Pleasures of a boy
On horseback I roamed the countryside, threading my way through coverts, groves, traversing meadows up to my horse’s belly in corn or hay, travelling long distances across country, sometimes tethering my horse to the porch of some remote country church and inside running my fingers over the cold sculpture of tombs. Stealthily, I approached Victorian organs and, going round the back, pumped at the worn wooden handle of the bellows till the air reservoir was full, then ran round to the keyboard. There might be enough air in the reservoir to keep the organ in air for a minute, if I pulled out those stops, like Dulciana or Lieb Gedacht, which did not need a lot of puff. Not very long with the powerful large pipes of the diapason. Always the whimpering finish as the pipes ran out of air.
The intricate plaster ceilings of our home, Eye Manor, decorated with a profusion of cherubs, swathes, pomegranates, fruits, all that seemed lush and wonderful to the imported Italian plasterers of the 1680s, entered exotically into my world view. The tall gracious windows looked out over a weeping ash and verdant lawns that sprouted from the red Herefordshire earth, a ha-ha, and more green meadows beyond.
There were stables with horses in them. The horses grazed in orchards clothed in springtime with blossom. My parents, for whom an easy going life would have been possible as a result of a small amount of inherited wealth, in fact worked round the clock at such projects as running the boy scouts, gardening, organising local drama, art, and publishing.
My two sisters, Antonia and Juliet, usually played with each other and few people of my age called at the house, so that most of the time I was on my own. On horseback or on foot I spent long afternoons and evenings wandering through the meadows that surrounded our house. I loved the lush green of summer, the new golden-brownness of stooks and the martins wheeling in an autumn sky, the hard earth and mists and occasional slushy fall of snow in winter.
In the tomb-like darkness of the cellars that lay beneath Eye Manor, in the attics overlooking the church, in the apple orchards, and in the broad rooms of this exotic house, the thrill I experienced from its beauty was solitary and powerful; a frisson that came from the perfection of the things with which my parents had filled it, the leather-bound books my father printed, the glint of old silver candlesticks in which, in the evening, candles flared.
In the garden I self-regardingly wandered barefoot down a pergola avenue where the grass was deep, and small yellow apples hung from knotted trees, sour to bite. Many evenings, at the further side of an intricate herb garden, in a deserted cottage which my parents allowed me to use, I sat and watched the opposite windows of the big house shimmering gold in the sunset. As the sun went down the herb garden became a well of darkness. There was often mist and I loved to see the layers of mist between the trees, billows of mist coursing slowly across the lawns and meadows. The poetry of this was particularly powerful when the lawns were in winter lost under snow.
Later, when the house was opened to the public, it lost some of its mystery. At that distant time, for long hours when my parents were out and my sisters at school, I had it to myself. Voices sometimes wafted through from the ‘servants quarters’ but they were in a wing far away. Wandering through the empty rooms I would take down from their shelves the books I loved; the poems of Sappho, of Lascaris, of Catullus, of Meleager, of Byron and of Keats.
This was an arcadian life. I did not have an inkling that somewhere there was another unkinder world far beyond the ha-ha, far down the line from our small railway station, Berrington and Eye, on the Great Western line.
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