Thursday, 26 June 2014

Laurie Lee remembered.



This month marks the centenary of the birth of the author and poet Laurie Lee.  He is best known for his book ‘Cider with Rosie’ which made famous his rural childhood growing up in Gloucestershire in the years after the First World War. He was for many years a fixture on schools’ reading lists, in both the UK and further a field. However, although firmly rooted in the English countryside, he is also inextricably linked to Spain.

I first read ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ in my mid 20s. It is the sequel to ‘Cider with Rosie’ and continues the story of Laurie Lee as he leaves home at 19 to walk to London, and then to travel to Spain. It is one of my favourite books and one that I have read many times over the years since first discovering it.


Lee writes in a flowing hand that richly describes the varied landscapes he travels through on foot, as he wanders around a Spain rapidly descending into civil war. He records his journey across an increasingly fragmented nation, from the scorched plains of Castilla and Leon to the pre-package holiday, fishing villages of Andalucia. His prose sparkles with rich images, recording the austere and at times brutal lives of many Spaniards in the 1930s. Whether they are farmers attempting to coax a harvest from the barren soil to inhabitants of crumbling medieval cities struggling to earn a living, all are observed by the young writer and at that time, musician. With just his battered violin he busks his way round a country almost unrecognisable to the modern traveller.

Along the way he meets a cast of characters that includes: beggars, smugglers, eccentrics and even exiled poets. All of these come alive on the page through Lee’s vivid descriptions. Critics have over the years have accused him of embellishing or even fabricating some events. Yes it is romantic and at times the soft focus filter is definitely on, but the grinding poverty and violence of this era are never glossed over. With a 30 year gap between his journey and putting pen to paper, surely memory can only go so far.

For me the second installment of his life was more compelling than his more famous work. It’s a book I know that I will return to again in the future. So for all travellers, actual or armchair, grab a copy of this book and raise a glass of rioja to Laurie on the 26th June.

This blog post was written by Andy Mackay (IGCSE English Language & Literature tutor at Blackhen Education).

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