RAW spring days. The wind whistles through the thin hedge. There
is a profusion of birds and primroses. Duncan's fields have been
polished by cold rains. I rake up ancient leaves, for the oilman
cometh. The small tanker, bringing a year's warmth, will float to
me on a bed of leaves, and the driver and I will fervently pray for
a safe delivery, for the tractor not to be called on. He has a
glass of milk. He has been a soldier, and has a way with enormous
vehicles. I am safe until next April.
Writing is a static activity. Artists move about, shifting this
way and that. My friend John Nash stood with his back to the north
light from ten until four every day, regular as clockwork.
Sandwiches arrived at one sharp; tea was by the fire, or in the
garden. When he and his wife went to Cornwall or Scotland twice a
year, he cleared a place in the studio for me to write. But I wrote
outside in the garden when it was hot, and downstairs by the
Rayburn when it was cold.
The great rural poet John Clare often wrote in hiding, lying low
in a field or under a hedge, so that the neighbours could not see a
ploughman engaged in matters which were none of his business. But
he compared himself to the nightingale who "hides and sings". He
led a double life in the village, although eventually it became a
marvellous single existence of traditional labour, and the right
words to describe it. Those who had previously written about the
land and its seasonal demands had rarely put a hand to it; after
Clare, it would be different.
Much of my writing is done on a rickety kitchen table under a
fruit-tree, although indoors I write with my back to the window, as
the view is distracting. Somehow, this is no view when I am in it.
And especially when digging and raking, keeping my eyes on the
ground. Now I must make the sweet-pea wigwam.
My friend Tony Venison is due. Learned and appreciative, for
many years his gardening column in Country Life guided us
all. We met in the garden which Sir Cedric Morris created at
Hadleigh, a few miles away, and Tony has inherited both its
workaday genius and its spell. We will sit in the pub and go over
Mutuality is a marvellous thing, especially when it is
controlled by a shared learning - although here I have to confess
that mine has stopped somewhere at the elementary stage where
gardening is concerned. But I am an expert and tireless, or
uncomplaining, weeder. According to religion, Paradise, a sheltered
garden, is where we should be. My first botany was in one of those
Bibles which did not end with Revelations, but with a list of
plants. And I sometimes hear God questioning us as we enter
Paradise: "My beautiful Earth; why didn't you enjoy it more, its
trees and flowers?"
Lent is a kind of fertilisation of the spirit. It is the time
when we have to find the space to let it grow. Its desert must
bloom. I find that simplicity, not self-denial, is the better aid
for this. It is what the Quakers tell us. I have just given a talk
in their meeting house in Sudbury, Suffolk, my home town, and felt
quietly blessed all the time.