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Word from Wormingford

07 March 2014

Ronald Blythe is happy to leave choices over new plumbing to the expert

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 choose.

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."


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