Just a few miles away from my home is the little market town of Thame. It is an interesting place with some beautiful old architecture. I have seen a fair bit of it this year as I have had to go there to be manhandled by the physios, so I have not always been in the best frame of mind. Even so, I had to have a wander while I was there.
The church was my first stop. You can learn a lot about a place from its parish church. While beautifully restored and full of history, it is not my cup of tea, being a big, echoing place that lacks the intimacy of many of the little country churches I love. There were some artistic gems there though, including the magnificent alabaster tomb of Lord William and his wife occupying most of the choir. Under that lady’s feet is a unicorn, sadly lacking its horn, a symbol of faith, love and purity. It was also thought to be able to protect against poison and so had meaning at multiple levels. In some ways, perhaps, the mythical beast in its argent beauty could shield against the hurts and heartaches of the world and turn the heart to hope.
There is a fabulous window by Morris and Co, drenched, it seems, in colour… and a fragment of a Pieta dating back to 1500 painted on the wall. Ancient tears, red as blood, still fall from the eyes of the Mother. It is all that remains, but imagination can see the rest of the picture, a grief any parent will understand without words.
I wandered past the mellow brick of the tithe barn and back to the main road. To my right was the road named Priest’s End, which may reflect the tale of a heretic being burned there in the religious intolerance of the Reformation. To my left the long High Street ran into the little town. I followed the road past old inns and thatched roofs, past the old Forge … centuries jumbled together with Georgian grace jostling incongruously, it seemed, with ancient, timbered frames for pride of place.
It is this juxtaposition of the centuries, I think, that gives that unique feel to the towns and villages of our countryside. Subtract the road signs and tarmac and the lines of parked, shiny cars and the place would have a timeless feel, impossible to date.
In the blue of the sky the red kites wheeled low. They have a habit of doing that when the camera is on the seat of the car and not in my hand… or when the rooftops are available to cut them from vision as I raise the camera… but instead of feeling frustration at my inability to capture that perfect shot in flight, I was simply glad of their presence. It was reassuring, almost as if they were saying that some things go too deep to change and to trust that Something, intangible as the air, that carries us, even in the darker moments that touch every life from time to time.
Watching them soar and dive, swooping with, it seemed, the sheer joy of living flight, I could not help seeing the analogy in their motion. The rise and fall changed direction, following the unseen currents , changing their flight path with the smallest shift of a feather. Yet their flight had purpose, each rise allowing them to gain height for the downward swoop, each low brush with the rooftops opening the whole sky before them, full of space and possibility.
Sitting on a bench I let imagination’s eyes follow their flight, seeing the ground looming before me, a swift descent through air with nothing but air to hold me, nothing, it seemed, but disaster to halt the descent. Yet there was the shift, the flex of muscle, the turning of a wing and a tail as they halted the fall at the last moment and rose again into the sunlit heavens.
It seemed, as my attention came back to the wood-effect plastic of the bench and the mock-weathered brick of the small precinct that I had been privileged to share for a moment that feathered mastery. Though alien, it was familiar, as the shifts and swings of life seem to lift and plummet us willy-nilly sometimes. Maybe all we have to do when we feel we are falling is have the courage to trust the air and be ready to flex our wings when the right moment arrives… and who knows where the next updraught might take us?