Ever since my first evensong as a chorister, aged 6, I’ve loved the words of the third collect:
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee O Lord;
and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of thy only Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.
As I’m sat, as ever, at the kitchen table (with a bottle of whisky this evening) I can remember so many evensongs. Quiet, reflective services. The procession in silence through the dark-cornered church. Fine music. The silver threads in the air spun by canticles and responses by Stanford, Gibbons, Walton, Vaughan Williams. And, at the end of the service, wheeling my bike (pedal in those days) out of the vestry and riding home.
In my memory, evensongs are always autumnal. That’s daft – there were just as many spring, summer, winter services but somehow evensong suits autumn. Reflection. Quiet. The close of the day. Ellerton’s words:
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky…”
I was reminded of those days as I rode this evening. No pedals now, just a throttle. And no evensong anymore – not now the Church of England has left its liturgy to the dead-handed, censorious people who write tax forms.
I love riding in the dark and tonight was the first time for a few weeks. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy it.
There’s a night-defined cocoon in which one rides. Instrument lights. Headlights. The edge of the road. The syncopated flash of indicators. The pooled limit of the lights ahead. There’s a reassuring solitude. And you see so much more, but only in glimpsed vignettes.
Through Wootton, a man, on his own, washing up in yellow gloves at the kitchen sink, picked out in the light from a solitary fluorescent tube.
Outside Sunningwell, A girl, early twenties, rubbing sight through the greasy, wet misting of bus windows.
Huddled against the rain in a bus shelter, a lad, no more than sixteen, his face lit by the glow from his mobile phone.
And on to the artificial dawn of Brize Norton’s lights as it welcomes home, perhaps safe and sound, another plane of soldiers.
And, throttling back as I ride into Bampton, a stooped, elderly man pushing his bin carefully to its place for collection tomorrow – two lads running in unison back from football practice, in perfect step as their trainers splash in the same spouting puddles – the beer and laughter-infused lights of the Morris Clown’s windows and the faint whiff of cigarette smoke from a single pavement-banished smoker and, finally, the lights of home. Pip, her back to the window, and just catching the noise of my engine, turning and smiling.
I feel like I’ve been riding a long, long time. But I’m all the happier for it.