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Diary: Ian Marchant

15 January 2021

ISTOCK

Made for yew

REGULAR readers of this column will, no doubt, be pleased to know that I have reached the end of chemotherapy, if only because they are bored with hearing about it. I sympathise. I am a bit bored with the whole business myself.

The side-effects multiply as the process goes on; so, in the weeks before Christmas, I was spending a large part of the day in bed. From our bedroom window, there’s an excellent view of the eastern end of St Andrew’s, and, beyond the churchyard, the very large yew hedge in the walled garden of the 18th-century old rectory.

A few months ago, my wife and I met the lady of the house while we were all out for a socially distanced stroll. People are always kind enough to ask how I am. My wife told her that the particular chemo I’ve been on was derived from the yew tree. “I know,” our neighbour said. “We give all our hedge clippings to a pharmaceutical company.”

Ever since, I’ve been amusing myself with the idea that my chemotherapy is locally sourced and organic — artisanal, even. Brewed by hipster pharmacologists in a converted loft space in Leominster, thus reducing our drug miles to a minimum. They could make a TV series about them: Making Good.

A chap can dream, especially one who is spending too much time looking out of the window.

 

Frontier folk

OUR neighbour is not, of course, an Old Rector, just someone who lives in an Old Rectory. I doubt very much there are any rectors, young or old, who still live in Old Rectories, but I hope that the practice of planting yew trees still goes on in New Rectory gardens. Yew trees, after all, have a long association with the church.

Radnorshire has some doozies. In Cascob, a few miles up into the Radnor Forest, there is a churchyard yew that is 3500 years old — a mere baby compared with the tree in the churchyard of St Michael’s, Discoed, which is reputed to be 5000 years old.

St Michael’s is one of the lively, smaller churches in our benefice, with a reputation for its Lenten art exhibition. Until 1844, Discoed was a detached part of Herefordshire — a little English island, surrounded by Wales — as the manor was given to Charles I for his 16th birthday. So the King knew this stretch of the Marches well, because he would come and hunt in his woods.

Like Charles Dickens’s Mr Dick, I find myself distracted by King Charles. In October 1645, his last army, some 5000 strong and mostly mounted, came by our house and crossed the narrow bridge into England. Looking out of the kitchen window, I was struck that, 375 years ago, this was the front line. Whose side would I have taken? As a good Sussex lad, growing up nine miles from Lewes, I was raised a Parliamentarian. But, when the army is passing your house, who can say for sure? I trust that I never have to choose, as my ancestors did.

Now, nothing much passes except the odd tractor hauling loads of mangel-wurzels. But I have found it frightening, in a year when there has been a great deal to be fearful of, to watch the border come back to life outside our window.

 

Catching the light

KEITH, the churchwarden, turned on the lights at St Andrew’s at dusk, all through Advent. In response, on Sunday nights, we lit an Advent candle and put it in the kitchen window, from where we had a grandstand view of the best possible Christmas bling.

Although there are many reasons to visit St Andrew’s, Presteigne, the Victorian stained glass is not top of the list; but I take great pleasure in it. In the topmost lancet of the east window, there is an image of the risen Christ, who looks as though he is skipping for joy. I think that’s why I light that candle.

We don’t get many passers-by at the moment; so the candle wasn’t for any putative night walkers. It was for the skipping Jesus, whose glee is infectious, to show him that we were waiting for his joyous arrival.

 

Heart full of mirth

I HAVE always hoped that, one day, somebody would ask me for my “Books of the Year”. After 20 years in print, no one ever has — and being what is known in the trade as a “mid-list” author (who finds Radio 4’s Ed Reardon more of a documentary than a comedy), this is, quite frankly, par for the course.

Uninvited, then, I’m going to tell you that the best Christian book I read last year was Homo Lapsus, by Niamh M. Middleton, a bold and brilliant attempt to map evolution on to the story of the Fall. My favourite discovery was, embarrassingly, Agatha Christie, whom I had never read until the autumn, owing to my ignorant snobbishness, and who hardly needs my recommendation.

But the best reading was at the Christmas carol service, where Steve the Vicar had asked me if I wanted to read Isaiah 9. Did I want to read of the forthcoming reign of the Prince of Peace? Did I? My wife zipped me into dozens of layers, and, for the first time in weeks, I waddled through the door, like Poirot in an anorak, a skip of welcome in my step.

 

Ian Marchant is an author and broadcaster, and the founder of Radio Free Radnorshire.

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