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Word from Wormingford

03 January 2014

Sitting in a new chair, Ronald Blythe thinks of the year ahead

ANOTHER year, and cause for meditation. What better than to sit in the new armchair and to watch the seagulls circling. And to think. Although this is a grand term for what is going on in my head at 6 a.m. It is still dark, and it takes another hour before the bare fields and trees take shape. Not a resolution in sight. Instead, a kind of freedom. Another year in which to do what I like - which is to work hard and idle hard. You need to be gifted to do nothing.

An old neighbour who is younger than me has gone to God. He liked going to Scotland. I take his funeral. Barry tolls him on his way. We sing "Immortal, invisible", the ancient church filled to the doors, the pale winter light infiltrating the arches. The service sheet says "72". A strong man, they said. The hymn, in a magical last burst, speaks of light's hiding God.

The young undertaker takes me on a meandering walk through the memorials to the new grave, where I wait for the mourners to catch up. How often has this happened in 1000 years. Then off to the Beehive pub, the cars crawling through the dank lane. Rooks circling now. The wind getting up.

We have a mere. Not every parish can say this. It is, of course, mysterious and legendary. A stork is more likely to rise in it than a sword. Pike take comfort in its black mud. Ages ago, we cooked a pike in a fish kettle. Not an exciting dish. More like eating an enormous pin-cushion, spitting bones all the way. And too spiky to offer to the cat, who sat at our feet with imploring eyes. But it was a great event, catching and cooking a pike. Poor creature. It might just as well have lived another 100 years in the lonely mere, propagating legends.

Meres were licensed for suicide: bad lots, betrayed girls, the usual thing. Plots for Thomas Hardy - not for natural history. We are very watery. Streams, ponds, wet places, the lovely star itself, keep up a perpetual glitter and sound. Although the mere itself maintains its old silence. It is broken only when the birds rise in a startled flash and clatter.

A general patching-up after the gale is going on. Most spectacular was the abseiler at Little Horkesley, who swung around the damaged tower on the rope, saving us millions from the scaffolders. Some old churches have "put holes" in their towers: small built-in places where the flint might be extracted in order that a temporary pole might be put in place and staging erected.

When looking at church architecture, always start outside. Walk around the building to get the hang of it. This is what I was advised to do when I was 12, and have done ever since. All the same, the opening of the door for the first time can be only a little less exciting than opening the pyramid. And that smell of vases and hymn books, robes, and sanctity. How it hits you! And the graffiti, the "I was here" statement in an uncertain hand.

We use our fine hearse as a bookstall. It has shining painted wheels, and while not exactly a chariot of fire, it must have given panache to a funeral. I can imagine it crackling over the gravel.

But here I am, at the beginning of the year, walking ahead of its first loss, and saying: "He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower…".

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