“Thresh seed and to fanning, September doth cry,
get plough to the field, and be sowing of rye:
to harrow the ridges, ere ever ye strike,
is one piece of husbandry Suffolk doth like.”
September arrived yesterday, on schedule and with characteristic grey skies. Its arrival followed a typical August bank holiday dousing that left gardens sodden, leaves dripping and the air damp and cool. All of which serves as a reminder that summer has left us and autumn is here once again. Although the temperature will fall, storms will lash and leaves will swirl downwards, neither may be considered a just cause for glum faces; instead, more a reason to celebrate.
As Jill Bailey neatly put it in one of my enduringly favourite books … ‘Secret Life of a Forest’ … “Autumn is a time of death but also of renewal. Worn-out parts are being dismantled: essential nutrients stream back into roots and stems for storage through the winter“. For me it is Autumn and Spring that are the most beautiful seasons of the year and hold far more interest than any other. In one, nature slips on its moccasins, settles back and sips a sweet mug of Ovaltine, and in the other it awakes reinvigorated, has a good long stretch and that first yawn of the morning.
It is this month in which my family and I will take our long-awaited holiday, this time to pastures that are new for all of us. It is appropriate then that the opening extract – a verse from ‘Thomas Tusser: His Good Points of Husbandry‘ and lifted from another favourite book of mine, ‘The Land of England‘ by Dorothy Hartley – concerns the county of Suffolk. I myself was born in one of our eastern counties and have a deep rooted love of Lincolnshire and Norfolk. I have also long since wanted to visit Suffolk – the Suffolk coast in particular.
As I’m sure must also be the case for a multitude of other people, I’m stirred in many ways by literature rather than anything else – far more than by factual understanding or visual media. I guess that stems from an underlying romantic idealism in my character. Whatever the basis for it may be, it was the works of one of England’s best ever writers of ghost stories, M.R. James, that first gave me a taster for Suffolk, as it was there that many of his stories were set. Most notably, the well known and much televised ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad‘, a spine-chilling story set in the fictional coastal town of Burnstow, based (it is believed) on Felixstowe, Suffolk.
My self-confessed idealism gives cause for me to be sure that, once I set foot on the beach at Orford, for example, I will not be able to survey the landscape without the words of M.R. James coming to mind:
“Bleak and solemn was the view on which he took a last look before starting homeward. A faint yellow light in the west showed the links, on which a few figures moving toward the club-house were still visible, the squat Martello tower, the lights of Aldsey village, the pale ribbon of sands intersected at intervals by black wooden groynes, the dim and murmuring sea.”
‘The dim and murmuring sea’ – now that’s a phrase that doesn’t leave the mind in a hurry, and it’s such as that which made James a master of his craft. He didn’t need to produce ghosts to chill the spine, for in just a simple line of scene-setting he could produce a sense of deep foreboding. For anyone who hasn’t sampled his writing I recommend that you do, but believe me when I say that you’ll never be able to look at an innocuous piece of crumpled linen without experiencing a deep disquiet.