"AUGUST for the people!" cried the democratic Auden. August for
staying at home, I say. Once it was August for Cornwall, those
north headlands void of visitors which ranged on and on to Devon. A
friend awakened these westward longings when a week in Totnes made
her restless for something other than East Anglian brightness.
Charles Causley and James Turner, my Cornish poets, took
different views on their county. Charles, born and bred in it, was
earthy; James romantic. His uncle had been a country rector there;
so we drove to his parish through deep lanes to a wonderfully
unkempt churchyard where the tombs tottered about this way and
that, their engraved slate messages not at all reassuring for the
And there he was, twice buried, once in clay, once in
blackberries - James's uncle. We spent hours making him visible.
Cathy, James's wife, picked wild flowers, discovered a jam jar,
filled it from a little stream, and there he was, recalled if not
But no Riviera ride from East Anglia to the west on a day like
this. The garden chairs are drying out, the birds are calling, and
the white cat has taken up her hot morning position on the tumbling
wall, held upright by ivy. A novel, too, has been left out all
night, and I ask its forgiveness. I bought it for 20p in Wissington
church porch, after having shown a guest the faint wall-paintings,
loving the way in which history can be so apologetic.
Lots of blackberry blossoms everywhere. And shortly my friend
Anthony Atkins will lie there. We began our writer-artist careers
together: he the principal of the local art-school, I on the
There was a school for church-painters in Colchester in the 13th
century, so that people could take the Gospel off the wall, so to
speak. The peasant congregations, standing on rushes, would look
up, and there was their priest, and St Francis, and the disciples
in a rocky ship, and Jesu, joy of man's desiring, all picked out on
plaster, vivid then, but faint these days.
Where are we? St Bartholomew. Already -August going, going,
gone! Not quite. Summer hangs on in these parts often until
November. But bullaces are shaping in the hedges, and the harvest
oblongs rock by on trailers. Corn stubble needs stout shoes and a
keen eye. It is so revealing - treasures can come to light;
aftermath flowers and flints; once, an arrow-head.
You can see all the way to wherever, and even the practice bells
sound louder, although there is no one about and a lonely
countryside. Fewer walkers, too, these days. But the pubs are busy,
and a lot of eating is done. Although the truth is that I now know
little about what is happening, and what I do know is out of date.
What would Thomas Hardy or John Clare have made of them - our
But I think they would have liked our churches with still their
old language. It is the Song of Songs. They say that the
translators had two minds about putting it into the Bible, this
passionate Hebrew love poem that we were asked to read as something
I put "For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds
is come" on my friend John Nash's tombstone, he having been a great
naturalist and having looked down on plants from his small height,
besides gazing his way through landscape, as much in Cornwall as in
the Stour Valley.