Our town’s by-pass again: a clear evening, the hills in crisp view. Acres of oil seed rape are waiting to be harvested. Wimbledon is over again. The darker side of me thinks I might as well start writing my Christmas cards. Every Lent I love the time of the Cheltenham Festival, in March, with Spring and Summer to come, and the days to get lighter and longer. As I stood by the roadside tonight a lone estate car drove by, pulling a trailer piled with bales of straw. I think it must have been oil seed straw. Very soon the tractors will be harvesting our fields here. The year is moving on. Marking time. My hope is in ‘the still point of the turning world’.
Two images prevail in my mind tonight. One is a postcard which is on my windowsill. It is of the Lady Chapel of the 12th Century Church of St Bartholomew the Great, in Smithfield in the City of London. I bought it there 55 years ago, when I was getting to know Mrs Llew. I was a junior journalist on a trade journal, a long way, professionally, from the roaring presses of the national newspapers of Fleet Street, which were only a stone’s throw away. That church and its Lady Chapel were for me, at my stage in life, a place where the veil between the present and eternity is thin. I found guidance there. In old age tonight I find myself turning again to that battered, black and white postcard and my memory of the place. I remember my lunchtime visits there. And I find not only a comfort but a sense of certainty that, in Dame Julian’s words, ‘All shall be well’.
The other image is from my garden. It is overgrown, very much so. The red valerian and the cornflowers are turning to seed. The mint in the herb patch is lost in undergrowth of lemon balm. The roses are dropping. Everything needs a trim. Through my window, where the picture of the Lady Chapel is placed, I see a very tall foxglove. It is as tall as I am, about six feet. There are a few flowers at the top of the stalk but below it all the earlier flowers are turning to seed. It will fall over if I don’t cut it down soon. I’ll keep it as long as I can and it has roots. There will be many more flowers from that plant in future years. I hope that is true of me and Mrs Llew.
In the garden there is a sweet smell from the rain.
I edit myself into silence. Perhaps I am not alone in old age in doing that. I’ve known so many approaching the end of their lives who keep their thoughts to themselves. They appear to be serene. I think that they are, like me, not serene. They are dealing, with dignity, with the stage they have reached. I wandered out tonight to look out at the fields and the hills a few miles away, under wide skies, with their scattering of clouds, blue-grey and white in the evening light. Heavy rain has left a scent of grass and herbs and sweet verdure. Cornflower and foxglove and raspberry bushes are full of bees. I don’t, or can’t walk, very far. I’ve nothing to say – or have I? I love the perpetual return of Spring and Summer, even the winter frosts and the spicy bite of the mists which hide the hills. The seasons return, for ever. I trust they symbolise something which is eternal and does not exist only in time. Mrs Llew and I have been reading her diaries over her lifetime. What a busy life we had and how many seasons we lived through. I hope and trust that all the seasons of our lives will chime with a meaning and a blessed meaning which we cannot discern at this moment.
We have a young elder tree. It won’t flower this year but I hope we are both here to see it next June.
I said I edit myself out of existence. I shall post this, even so, and hope that it will speak for others at my stage of life. I do trust that that all shall be well and our troubles resolved in the light of Eternity.
The May blossom is fading: another year. There are many years to recall by now. Mrs Llew and I have been reading her diaries. She has kept diaries all her life. As we read, I remember other May times: other years when, returning from my work as a journalist, I walked home, late in the evening, while the elder trees in bloom scented the dusk.
That was 30 years ago. Here, today, in the market town where we live, the elder in some old hedges which have survived many changes over the years, is beginning to come into flower again.
High summer is approaching. Another high summer. The diaries record daily life over more than 50 years: endlessly busy, always dealing with the present moment, hopes, makings – and failings. Sadness too.
Again a year has passed. There is meaning to our lives, I’m sure, but it’s not an aggregate: a profit and loss account but is in every moment, every present moment. Whatever that leads to is not in an accounts sheet. There is another dimension to every moment of our lives, a point of intersection of the timeless with time, as T.S. Eliot said.
Maybe it could be seen, symbolically as a Cross: in which I hope we are all healed.
Another Maytime and the hawthorn blossom covers the wild ground, said to conceal a World War Two bunker at the end of my road.
Crush a few feathery blooms of cow parsley and the herb scent lingers on my palms. The dense brambles, in their Springtime green, bar my entry to the thicket and bird sanctuary just across the racing road.
Another year. The Feast of Corpus Christi today. In Church Meadow, last Sunday beneath the tower, youngsters in whites took part in a cricket match. The pollarded willow quite near the wicket, will grow again. A year or two back this field came close to being flooded, when the river by the old Rectory burst its banks.
Now, this afternoon, I’m thankful for my garden sanctuary, very aware that across the Middle East there is no sanctuary for thousands.
There is a blue butterfly around the rose bushes which are just coming into bud.
And the sky is blue, to the North East. In the hedges a few buds of elderflower begin to bloom
The 1939-45 War: the refugees of today.
For so many, this place, my garden with the traffic passing a few yards away, would be Paradise.
If this were a portrait only a fifth of it would show the land and the hills beyond. The rest would be sky: shades of pale blue, and white clouds tinted with blue. There is a raised thicket by the roundabout on the bypass. It is dense with hawthorn blossom. Impenetrably, amidst the May trees, the brambles are spreading. They’ll have a crop of blackberries in three months’ time.
As a small boy I would have burrowed into that little wilderness, making camps, scenting Spring. Can’t do that now. Last time I tried to explore I fell over and a passing driver rescued me. But the scent of this year’s, feathery, fragrant Queen Anne’s Lace, brings back those memories. Local legend has it that beneath this beautiful wilderness there is a bunker from the 1939-45 War.
I’ve an icon on the wall of my study. Perhaps it contains a blessing. I bought it 45 years ago, when Mrs Llew and I moved, full of hope and maybe a sense of achievement, into a rambling, Edwardian house in North London. It came from an art shop in what was part of the ancient village, then encircled by a hundred years of suburb. The icon has no attribution. It is on wood, a picture of the Virgin and Child.
Our children were very young when I bought that icon. It watched over their piano practice, in a high ceilinged room, and where the tall sash windows rattled in the wind – and at one stage honeysuckle crept through the gaps.
Tonight it’s looking at me. It gives me warmth and hope.