Friday, January 8, 2010
I had an unfortunate introduction to Ronald Blythe. I had to read his classic account of English village life, Akenfield, at high school & I didn’t enjoy it at all. I think teachers have a lot to answer for. How many people do you know who have been put off Shakespeare, Jane Austen etc because they were forced to read them at school? Luckily, I wasn’t put off Shakespeare by being forced to sit through the class laboriously reading Macbeth aloud (and it’s still my favourite Shakespeare) but I think I’m the exception to the rule there. Apart from poor Ronald, I’ve never been able to read John Steinbeck after reading The Grapes of Wrath in Form 5. Akenfield was published in the late 60s & Ronald Blythe has been writing about the countryside ever since. I’ve just read the first two collections of his weekly columns for the Church Times, Word From Wormingford & Out Of The Valley. Blythe is a Reader in his parish which consists of three congregations at Wormingford, Mount Bures & Little Horkesley. The books follow the seasons & the liturgical year with observations of the natural world, parish matters, the garden & the adventures of Max the cat. The Stour Valley has artistic connections. It is Constable country, Gainsborough was born here & Blythe knew the artist John Nash who lived in the area. He also loves the poetry of John Clare & as president of the John Clare Society is in demand to give talks about the poet. I enjoyed the gradual feeling of learning about the parish. Ronald Blythe spends quite a bit of time walking & meditating on life, his past & the changes that modern times have brought to his village & the Church. I read the books straight through but I think they could also serve as books to dip into as the seasons pass just to glean a little bit of country wisdom from a long life well lived by a happy man.