Ronald Blythe takes the train for a rare visit to the City
TOLONDON. Such visits are increasingly rare. I am about to go when a thrush sings, or sloth raises its tempting head. But the only way to glimpse old friends – including Colin Thubron, the true traveller – is at the AGM of the Royal Society of Literature. The mid-afternoon carriage is empty. It slides past the waiting Olympic Park, where I would like to see the re-ruralisation of theLeaValley.Liverpool Streetis the usual scurrying-ant plaza.
With two hours to spare, I make my ritual crossing of Old Broad Street to say a prayer in St Botolph’s, Bishopsgate, which I think of as my City church – more, I fear, because John Keats was baptised in it than for the East Anglian saint. I must mend my ways.
It is a warm afternoon, and a hundred office-workers are seated at little tables; the women pretty, the men all film stars. One of them lies asleep on the grass in his expensive suit, but with bare, dusty feet. A large tablet in the wall says: “The tomb of Mr Davies” – who would have known Mr Pepys. But is this the way to get the economy moving? God bless idleness, conversation, the heat of the sun, the childhood of poets. Mr Davies, even.
In the taxi fromColchesterstation, the driver tells me that he might get home for a few days to see his family.
“Where is home?”
The white cat waits for me at the bottom of the farm track. Whiskas for her, whisky for me. I read a few pages of The Guermantes Way, before dropping off. “I retraced with my parents the course of the Vivonne – to that land of bubbling streams where the Duchess taught me to fish for trout and to know the names of the flowers whose red and purple clusters adorned the walls of the neighbouring gardens. . .
“The sky was still empty at those points where, later, were to rise Notre Dame of Paris and Notre Dame of Chartres, when on the summit of the hill of Laon the nave of its cathedral had not yet been poised, like the Ark of the Deluge on the summit of Mount Ararat, crowded with Patriarchs and Judges anxiously leaning from its windows to see whether the wrath of God were yet appeased, carrying with it the types of the vegetation that was to multiply on the earth. . .”
And especially at Bottengoms Farm, where wet weather is doing wonders for weeds and cultivated plants alike. Hollyhocks reach for the roof, tomatoes become trees. But now the July birds sing! And never such creamy plates of elder blossom. As for the nettles, they would win first prize anywhere.
I take a village funeral for Peter. His mother-in-law’s favourite hymn was “Through all the changing scenes of life”. Tate and Brady, of course. I read the Beatitudes. Peter was a train driver on the same line as the one which takes me toLondon, and he would have driven me, I expect. “Make you his service your delight,” Peter. I lead him to the double grave. “Afterwards at the Cricketers’ Arms”, the service sheet says.