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Word from Wormingford

05 September 2014

Ronald Blythe gives thanks for the summers he has enjoyed during his life

THE peerless August goes its way: day after day of sunshine, the garden heavy with scents, the churches, too. St Paul tells us "not to murmur"; the News tells us ghastly things. In his Diary, Francis Kilvert tells me what he did on an August day a century-and-a-half ago. He is the 32-year-old curate of Langley Burrell, Wiltshire - a strong, handsome young man who would die before he was 40, suddenly, from peritonitis. The floral arches for his wedding served for his funeral.

So how could I possibly murmur, given so many years, so many summers? In fact, having to go to London to talk after a literary lunch, I grew quite scolding, myself and the elderly audience having been awarded all these summers, and doing anything but sing the Benedicite.

But then there comes August weeding. Searching for something to complain about, we look at the towering plants that have taken over the flowerbeds. How have they usurped them without our seeing them before they were splendid in their own right, and too good for the chop?

I find myself apologising for them to visitors, the wicked balsam in particular. Then I find an enthusiastic note on it in the matchless Victorian Dictionary of Gardening, edited by none other than the Director of Kew, and I must quote it in order that anyone afflicted by the current abuse of certain specimens should find heart.

This is how our ancestors saw balsam: "It is one of the showiest of summer and autumn flowers, and well deserves a place in every garden. Although of comparatively easy cultivation, good blossoms . . . are far too rarely seen. A good Balsam flower should be quite as double asa perfect Camellia."

Sitting among my balsam, their seeds peppering me, and the white cat sound asleep at their roots, I say to myself that August wouldn't be August without them.

A different firing, that of August 1914, fills the commemorative radio programmes. To the young, the First World War must sound like the Crimea. But, in church, an old man listens to his great-uncles' names being read aloud, and, shaking hands with him after the service, I am astonished and moved to see that his eyes are full of tears.

At dinner, we hazard guesses at which of our women deans - or, indeed, curates - might become women bishops. And what would Mrs Proudie have said? Or indeed Barbara Pym? It is fatal to take one of her novels out into the sun on a day like this. Nothing else will be done for hours. There should be a special place in the order of blessedness of those who take us into realms of delight via idleness, as reading is often called. "They tell me that lifeis the thing," remarked a young American long ago, "but I prefer reading."

There is a big chair in our departed village school, now closed down, where anyone is invited to just - read. Perhaps nothing in the history of mankind has produced so much happiness as reading. Ordered to bed when we were children, we would plead: "Oh, Mum, just this last chapter."

Now and then I think - and not at all dismally - just to read this summer, because it seems enough. Faith brings its own philosophy. It structures time. At this minute, two men are abseiling across the face of Big Ben, giving it a wipe. It is made of thin glass. The fragility of our existence!

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