Thursday, January 12, 2006

a sparrow's flight

So there I was, having a bowl of leek and potato soup in the cafe of Minsmere RSPB reserve. Cold, but happy. A long walk in bitter wind makes drinking soup (spoon held in freezing fingers) a particular pleasure. And there, on the other side of the cafeteria, a couple were having lunch too. Something about them seemed familiar. I mused for a bit, munching my bread roll, and suddenly realised that I knew them. That chap was a poet, a very good poet indeed, one I'd met last about a decade ago. I went over and ... huzzah, I was right! And ten minutes later, walked with them around the reserve again (much more delightful the second time, in such very good company) before zooming back to their house in the local village of Bramfield for tea and parkin and warmth.

We walked up the road to visit the local church. Next to a round, free-standing flint-faced tower, a thirteenth-century thatched building as beautiful inside as out. We went to see the memorial to Arthur Coke and his wife Elizabeth by sculptor Nicholas Stone. Elizabeth died in childbirth. Her alabaster figure lies supine under the recess where her husband's marble statue kneels. She holds her baby close to her breast, the whole figure quietly shining in glorious fluted folds of cloth and figured lace. It's a terribly sad and moving sculpture, and quite unforgettable.

As was this ledger stone on the floor. Grim and strange. The inscription reads:

Between the Remains of her Brother EDWARD, And of her Husband ARTHUR. Here lies the Body of BRIDGETT APPLETHWAIT. Once BRIDGETT NELSON. After the Fatigues of a Married Life Born by her with Incredible Patience, for four Years and three Quarters bating three Weeks; And after the Enjoiment of the Glorious Freedom of an Easy and Unblemish't Widowhood, for four Years and Upwards, She Resolved to run the Risk of a second Marriage-Bed. But DEATH forbade the Banns—— And having with an Apopleptick Dart (the same Instrument with which he had formerly Dispatch't her Mother) Touch't the most Vital part of her Brain; She must have fallen Directly to the Ground (as one Thunder-strook) if she had not been Catch't and Supported by her Intended Husband. Of which Invisible Bruise, after a Struggle for above Sixty Hours, with that Grand Enemy to Life (But the certain and Merciful Friend to Helpless Old Age) In Terrible Convulsions, Plaintive Groans or Stupefying Sleep, without Recovery of her Speech or Senses, She Dyed on ye 12th day of September in ye year of Our Lord 1737 and of her own Age 44.

As we left the church, a small bird flew from the vestibule, where it had been trapped, out of the door and into the darkening sky.

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