'A tiny, stick-like figure of a man had appeared, and with him a creature one would presume to be his dog, but which looked more like a leopard'

We came home from holiday to an autumn such as we may never see again. Not only had the grass reverted to green from the sickly dun colour which the summer heat had baked it, but we found the sheep standing chest- deep in luxuriant verdure, rather than on a brown billiard table. Downpours of rain seemed to have arrested the premature decline of the trees, and everywhere the fruits of the season were ripening in astonishing profusion.

Apples? We cannot give them away. Never in living memory have our trees been so loaded. As the sun blazed down in June, July and August, I feared that the fruit would never attain any size - yet somehow the roots managed to find enough moisture, and our Bramley cookers are colossal. The first single apple weighing more than 1lb was a cause for excitement - but when I had picked 50 that size off one tree, such monsters became commonplace.

Pears, also, have been the best ever. During the drought I took the trouble, every other day, to carry buckets of water from a cattle trough and empty them round the base of one young tree. The result has been fruit of a good size and an indescribable sweetness.

Wild production has been even more spectacular. Acorns and beechmast are cascading down like hailstones, and fungi have gone berserk.

To return home and find all these riches round about was like having a second holiday. Yet the best surprise lay indoors. In our absence the house and animals had been looked after by Len, a retired farmer, and his wife Joyce. As he arrived and looked round, Len had mentioned that he liked tinkering with old clocks, so I incited him to have a go at our 19th-century grandfather, which had been keeping time all right, but, whose small central display recording the state of the moon had been stationary for 50 years at least.

Safely back, we found the place in impeccable order, and after a quick hand-over Len departed for home in New Zealand. He was too modest to mention that he had done anything to the clock. But then, on our second morning, I looked at its face and noticed something odd.

Surely the little picture in the middle was not as I remembered it? At the bottom a tiny, stick-like figure of a man had appeared, and with him a creature which one would presume to be his dog, except that in its length and slimness it is reminiscent of a leopard. Both stand on the shore of a shimmering blue lake, on which a flat-bottomed boat like a punt is poised. In the background rises a house of faintly Mediterranean appearance, with shallow pink roofs. A tree in the foreground is neither a willow nor a palm. Altogether the picture seems to hover mysteriously between different parts of the world.

And it is moving! Millimetre by millimetre it is turning. After several days of infinitesimal disappearance, the house has now vanished up to the left, behind the curly clouds represented by the frame. Down from the right has come the cherubic countenance of the moon, its visible crescent growing with astronomically realistic tardiness, until, by the beginning of this week, it was full.

Now I rush down every morning to see how it is doing. There is something magical about the fact that a mechanism dead for half a century has come alive again. I feel like the man in Schubert's song "Das Bild", who stares gloomily at a likeness of his former lover, and in a hair-raising line sees the beloved countenance come stealthily to life.The face that fascinates me is only that of the moon - and, to be honest, the old fellow is rather more rubicund and dimpled than I care for. Yet I find it riveting to gaze at something with which I have lived since I was a child, but which, until now, I have never seen.

Comments