At the long day’s (and my short dawdle’s) inception – as I gingerly secured the front door: hat on head; walking stick in hand… – the extended witching hour that is Nautical Dawn was not much more than a dab ahead of me (having emerged languidly from its wearisome bedclothes – unlike The Bard Who Had Not Slept… – just before three o’clock: a little under two hours before sunrise). But, by the time my insomnia-induced stroll had propelled me, wraithlike, past St Mary’s Church – precisely as its tenebrose profile proclaimed the half-hour – there was sufficient emerging coolness tempering the blackness above (even in the dying embers of “this contentious storm”) for me to effortlessly mark my steps. And, although Aurora’s shy reflection effectively forewarned me of still-standing plashets (most of which I am on first-name terms with, anyway); her crepuscular modesty, regrettably, failed to safeguard a glut of hoarding gastropods (more suited, perhaps, than any aphoristic duck – or even my Pennine-straddling chromosomes – to such dankness) from instant, crackling, crunching ruin beneath my sturdy boots.
I have – perhaps partly incited by those Northern genes – always delighted in such intemperate weather. Additionally, I find the night – as I have often written on these pages – a cordial and comforting companion (as well as a tabula rasa, inspiring ideas and emotions). Not only does such a conjunction (which, for many, I accept, can be an unnerving, forbidding one) – notably when “I am in that temper that if I were under water I would scarcely kick to come to the top” – stimulate me to “gain some perspective” (and provoke an almost animal desire for immersion (or even submersion)); but I further find their combined inscrutable vigour intensely refreshening (intellectually and physiologically): as a partial consequence, no doubt, of their essential unsociableness. (The resulting inconspicuousness and solitariness beseem, shall we say, my intrinsic ‘Mole‑ness’.)
And yet – had any supernatural manifestation (as it does, so memorably, for the Mole and the Rat (and “the slumbering Portly”)) broken on me “like a wave” and caught me up… – I would have willingly made myself visible: greedily possessed by “the liquid run of that glad piping… then the clear imperious summons that marched hand-in-hand with the intoxicating melody…”. However, the Gates of Dawn unfolded with a compelling almost-silence. No creature was roused (nor foolish enough to be). Only the susurration of the drizzle accompanied my meanderings: interwoven with the response of the vivid new-blown trees – whose comforting fullness shrouded and shielded me all along Sandpits Road… – to their ill-deserved pummelling by both the raindrops and the breeze which ushered them.
As I crossed Oxhill Road, approaching Windmill Way – and not for the first time… – I keenly craved Dumbledore’s marvellous Put‑Outer (or perhaps an impulsive infection of ‘street light interference’): such is the thoroughfare’s incommensurately intense irradiation of its environment (completely, immediately, eradicating thirty-minutes-worth of hard-earned, dilating night-vision, as well as any hints of the sunrise I was attempting to chase…).
Then, turning into the shadows of Shipston Road, the northerly squalls misting the side of my face instantly evoked the spectre of an equivalent gloomy trudge – at nightfall, rather than daybreak – two-and-a-half years ago, as the Gladman débâcle erupted:
And, just as the fight “Against the envy of less happier lands” gathered pace: as the deadline loomed for objections to be submitted against the planning proposal for those eighty houses, I realized (nay, was devoured by) the enormity of the task; and, Lear-like, headed out into the dark, the pelting rain, and howling winds, to try and gain some perspective.
But, in that “night’s storm I such a fellow saw”, hunched up, like me, against the “foul weather”; but, despite the air of foreboding, he uttered a friendly and welcoming “hello”.
That “fellow” – at the time, deliberately left nameless – was the late Adrian Tuffin: one of the most courageous, most considerate souls I have ever met (although he would, I am certain, characterize such bravery and humanity as simply dealing with circumstance and necessity). He was one of the very first people to welcome me to Tysoe (which I shall never forget); and we would habitually cross paths – Adrian always accompanied by “his faithful dog, Jasmine” – as we beat our respective bodily bounds around the village: using such opportunities to discuss our various tribulations (conversations, however, which were always gilded with a great deal of laughter at ourselves and each other); and consistently signing off (when we both realized how much time had so easily passed) with a running joke about heading home for a well-deserved cup of tea.
Indeed, it felt almost aberrant when a walk around the village did not lead to me bumping into him (and I can clearly recall the last time, in Lower Tysoe, on a bitterly cold afternoon). I therefore still, involuntarily, watch out for him on my parochial peregrinations. But it is well over a year since Adrian died; and – on a par with the extinction of our great elms – custom (and poetry) would dictate that we should all be diminished by such a sad departure.
But I believe that he has left behind (nevertheless, far, far too soon…) a much stronger, worthier village than would have otherwise been possible… – a small, blessed corner of Warwickshire that, communally, must be grateful for his valuable legacy. For me – and, I am confident, many others – this is because he embodied and readily exemplified Tysoe’s oft-hidden generous spirit of place. He was the strongest personification we could ever have of Grahame’s great, inspirational “Friend and Helper”. “This time, at last, it is the real, the unmistakable thing, simple – passionate – perfect – ”
“This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,” whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. “Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!”
– Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows