Strange to think that this river wound through these water meadows when a small monastery was built above its banks 800 years ago. From a bridge I looked down into the water. Two small girls parked their scooters and leant over the parapet – then ran to the other side. I think they had cast something into the stream, in the age-old game of Pooh Sticks. The river was full but hardly seemed to move on this sunlit Sunday afternoon. The banks had been cleared. The willows were coming into leaf.
The old monastery is close to the 13th Century parish church which overlooks the town’s cricket field. Around its borders, there are thatched, half-timbered houses. I had parked my car in the neighbouring Waitrose so that I could make a very small, sentimental journey. Beyond the field’s boundary fence a bank of daffodils stretches for a couple of hundred yards. Every year their blooms rescue us from drear winter, just in time. And they fade too soon.
I wanted to see the flowers at their best because for some years I was a volunteer driver for a local charitable trust. As Spring came round my passengers and I would look out for that great bank of daffodils and I would sometimes take that road so that we could see them. Another year, come and gone.
On the footpath back to the church I met an old lady by the wool staplers. I’ve often seen her around the town. She’s always alone and frequently smiling. I guessed that she had been visiting the churchyard. People do that on Sundays here. She said she was enjoying the sun. I mentioned the daffodils. She remarked that some snowdrops further along the path were already finished – and she mentioned that she had been visiting the churchyard.
And so to the river, and back to Waitrose by way of the churchyard. By chance I saw the grave of one of my former passengers. She died aged 91 and, she once told me, had never been to London. Her memories of a rural childhood in this market town had been a pleasure to hear. She had a large family, as evidenced by the carefully tended grave.
As I left the cricket field I noticed a tree with a plaque beneath it. The tree was an oak and had been planted by the town’s mayoress, to mark the Queen’s silver jubilee, in 1977. She, nearly 30 years after that, was another of my passengers.
Just passing by: the monks, the Sunday afternoon walkers, their children with their scooters, all of us.
On the way home I bought flowers for Mrs L. She’s catching me up. She’s 75 tomorrow and we’re going out for a meal.
And the scent of Spring hyacinths is in our house.