of an essay I have written about Laurie Lee, something that has to be read without reading, as it were, so as not to miss a mistake. I pick up falls in the orchard: Victorias, apples - the latter are fit only for the birds, but the plums are bursting and delicious. And too many to devour at this stage; so I put them into plastic bags for the fridge.

Coming down to make the morning tea at six, I encounter a Miss Muffet-size spider attempting to climb the sink Alps, and carry him to the doorstep. I always mean to study spiders, but there is so much to do, so little time, as they say. But I am discovering a method of sorting out small blocks of time for this or that, although the Lectionary is no help.

A long time ago, I read the wrong Trinity collect, and, at the door, a farmer's wife said that it had quite spoilt her worship. I nearly replied, "I don't believe you," which I didn't, but I thought better of it, and looked contrite, even wicked.

We had a Church of Ireland priest who had the Bible borne before him on a red cushion as we processed in, which I thought most beautiful; but she did not. "It quite spoilt my worship."

Little spoils mine. The centuries of words and music and silences keep me on the illimitableness of what might happen during a country service. "I spy strangers," we all say, should such grace us with their presence. From my seat, I watch some of them plundering their way through the Book of Common Prayer, others helping. "Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness . . . to the glory of thy Name." Both in and out of the building there is our inescapably grand history, our wildflowers, our views.

David arrives to split up the willow logs that he cut last winter. They tumble musically as the axe falls. He builds them into shining walls inside the old dairy. It is impossible to feel what the coming cold will be like. But "sufficient unto the day" etc., Jesus said. "Don't look back: remember Lot's wife." And don't look forward: live for today.

Children always look forward, and have no idea about living for today. Who would, with so much to look forward to, and maths to be solved before tomorrow? I like to read old diaries to find out what Parson Woodforde, for example, was doing in his Norfolk parish at this time of the year. Eating, of course; but what else?

10 September 1783. "I walked to Church this morning and publickly baptised Mr Custance's little Maid by name Frances Anne. After I had performed the ceremony, Mr Custance came to me and made me a present of 5.5.0 wrapt up in a clean piece of Paper. We stayed up at night till after 11 o'clock on account of its being a total Eclipse of the Moon." That evening, he had lost nine shillings at cards. Turkey and a goose for dinner. The Bishop of Norwich affable. A single parish. Two cheeky servants.

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