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
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