Swallows and Tractors

Most of the wheat in the fields around here has been harvested. It  has happened very suddenly, during this brief spell of good weather. On a winding road today, Mrs Llew and I came upon a tractor, followed by a combine, so wide that it took over the middle of the road, and,  behind them, a quarter of a mile of queueing cars. Nothing could get past. Well that’s a country road in August. I thought of Chesterton’s line:  ‘The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.’ Indeed this was a classic, rolling English road, with great oaks planted at intervals at its edges  and distant views of water meadows, and bent, fantastically gnarled willows, and rising, distant slopes where the stubble glowed, and dark hawthorn marked the winding boundaries of the fields.  Again, no sign of a straight line. Hedges and fields followed the lie of the land. And above those fields and hills today, after a summer of rain: the translucent light blue sky.

In wartime, as a young child, I sat by a coal fire, the windows of our living room covered by blackout curtains so that no light should guide a marauding German bomber. And I listened in delight to Children’s Hour, broadcast on the BBC Home Service at 5pm (as I recall).  And I was entranced by the serial reading of a book about a group of children and their adventures in the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads. The book was by  Arthur Ransome, whose name many English readers will recall. It introduced me to a series which became known by the title of its initial publication ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

Children’s Hour always ended in those dark days with the message: ‘Good Night Children, Everywhere.’

We were returning today, on that rolling English road,  from a trip to watch our small granddaughter perform  in a  school holidays stage version of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. This was a delight. She was accomplished  and in poised command of her role. The familiar story shone through the performance, from 60-odd years ago.  Well done, Children’s Hour of the wartime years. You nourished us and we are still here to see our grandchildren enjoy some of the gifts which you passed on to us.

And, with a nod to Rupert Brooke: those children  will never be ‘tulips who bloom as they are told.’

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