Yesterday Abel was coming away from the L’Arche Glebe garden when his eye was arrested by the round, tan-coloured husks beneath the hollow yew outside Saint Mildred’s church. They must really be discarded cones, since the yew is a conifer – with no recognisable cone.
I was half reminded of something. Then today Mrs T and I went to see the cowslips near Brogdale, happily growing on the chalk. Another chalk-lover is the beech tree, one I loved to climb as a boy, and a mile or so on from the cowslip field our walk took us through a beech wood. Unlike this picture from last year, it was a grey day, the path was wet, but we could still appreciate Edward Thomas’s observation in The South Country.
Then in the early morning the air is still and warm, but so moist that there is a soul of coolness in the heat, and never before were the leaves of the sorrel and wood sanicle and woodruff, and the grey-green foliage and pallid yellow flowers of the large celandine, so fair. The sudden wren’s song is shrewd and sweet and banishes heaviness. The huge chestnut tree is flowering and full of bees. The parsley towers delicately in bloom. The beech boughs are encased in gliding crystal. The nettles, the millions of nettles in a bed, begin to smell of summer. In the calm and sweet air the turtle-doves murmur and the blackbirds sing — as if time were no more — over the mere.
The roads, nearly dry again, are now at their best, cool and yet luminous, and at their edges coloured rosy or golden brown by the sheddings of the beeches, those gloves out of which the leaves have forced their way, pinched and crumpled by the confinement. At the bend of a broad road descending under beeches these parallel lines of ruddy chaff give to two or three days in the year a special and exquisite loveliness, if the weather be alternately wet and bright and the long white roads and virgin beeches are a temptation.
There is never enough traffic on this bridleway to order the husks into parallel lines, but there they are, colouring the path. The nettles are in evidence ahead; we would discern the white of cow parsley if we were closer, but the pale celandine was not yet in flower here. (The bright, low-growing, lesser celandine is all but finished.)
Close to, the russet husks are indeed cool and luminous. Who would have said that brown could shine?
Thank you Edward Thomas!
When I looked out of the window this morning, I saw that it had been raining in the night. But that can happen at any time in England. What was so spring-like about it? Simply that under the lime tree (tilia) opposite our window was a circle of dry pavement. The leaf cover has arrived! I celebrated with a brew of lime flower tea, though using flowers picked from by the river, not from street trees! A class from the nursery school had taken great interest in my foraging last summer.
Between 7.30 and 9.00 in the morning must be the noisiest time of day but most people have to filter out the noise, just to do what we have to. Young Abel often draws our attention to sirens, trains and loud machinery, but I did not need his advice this morning.
The Builder’s dog is with us and needed his morning walk. Today he was sniffling round a shrub when I heard a woodpecker drumming somewhere nearby. Not that I saw him, but it’s a pleasure to hear him. Trying to place him – somewhere in the treetops – without binoculars was futile, but it made me aware of the din around me, even though I was some yards from the nearest road. The school playing field was being mown with a tractor and a mower; the main roads and inner ring road were still very busy, but a motorbike and ambulance stood out. There were trains and planes, and children winding down to go indoors for the morning.
But I could still hear the woodpecker. And the chaffinch and the blackcap … and the herring gulls and rooks overhead.
Sometimes we must dive into whatever silence is around, even if no-one else can hear it, even if only for a moment.
It was Patrick’s funeral that brought me to Teddington, and I had time on my hands between the end of the gathering and meeting George for dinner. Time enough for a walk down the Thames to Richmond.
Here the river path is on the right bank, but there was a footbridge at the end of Ferry Road to see me across. A good hour’s walk down to the railway with no bridges between, though I was tempted to take the ferry across to Twickenham about halfway along. Just for the fun of a ferry, you understand, not to avoid the walk!
It was good to see so many people and dogs enjoying the fine weather, walking and cycling; there were joggers as well, but do they enjoy the scenery or just the sense of achievement when they have shorn a half-second from their pb for each kilometre, despite the presence of happy wanderers along their course? Some children were enjoying the last days of summer, but there were teenagers in town already in uniform –
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy.
William Wordsworth: Intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood
London’s not-quite countryside must remain as a blessing to local people; it is too much on the flood plain to be built upon or to go under the plough. Much of the path was shaded by mature trees and scrub. There would be no chance of a horse-drawn barge making its way along here today, as came to Mr Toad’s rescue in the Wind in the Willows, but motor boats and kayaks were making full use of the river.
Close to Richmond town lies a meadow, still used to graze cattle, including a few Belted Galloways and their crossbred offspring. If I had a country estate it would be Belted Galloways that would add their grace to the prospects. As well as being good looking, they also seem to tolerate people walking by.
But let’s hope and pray that those I passed that day will not resist the ‘Intimations of immortality’ that come their way, day by day, and that school does not feel too much of a prison house, and that they are enlightened there.
Oh yes, Dean and Darren. Cousins, all-but twins, best of friends. We tried splitting them up in year 8; it was hell for everyone while it lasted: about a fortnight. Having them together is purgatory, but sometimes it’s magic.
I treasure these essay plans and have their permission to include them here. Just so you know what sort of lad they are.
English Assignment Plan
Name: Darren Hogben
Title: A day with my best friend
Characters: me, Dean, my mum, anty June
Where? When? Home, bus, shops.
What happened first? We went round Dean’s
Who did/said what? Anty June says we would miss the bus but we never. We got off at the bus station and went for lunch at Anselmi’s café. Dean got his rat out on his lap and fed it on chips.
Then what happened? Some stupid woman saw it and began to scream and then the waitress come over and started to shout and she got the manegeress and she got ratty and we got chucked out.
How did it end? Trouble. It weren’t my fault but anty June and my mam both blamed me. I got grounded agen.
English Assignment Plan
Name: Dean Hogben
Title:A day with my best friend
Characters: Darren, me, my mum, aunty june.
Where? When? Dazzie’s house, bus station, town
What happened first? We went round Aunty May’s because it was our birthdays and they was going to take us up town to get our new Rovers shirts and get a nice lunch.
Who did/said what? Mom said no rats allowed. Dazzie said okay we’ll be good. We had our lunch then the old girls got chatting to some old woman in the café so me and Darren legged it.
Then what happened? We nicked their butter because they was losing weyght and me and Darren plastred it on the handrail of the moving stares. The people got it on their hands and one old lady gets really cross about her white gloves that were not white any more and she called the maniger a blithering idiot because he was blithering at her like nothing. We got found out because the CCTV showed Darren doing it. Really it was Aunty May’s fault because she would not go home when we said.
How did it end? Trouble as usual. The security man and the manager went banananas. We both got grounded.
I had been Dean and Darren’s form tutor and English teacher since Year 7. You see how full my hands were! Their writing may lack polish, but I give them high marks for speaking and listening. Once I’d persuaded them to take notice in class they became adept at asking awkward or cheeky questions. I got used to it, but they always play up the student teachers that get wished onto me. They also have a great time when other pupils do their little prepared speeches about anything and nothing, but I have house-trained them enough to allow even shy-boots like Gemma to get through their recitals of poems or passages from Shakespeare.
Their class stayed with me until Christmas of year 9. Then the Deputy Head went on maternity leave and I took over her form and exam groups, and said goodbye to the Hogbens for six months.
Or so I thought.
Then came the cloud no larger than a man’s hand, the fly in the ointment, the stone in my shoe: Year 9 residential trips.
I avoid these like the plague, letting the young and fit, like Ms Trilby, (Deputy Head, Pastoral and inconveniently pregnant) go along to bond with the little blighters. I had done enough bonding with Dean and Darren, thank you very much, but then the call came from the head. My apologies for his rudeness.
“Ah, Will: your application for this new pay rise. Interesting! You must be in with a chance, but one in three to get it, the ministry says, just one in three. I’ll have to write my report to the governors, of course. Contribution to the ethos of the school, blether, blether, blether. By the way … Since Ms Trilby can’t go climbing mountains now, with her belly, I thought maybe you’d like to go to Wales with Mr Cockle.”
I thought, not with my belly, the result of careful attention to Belgian Abbey beers, but I hadn’t done any sort of school trip for years and I did want the next pay rise. One last effort to get out of it: “What about Miss Jackson? She’s young, single, and gets on well with year 8.”
“Gets on well with them?” Three times this week I’ve had those Hogben boys up here, working in my office, because she can’t handle them! She bores them stupid as well with that infantile Jacky Treacy book! What’s it called? Calling All Cards? Why can’t the English Department lose it?
“Anyway, I can’t ask her to swing at the end of a rope with Dean and Darren at the top. The woman needs a rest before she gives me a nervous breakdown, never mind herself. To cap it all, she tells me she’s already booked into an English lit conference somewhere.”
First I’d heard of that, but Tracey Jackson always did keep herself to herself, off home before 4.30 every day, never lingering in the staff room, hardly the life and soul of the English Department.
Meanwhile I could look forward to a dry week in wet Wales. Not just with Dean and Darren, but Charlie Cockle as well – failed footballer, fitness freak, diet freak; no smoking, no drinking, no fun; smell of sweat and aftershave – and no doubt his beefy spouse Cecilia, sometime shotput champion of Salford under-16 girls, and still wearing the vest to prove it, or so my daughter tells me. Jenny goes to Almond Hall School, where Cecilia C is head of PE. Sorry. This was not meant to be a poetry book, so my apologies. It will keep on coming in. I can’t altogether control it. We had enough trouble with controlling the dog.
But I was coming to that.
I’ll spare you the build-up to the trip. I’ll spare you the ill-concealed glee on my wife’s face at the prospect of getting our bedroom decorated in my absence. I’ll spare you the colour charts and swatches of hideous green cloth, the grins and giggles passing between her and Jenny. I’ll spare you the scene when Dean threw a wobbly because I said he’d have to leave his rat at home. I’ll pick you up at the school gate on Saturday morning, as the bus is being loaded. Dean and Darren rolled up at the last minute, after Charlie had taken his superfluous register. With Dean and Darren, everyone was here!
I forgot to tell you – Charlie C appointed me official video cameraman to the expedition, even if all the students, but not their English teacher, had video cameras in their phones. I guessed Charlie wouldn’t want his precious camera ruined by being dropped off the wrong end of a waterfall, so I could safely stay at the bottom and watch. I seized what looked like my best chance of staying on terra firma for the week even if it meant being best buddies with Paul and Emily from sixth form Media Studies and helping with their project. But they have helped me no end – where would the story be without them?
Saint Martin’s summer:
Children in playground as night approaches,
don’t take me home, Mum;
set free as sun sets.
Sparrows in hedgerow,
home for this one night;
settling as sun sets.