All Saints’, Mendham
I found Mendham church just after the turn-off from the A143 towards Halesworth, where I was due for a midweek lunchtime recital: I thought practising in a cold church would be a better warm-up for the recital than practising at home, as well as the fact it wouldn’t be cancelled out by a long drive afterwards. But I wasn’t quite prepared for how cold Mendham would be, and hoped Halesworth would be at least a few degrees warmer. I had to resort to my full-blown warm up: running around the church numerous times – it had two aisles, which made this easier – and jumping up and down. This did no more than begin the warming process, but that was sufficient: it continued successfully when I began to play in my fingerless gloves, which would now be a fixture of my church-visiting bag until spring at least.
After half an hour, I was perfectly warm enough to give a whole concert there, and was unconcerned about how I might find the temperature in Halesworth church. I was now more concerned about the acoustic: Mendham was delightful, despite being a two-aisled church. It wasn’t actually a very large church, I realised; it was only the aisles that gave this impression.
I surprised myself by being attracted to the Victorian west window. I have noticed that the stained glass I tend to like is the medieval and the modern, not the Victorian; but this one was colourful and cheerful, no doubt enhanced by the bright sunshine outside, and I enjoyed its patterns and colours without, as usual, taking too much notice of what the picture depicted.
It was a glorious day, and I stopped to admire the dappled porch before making my way down the road to Halesworth.
St Mary’s, Halesworth
I followed the instructions given to park either at the village hall or in the Catholic church car park, both just down the lane from St Mary’s. It was odd, but serendipitous, that I managed not to notice the village hall on my left as I opened the gate to the Catholic church car park on my right. Serendipitous, because in the car park was a quince tree. Most of the fruits had fallen, and it seemed they had been gathered either very sparingly or not at all. So I didn’t think anyone would mind if I picked up the un-rotted ones from the ground and took them home… but that would have to wait until after my recital.
The church was nowhere near as cold as Mendham: I knew the heating would be on, but always doubt the usefulness of such a thing in a church. It takes several days for my own house to warm up when I turn on the heating – it’s all to do with the walls, my dad used to say – but clearly it did make a difference after all. The church was also much larger than Mendham, and its acoustic not as beautiful; but it was perfectly pleasant. I was just spoilt. The piano, however, was better than I remembered, to my relief. I always worry about the (lack of) quality of instrument James is forced to play on, though I know he is used to it. It doesn’t bother me particularly from a musical point of view.
There was a good audience, and they seemed to enjoy the concert, as did we. I met one lady who told me she lived in Holton, had come to my Covehithe concert after seeing my message in the church visitors’ book, and had recommended me to the Halesworth recital organisers. I was surprised, thinking Holton was on the other side of the county; but I soon realised I was confusing it with Hopton. I didn’t remember her from Covehithe, but it was a pleasant feeling that connections were building up around Suffolk, and that this was how the recital had come about.
After sandwiches, tea and cake which had kindly been reserved for us, I walked around the church, particularly fascinated by the Saxon stone carving near the altar. The sign informed me that it could represent hands grasping foliage, or, if the stones were turned around, it could be mermen grasping tails. Why mermen? I thought. Why not mermaids? It must be a judgement on the masculinity of the hands, I suppose. The exterior of the church was a little disappointing: from no angle was there much of a view of the church. There were too many trees in the way.
I would have liked to spend some time in Halesworth that afternoon: it was a beautiful day for a stroll and I wanted to get to know the town better, having liked very much what I had seen of it so far. But I had a coffee appointment on the other side of Diss at 3pm, in one of my favourite tea rooms, so that wasn’t a bad second best. Still, I had time to pay a quick visit to the second-hand bookshop just across the road from the church. I was sad to hear that it was closing at the end of the week, after 20 years; glad, however, to have got there in time to say goodbye. ‘I can’t manage another winter here,’ the lady said to me. ‘And it costs as much to heat the place as it brings in in book sales’. I suppose that is the reality these days. It is a great pity.
I headed back to my car, placed enough quinces on the back seat for a batch of jam, and headed to Moriarty’s café in Walsham le Willows, inhaling the aroma of quinces and feeling very satisfied with my day’s outing.
Header photo: Memorial detail, Mendham church