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Word from Wormingford

08 August 2014

Ronald Blythe waits for the summer to break, and goes barefoot

THE current shelling of an Eastern city brings Milton's Samson Agonistes into my head. "Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves." The heroic leader has been seduced, cropped, blinded, but in a moment of God-given return of strength, he is able to pull the house down on is tormentors.

An apologist for the bombing is unable to persuade me or anyone else of its righteousness. Milton's Samson is not named on the breakfast news, but when "Gaza" is said, he seems to criticise the military action taken against a modern city in which today's children cower in their classrooms. Hasn't the world seen enough of this "justified" response? Words would have done. Words would have done for all wars.

Apart from Gaza, the radio says that the summer will break today. Though little sign of it as yet. The ancient farmhouse continues to bake; the wasps hang around. Climbing roses burst against the warm walls. My freshly scythed orchard turns into hay. At 6 a.m., the garden is sopping wet and cold to bare feet, as I carry yesterday's letters to the box for the postman.

This is the day when the clay-sculptor Jon Edgar delivers my bust. He carries it through the tall plants, and here I am in three dimensions, and as I have not known myself before. If only Charles I could have seen his head in the round, what might our history have been!

My question now is, where shall my head be put? Think of the white cat. Think of some sudden movement. Clay heads are as fragile as bone heads. But Jon soon discoversa place from which it can survey the universe safely. After which we drive to Mount Bures for a celebratory fish and chips and beer.

By this time, the sun knows no limits. I tell Jon about the Iron Age folk sleeping beneath our feet, and about the Mount being all of 30 feet high. After lunch, we visit the soaring door-angels at Stoke-by-Nayland; silvery with centuries, they rise to a Virgin that the Reformers could do little about, considering the cost of new doors.

The day becomes hotter and hotter, and the passing cornfields more and more golden. Not a soul about. If you want outsiders, you must go to Ambridge. A church-size combine presses us into the blackberries en passant. Hollyhocks loom. Pigeons play last-across. Irrigation jets play Versailles. "There's a lot going on," we tell each other. We mean for an English village in late July. We might even see a man at work.

Trinity 6, and we are to remember a holy family who fed and lodged the Lord as he walked the rough roads in the heat. Two sisters and their brother remain the founders of Christian hospitality. George Herbert would find Jesus at the "ordinary" table in the inn. I can remember the "farmers' ordinary" in a small Suffolk town when I was a boy. It was kept by two sisters, and the farmers walked across from the corn exchange on market day to eat roast beef, whatever the temperature. None of your silly salads.

Plaster labourers lolled against plaster sheaves above the corn exchange in attitudes of what the Book of Common Prayer calls "plenty". The corn exchange is now the public library, but still they loll in the full sun, sickles at the ready. The mere ghost of agriculture haunts our country towns, and heatwaves seem to draw it out. What shall we sing at matins? "With prosperous times our cities crown, Our fields with plenteousness."

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