IT IS not uncommon for old village men to go to God in pairs, so as to have a mite of company on that last journey. This week, Harold and Roger left together. The curtains drawn for afternoon television will be opened. Harold was my oldest village friend. His garden had been his wife’s despair and my delight; for it was his rule to throw nothing away. His lawnmower was a miracle of old iron, but one pull and it went. It clickety-clacked like an ancient binder, but it cut. His sprouts did time in wire-netting prisons; his beehives remained long after their occupants had swarmed and fled; his sheds sheltered his treasures; his apple trees bent low before him.
Early in the morning, when I ran to catch the London train, Harold would be digging or tiffling about. However icy or drizzling, he would be Out. His mass was Remembrance Sunday, his anthem “Eternal Father, strong to save”; for he had been a sailor on the Murmansk run. It was while he was on leave, and at the pictures, in Newcastle, that he found Peggy, his wife. His loved litter was her shame. But what could she do, being married to Harold?
His hedge-cutting was an act of pure revenge. But was there an-other garden in Wormingford that smelled like his? Stocks, wallflowers, violets, blossom, ramblers, sweet¬briar — they took your breath away. Archaeological items — where did they come from? — were scattered in the grass. The garden went on and on in all directions. “Harold!” I would shout.
Once, finding him in his field, I said: “Your wife’s calling you.”
“I know she is,” he said.
But they were devoted, the little seaman and the little woman from the Tyne: one tidy, the other faithful to old iron. They would come down my track together to sell me a poppy, and we would have a cup of tea and talk about John Nash, the artist, and his wife, Christine, and their untidiness. Once, when I asked Harold to look after my cat, I came home to find that he had built her a fine house, turned against the wind. He made a box for my newspapers, too, to save a long walk. There, year by year, The Times Literary Supplement would grow damp and know its place. Harold was 92.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I find iris-tips rising above a matted flowerbed, and am filled with remorse. In an up-hill and down-dale garden like mine, it is not uncommon to miss a bit. Near by, Harold’s daisies will be making a show. It is amazing how, when spring begins, it outpaces me. But I take the iris bed in hand, and, by dusk, the corms will be lying in the sun and the roots worming under¬ground.
The freshly dug earth will be a treat, and the edges a sight. Could they be Cedric Morris irises, or Harold Hume irises? Or merely flags? I must not forget that the riverside flags are the lilies of France. All the birds in the country are singing in my patch, singing to irises.
In church, I read prayers by George Appleton, Bishop of Jerusalem. “O God, your divine consciousness can hold all creation and all eternity in a timeless moment. . . . Keep us true to the divine likeness. . .”