THE urgency of late-February days. Winter dawdles, but spring
can't wait. Last week's mud is this week's flower-drift. Acres of
snowdrops run amok in the wood. And the birds sing. Heavens, how
they sing! But in the village, whenI say "Isn't it glorious?" or
something like that, it is: "We'll pay for it - you'll see."
The screen is awash with other people's troubles: water inside
and out, boating dogs, swimming cars.I pray for them. On the high
field, Jean's horses gallop around in blankets and pretend that
they are en route to Agincourt. Certainly, everything is
on the move. I should be gardening, gathering sticks, crying
"Order!" But plenty of time for that.
In church, it will soon be Quinquagesima, with its warning:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not
charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." In
the Gospel, "Jesus of Nazareth passes by." As indeed I trust that
he does at this moment in this lovely weather. Make the most of it,
cry the sceptics. Keith does. He says that it is a good day to put
in the new loo. He shows me a loo booklet, and I tell him to
Whatever needs replacing in an ancient house, it is always best
for someone like Keith to choose. His eye takes in the whole
structure, never just "fashion". Also, he knows how the water runs
in every old house in the village - which isnever straight from the
tap. It takes a long journey from the Midlandsto East Anglia before
it even thinks of a tap.
I am starting on a new book, and a pile of books must be read
before I write "Page One". They totter about in the study, crying
"Me next!" Like children. It is called studying. Studying is bliss.
I have known writers who spent their lives doing it, and who have
never written Chapter One. There used to be grants for doing this,
which ran out long before its birth pangs.
Reading before you write a word for other people to read can be
spread out, can last a lifetime. And you will have the notes to
prove how busy you have been. Although not even this can be as
blissful as sitting by the bookcase and taking out, volume after
volume, the words of Ivy Compton-Burnett, say.
Her severity will make you feel that you are working. Her
characters, usually mothers and sons, speak with barbed tongues,
and the servants like their mistress. The one who takes the flak is
the lady's companion - as a rule, that is.
This novelist left her money to keeping her books in print. And
not to undeserving young people of the Society of Authors. For
which I am thankful. She was never much interested in the coming of
spring, or what went on outside her grim house - often a companion
who couldn't take the flak on her way to the railway station.
With my passion for reading, it isn't any wonder that the fire
goes out for want of feeding, and the white cat takes to sleeping
in a plaited fish-basket, all crunched up and hid away. Though
illiterate, she is intellectual. She sees me as an absurd creature
always at her beck and call - like one of Miss Compton-Burnett's
butlers - Whiskas to the ready. Her servants come and go, unable to
stand the pace. But I fetch and carry for my cat for ever. Her fine
eyes say: "Well done." Then back to the fish-basket. "Charity
suffereth long, and is kind."