Saturday, 19 June 2021

Forever Eden

"On Sunday 7th August your teddy can have a go at parachuting on Rusper School field...The guided walk will be 4-5 miles, starting from the Village Hall at 3 p.m., and returning for tea at approximately 5.30 p.m...There will be a coffee morning at Orltons, Rusper, on 11th July, from 10 a.m. till 12 noon.  Proceeds - 75% to St Catherine's Hospice, 25% to Rusper Conservative Association...Wanted urgently! Wool - odd balls or skeins - even old knitted items which can be unpicked - to keep the needles clicking on babies' vests and 6" squares...At the time of writing these notes, we are having quite a dry spell, and if this continues, it is a good time to hoe very diligently..."

Extracts from the July 1988 Parish News of St Mary Magdalene, Rusper.  A characteristic mix of endless tombola, religious propaganda, local politics, gardening, prayer, advertising and homely saws - 'a smile will always increase your face value.'  As English as the village of Rusper itself, with its main road, quiet and winding, and a side street dominated by the Victorian schoolhouse; a couple of ancient pubs, a general store with empty sherry bottles in its bare and dusty window, and venerable houses leaning on each other like old age pensioners; a noticeboard with the times of the daily bus to Horsham, and details of the next meeting of the parish council; an Elizabethan coaching inn - and, of course, the parish church.

Resplendent amidst the bright green grass and lichened graves, the warm stone of the neat and compact building has been meticulously restored, and looks as if it has been dressed and placed only yesterday.  Which it has, except that yesterday here is 700 years ago.  The simple and dignified nave ends in the thickset tower whose earliest arches are narrow and show only the slightest of points.  On the east face there is a clock; on the cover of the Parish News the hands stand at an eternal ten to three.  Inside, faded plaques record the three hours and three minutes taken to ring all the changes on the eight bells in 1903, together with a list of names.  Names of the bellringers, names that somehow always reappear on memorials to those fallen in that Great and most terrible war which shattered the old world of villages like Rusper forever.

Now it is the continual shrieking of the straining jets as they lift off from nearby Gatwick which rends the peace of this idyll.  But Rusper endures, just as the families who lost their sons and husbands and fathers endured.  Rusper and its ilk lie at the quiet and indestructible heart of England.  They populate a land which still has flower shows where the double crust apple pie is "to be displayed on a plate or board and not in a tin or container" if it is to be eligible for the 40p first prize or 20p second prize. A land which is easy to mock for its unfashionable beliefs: "Lady Cox asked for the prayers and support of fellow Christians in her endeavour to enshrine Christian worship and R.E. in our schools."  But it is also a land of fundamentally decent and caring folk - "my sincere and grateful thanks to the many people who wrote to me while I was in hospital.  The friendliness of Rusper people is indeed wonderful."  Wonderful indeed.  As the Reverend Eric Passingham says in his Letter from the Rectory: "The curtains pulled back revealed a touch of Eden."

(1988)

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