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Word from Wormingford

26 June 2015

Ronald Blythe is struck by the abilities of the clerics whom he is addressing

"SWEET day, so cool, so calm, so bright." The white cat sleeps on the piano stool until it warms up. The horses breathe like dragons. The trees hang on to yesterday's heat. I must talk to the Clerical Society, a Victorian foundation, to tell it what I hope I haven't told it before - and in 25 minutes, after which there will be lunch. But first I am asked to say Grace.

Just up the hill, St Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, carries the true cross on the top of the town hall. A chilly wind from the east coast blows the birds about. Young and elderly priests listen to me, none of them familiar to me. As always, I marvel how they minister to three or more parishes at once, each with its own culture. Long ago, we would race from church to church, me giving the bell a toll or two, lighting candles, filling up registers, passing on; the wild verges waving to us as we passed.

This Sunday, I read the banns. "Both of this parish." But strangers. "If ye know of any cause or impediment," I add. Never in my life has anyone known any cause or impediment. Banns were a drama in old novels. Part of this drama was the bridegroom's possessing the bride's fortune the second he placed the ring on her finger.

But then came the Married Woman's Property Act. And now comes what often seems to me the near-eternal bondage of the mortgage. They do things differently in France and Germany. You pay rent if you like. It is an unpossessive way to live.

When we are old, we have to give everything we own to somebody else. Long ago, I knew an ancient neighbour whose declining years were made joyous by the expression on his children's faces when they found out that they had been left nothing. But then came a law which prevented a "dead hand" from interfering with life. "How much did he leave?" the rich old lady asked as the car swept into the cemetery. "He left it all," said her companion.

Christ asked a young man to leave it all. It was too much. The Kingdom of Heaven is a long way off when one is young. I suppose that most of us watch the faces of elderly millionaires on television with perplexity; for, like the sweet day, so calm, so bright, they must die and leave every penny to others.

But it is easy to moralise. We are to condemn, not money, but the love of it. I loved my first half-crown with a vengeance. Held it in my child's hot hand for at least a week, and could not bear the spending of it. There is an old table in my library with a drawer in which my brother hoarded his Saturday pennies. When I opened it yesterday, I thought I heard a chink.

And there was the collection. "Nothing rolls as far as a penny in church," they used to say. But I like the wicked blacksmith's son we used to sing: "He put a penny in the bag, and took a sovereign out."

And now they say we are coming to the end of coins and arriving at the age of cards. Loose change will soon be lost change. Old coins frequently turn up in the garden. I wash the faces of Queen Victoria and, once, George III, and put them on the sill. They are in profile, and take turns to look right and left.

Roman Colchester, up the road, has great boxes of coins with emperors' portraits on them, all of them left behind after 400 years of imperial government. So that is what Hadrian looked like!

The Lord's short life was full of coins which he returned to Caesar, and it was bought and sold with Temple funds.

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