Word from Wormingford

17 April 2015

Ronald Blythe envies the gallivanting St Mark

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 imagine.

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 tale.

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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 Wormingford.

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 youthful neighbours.

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.

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