Ronald Blythe calls the glazier in, and admires his skill
THE autumn crocuses are out. Naked ladies. They stand in immaculate clusters here and there, but where I do not recall seeing them before, flowers of the utmost purity. And the ash leaves are flying, and geese, too. Will anyone remember if I preach last year’s harvest-festival sermon? Since it was so good, I mean. And when will the rain stop?
It blows thinly through the garden, and Keith, who is replacing the Second World War soft-wood windows with hardier stuff, has to work from the inside. Scotland seems a world away. The afternoon sun will be splintering Glen Lyon; the surface of Loch Rannoch will be gunmetal grey.
I am trundling off to bookshops to sign copies of my new book, Aftermath, alongside Peter the publisher. How did book launches go in the ’30s, say? Were there such things? I know that you were not a “popular novelist” until you were chauffeur-driven, or retained a suite at the Ritz. Things have come to a pretty pass — one that the Government will applaud.
I make some tea for Keith and myself. I have watched artists paint, but rarely with the admiration I have for Keith as he saws and glazes, sizes and fits. In the spring, his window will fly open, and birds will take over its creamy sill. People will look out of it long after my sight has gone.
He has filled in all the cracks in the wall, and he will crown his labours with a new brass doorknocker. “It must be ten years since I last done your house,” he tells me. Must it? Oh, golly! (I have been reading a post-war novel.)
I put out some five hornets per morning, including one from my hair. But mostly the beautiful creatures beat against a sash window in the guest room, where one should have been able to boast about them as a gift, though apparently not. Releasing them from the glass, they zoom off like Spitfires, all go. Soon, the frosts will make them take cover, and the old room will not hear their organ music.
I make sharp fruit salad with green grapes, the final plums, some miscellaneous apples, and some wrinkled mandarins. Waste not, want not. Spare me your economies, says the white cat, tasting my bare feet. No, I reprimand myself, at the benefice harvest service it shall be the story of Ruth and her return to Bethlehem, the house of bread, none other. The ancestors of Jesus were wed from its cornfield.
We shall send our produce to St
Saviour’s, Hoxton, where those holy women will turn it into soup and I don’t know what for poor lads on the streets. What is harder and harder to get across to modern congregations is that harvest festival is not about charity but gratitude for what grows, what flows, what climaxes in the autumn. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest shall never cease. So, say “Thank you.” The newly authorised Druids have something to tell us on this point. So grateful was Egypt for the Nile harvest that the divine Pharaoh himself helped to cut it and bring it in.
We are to read Nehemiah, one of my favourites. It is he who inspired the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the re-establishment of its government, and the purification of its customs. Its ruined towers stood up in the sand like autumn crocuses once more, and there was singing in the Temple.
Aftermath: Selected writings 1960-2010 is published by Black Dog Books (£18.99 (CT Bookshop £17.10;,- 978-0-954-92869-8)