HOT April days; the birds building, the skies high and still. On
Sunday, I dressed for a procession, only to find children tying
trinkets on an Easter tree. It was Sunday school with ceremony. But
lunch was spring lamb and sherry.
Bad news from good friends: their days here are limited. I do
not write back immediately, but ponder it in my heart. It was news
that had to come, by the sound of things. They spoke
philosophically about their faith, and how good the children were.
The end of life these days is more medical than spiritual, I
Meanwhile, it is perfect springtime, in early bud, and the
horses are eating their heads off in the meadow opposite and
plunging them into glittering water tanks.
And so we come to that favourite of mine, St Mark the
Evangelist, whose symbol is a winged lion, and whose capital is
Venice; a glorious person. The young man who ran away naked when
Christ was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the priests
grabbed his garments. It was he and his cousin Barnabas who
accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey, although they
turned back at Pergamon, a lovely city, which would become one of
the greatest art centres of the ancient world.
Young people continue to travel haphazardly to destinations that
promise spiritual goals. We, who lost our spiritual innocence long
ago, worry about passports and suchlike impediments. St Paul turned
on those who criticised him for gallivanting about when, to their
minds, he should have been developing the little Christian
settlements that he had established in Asia and Europe. He told his
critics in no uncertain manner what he had gone through. All the
horrors of travel in those days. Had he not had the privilege of
Roman citizenship, he, a Jew, would not still be alive to tell the
I see him and his young disciples stepping out along the endless
Roman roads, many of them bedecked with crucifixions, at the
entrance to towns such as Colchester, a few miles from
Two Middle European brothers who are my neighbours are taking a
look at the water supply. Bottengoms Farm, like a number of Stour
Valley houses, is not on the mains. So we check the springs that
fill the tanks and, eventually, the taps. The water is exquisitely
pure and cold as it runs from my ditch to the River Stour, never
halting, never fast or slow. Always on its way. But now and then
its twin tanks - one brick, one metal - have to be pumped spotless.
So this is what is going on at this minute.
For many years, I did it myself, scantily clad like St Mark, and
trusting that a churchwarden would not arrive, as happened to the
artist John Nash, who lived here before me. But there comes a
moment in life when one hands such pleasures on to others - these
A different cloud of unknowing darkens their day: they have lost
their cat. His portrait appears in the parish magazine. I feel for
them, as my white cat follows in our watery steps. Cats often turn
up after months, but sometimes they do not. Life for cat and man is
perilous and uncertain.
What has appeared in its usual spot is my Fritillaria
or snake's head lily, named after the dice box that every Roman
soldier carried with him, and that they shook to see who should get
Christ's seamless robe at Calvary.