The British nation, once known for its common sense, has tumbled into a ditch of its own making while the rest of the world, particularly our neighbours across the English Channel, are incredulous. How could this historic bastion of strong, wise values, honed by centuries of democratic consensus, fall so dramatically into it without any plan of how to climb out?
We went walking in the Yorkshire Wolds last Sunday to try and clear my mind and find some emotional strength to bear the brunt of more vociferous procedural confusion in the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’ at Westminster. Bathed in spring sunshine, nothing could seem more peaceful from outside. It was, however, however, on the chilly side. Above clouds sped shedding shadows. One field had just been harrowed, leaving tractor-wide swathes of newly-sown or parallel ridges like creases on the fields’ brown earth speckled with small white stones. Here is the northernmost reach of the chalk hills that start at the famed white cliffs of Dover. Harrowed. That was how I felt. Creased like the field.
We started out from the small village of Huggate tucked into a fold of these hills. Its Norman church has a pillar of rough charm, unmentioned in the guide book, with the head of Daniel caught painfully between the heads of two lions, fully carved to curl around the capital. Deprived of all removable furnishings like candles, the church was open and welcomed us with a vase of daffodils by a visitors’ book and a donation box.
Outside the graveyard had been mown, probably for the first time this year. Daffodils were in flower by the monument to men from the parish who had fallen in the first World War. Birds were busy nesting: thrushes, pigeons and the ubiquitous sparrows, their chirpy cheerful calls flecking the open skies.
The primroses scattered like confetti over a raised bank basked in the sunlight, creating a milky yellow glow under trees with branches tipped here and there with green. A day or two more, and the leaves would uncurl. It was as if Nature was pausing to take breath before bursting out into spring.
‘April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.’
T.S. Eliot The Wasteland
At the edge of the chalk-flecked field was a steep slope down to a narrow valley formed by a glacier in the last iron age. It has been grazed by sure-footed sheep since ‘times immemorial’, in the hallowed phrase. Hawthorn bushes topped the ridge on the other side of the valley. I thought of those TV films speeding millions of years into five minutes, showing glaciers forcing their way through the crust of the earth here before me, to melt back centuries later without even leaving their trace in a stream at the valley bottom in their wake. Chalk is always thirsty. Water sinks through it leaving springy grass behind.
No sound of traffic. There are still quiet places in this overcrowded island. A few pheasants were pecking in the ploughed earth. Having no traffic sense and too heavy to fly high, three had been crushed to death on the road leading back to the village.
When returning to the car and passing the soft yellow glow of the primrose bank, I noticed, right in the middle, a permutation to a sombre reddish brown, as if the flowers had been wounded. That is an unwelcome quirk of primrose character, I thought, conjuring up the tubs and beds of rather garish primulas that have just been planted around Beverley in the hope of being again a finalist in the ‘Britain in Bloom’ competition – this may not be the correct name, but the yearly competition exists. I thought again of that blot on the fresh milky yellow glow of primroses under the leafless trees about to burst into Spring.