THE artists John and Christine Nash called their inner circle
"the dear ones" - not from any feeling of exclusivity, but of
management. Over the years, they had taught and belonged to various
art movements in East Anglia. They had taken a practical part in
everything from the Wormingford Dramatic Society to the Aldeburgh
John Nash, too, had been a plantsman and a musician. Looking
through the windows from which he would paint on a winter's day,
using its glazing bars to line up a drawing or a watercolour, I see
more or less the same scene that he saw: a palette-shaped flower
bed, my far neighbour's hilly pasture, some bone-idle horses, and
greening ash trees. No traffic, but Tom's little plane might
saunter past like the aeroplane in a child's storybook, archaic yet
up to date. Nothing happens, yet everything happens. The scene is
restful, yet vital.
Alan, a friend from my boyhood, arrives. We don't talk about our
past but of this present, topping up a few mutual experiences of
old age. We love the old liturgy, of course, but really know very
little about today's Church. It's a mistake to try to keep up with
trends where prayer is concerned: it must try to cope with those
horrors of the world which are always with us, as Jesus said they
would be; yet it must acknowledge that there is truth in the
newness of love every morning.
I sometimes try to imitate a Jewish friend who returns to his
room after breakfast to say his prayers, only I say mine washing
up. And sometimes in the garden. And particularly now that I have
cleared the grass of sticks and black leaves and debris, and step
gingerly between purple saffron and the tracks made by badgers,
trying, as always, to make up my mind whether it should be a wild
garden or a proper garden - one that doesn't attract concern about
my age, and its being too much for me.
As far as I can tell, nothing is too much for me, although I
rule out the annual farm walk. But don't I walk to fetch the milk?
To fetch the post? To fetch anything? Many years ago, this would
have been a house of endless errands, of children bred to fetch and
carry. Of never going empty-handed.
But how many of them, over the centuries, wouldn't have been
struggling down the stairs at this hour of the day to feed stock
before feeding themselves. How many would have crept from their
beds in this very room where a typewriter clicks.
A long time ago, two youths arrived to fix the telephone, and
one of them said, wonderingly: "Listen, Tony. A typewriter!" - a
then rare Olympia. The parish, the diocese, the Church, print a
library every day. And to think there was a time when it took a
week or a month to draw a capital letter.
Outside, everything is energised - including myself. But also
free. Even the silvery Saviour and his angels and apostles, carved
on the church doors at Stoke by Nayland by some contemporary of
Chaucer, have a spring glitter.
George Herbert was strict when it came to opening a church door.
At Bemerton, we open the same door as he opened, and we drink from
the cup from which he drank. At Wormingford, we step down into the
interior, each worshipper letting a little of the spring in, a
fragment of birdsong which joins our psalms.