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Word from Wormingford

20 March 2015

Ronald Blythe prepares for the oilman to bring a year's worth of warmth

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 our past.

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.

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