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