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Word from Wormingford

27 June 2014

Ronald Blythe sings one of Heber's hymns, and considers the Trinity

DUNCAN and I agree: it is a growing year. Things grow every year, of course, but not as they do in a growing year. The garden has shot up, gone skyward. Roses look down at me, as indeed does the white cat, who is either under a hank of cool grass, or dizzily aloft in a pear tree, taking stock of the universe. A cuckoo is not far off, its cry not yet doubling.

Quiet, empty churches relax after strenuous attempts to define the Trinity. Once-a-week friends come out like birds from clocks, and we say more or less the same things. Wimbledon and atrocity take turns on the television. The one so perfect, the other so wicked. Humanity is an enigma, capable of the best and the worst. What Christ must have seen before it saw him!

We sing "Holy, holy, holy", and, as always, I think of Reginald Heber, poet and bishop, who died young in India, after three years "crowded with toil", nursing the sick soldiers who were on the ship. The Church seems to have insisted on this missionary enterprise when Heber would have rather stayed at home in Hodnet, Shropshire, described by Leyland as neither town nor village.

When Heber was there, it had a rectory at one end, and a prison at the other. He fulfilled the requirements of a Victorian cleric by being well-born, selfless, and a victim of work. His Trinity hymn distances God, places him beyond mortal comprehension. Our few voices rise and fall.

Later, the car creeps down the ancient farm-track, caressed by overgrowth, disturbing bees, coming to a stop where the fruit trees begin. And now, as somebody wrote, the long, long Sundays of Trinity, neither feast-day nor fast.

Twice this week, birds have flown into the house - a robin and a wren - and beat against the windows, rushing from one to the other, shocked by looking out of glass and not being able to fly through it. I cup them in my hands, and they tremble; I carry them to the door, and the release is nearly as wonderful for me as it is for them.

The white cat, who either through sloth or being well-fed, has never eaten anything which doesn't come out of a tin, adds to their terror by just gazing at them. Old houses in the middle of nowhere are open houses to butterflies, harvest mice, and, once, a toad who liked a cool brick floor. At night, I sometimes hear a squirrel, but no rats. A man from the ministry did with these long ago.

But I have always been conscious of residents other than humanity who give this address, and whose claim for shelter is historic. Moths matriculate in undrawn curtains, and spiders make a new web whereI have brushed down the old one. When I was a boy, I would lie in bed and listen to a spider on a route-march on wallpaper which had come adrift, tap-tap-tapping in the dark. And the beams would give a little groan, worn out with having to hold up tons of house.

The south wall, laden with grapes, is now three feet in the ground, its orange bricks and pale beams interlocked in a kind of supportive marriage. Ancient buildings are like this, out of kilter, and the stronger for it. There is a lesson here. But the wide floorboards under the fitted carpet pine for bare feet.

To some creatures, these "funny old places" are both home and trap.

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