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The Scrivener: Those Ungathered Rushes

Brian Barratt’s deliciously digressive thoughts skip from an enjoyable ricotta and spinach quiche to an old Methodist Hymn Book,

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There I was, quietly enjoying a ricotta and spinach quiche with a heap of fresh salad. They give you good value at that little Lebanese coffee place, and their home cooking is, well, real home cooking. People were hithering and thithering around the covered concourse, in and out of the shops, looking for the partner who had gone somewhere else, steering small children away from the "I want" areas, enjoying snacks, and all the things that ordinary people do. The noise level wasn't too high, so I could hear myself thinking.

Without warning, the words of an old hymn came singing into my mind — "All things bright and beautiful". Don't ask me why. The answer would be long and analytical. Just accept that it's the sort of thing that happens, right?

In Primary School years, in the 1940s, I was quite happy to sing:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

The next verse was, on the whole, acceptable, involving little flowers, little birds, glowing colours, and tiny wings. It didn't take into account our fat hens and their big wings, but that didn't worry me too much. However, the third verse was difficult to handle:

The purple-headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset, and the morning
That brightens up the sky.

At that age, I wasn't into sunsets and rarely saw a dawn. Small boys don't rush to get out of bed to admire the sky, you know. The difficult bit was the purple-headed mountain. I'd certainly never seen one of those, and I hadn't seen one in a painting or photo, with or without a river running by. But, as I had a reasonably developed fondness for Art, I accepted that such a thing might exist in a painting. So far, so good.

Quiche eaten, shopping completed. After I arrived home, I dug out my old Methodist Hymn Book, which I bought on 9 August 1952, much to my father's disapproval. I wanted to check the words of a verse that caused me real problems. That verse does not appear in my hymn book. My hymn book is Methodist. The school had a Church of England ethos. It seems to me that perhaps the Methodists were more honest in those distant years. I found the missing verse, guess where, on the Internet:

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water
We gather every day.

The bit about tall trees was OK and I associated the greenwood with Robin Hood, our local hero (I used to play Friar Tuck in the school play). The line about meadows was distinctly iffy. I had never played in a meadow. My pals and I played in our back gardens and outside on the footpath.

I knew from pictures what rushes looked like. I knew they grew by water. But I had never seen one, let alone gathered one. The alternative version, "To gather every day", would not have helped, either. Those rushes were not there for me to gather. I had no idea where they were, apart from growing by the water somewhere or other. Those two lines were just not true. I would not sing them.

Come to think of it, I had a problem about sending messages up the chimney to Father Christmas, as well. Maybe I'll work through that one next time I have one of those delicious ricotta and spinach quiches. They're pretty inspirational.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2010


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