John Craven it was, on Countryfile, who had me lifting volumes from the shelf. He was in the area, chatting to the daughter. In a couple of months time the hundredth anniversary of Laurie Lee will be marked. There’s a trail through the woods in his Gloucestershire home in his name, marked with some of his poetry. Soon a volume of his paintings will be published, with narrative by his daughter who found the pictures under the bed.
They spoke about his seminal work, Cider With Rosie, and left it there. Don’t stop, thought I, the whole programme should be devoted to him. But then it was Countryfile, and perhaps there will be a more detailed look at the life and the works of the great man in the months ahead.
I watched the film version of Rosie just a few weeks ago, again looking for more as we watched young Laurie wandering off at the end. For I knew that it wasn’t the end, more the beginning actually.
The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world. She stood old and bent at the top of the bank, silently watching me go, one gnarled red hand raised in farewell and blessing, not questioning why I went. At the bend of the road I looked back again and saw the gold light die behind her; then I turned the corner, passed the village school, and closed that part of my life for ever.
And so began not only one of the best books ever written, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, but a life lived to the full. And young Lee was off, on foot, to London, by way of Southampton for he’d never seen the sea, and on to Spain, with a tent and a box of treacle biscuits, and his fiddle.
But that short footage on Countryfile has had me digging out a recording of Lee made for the BBC in 1955 and possibly never broadcast. And as I type I hear his rich brogue playing in the background; This is the story of my first, and probably last, encounter with a Spanish bull – these are the days of his walking out, engrossing stuff. And I’ll watch out for a series made, with Benedict Allen commentating, on the great travel writers of which Laurie Lee was one – Newby and PLF the others. I’d like to see that again; perhaps the centenary will bring it to our screens.
I remember too some fine passages from I Can’t Stay Long, a compilation of some shorter articles, published in 1975. As an example here’s a short piece he wrote, Hills of Tuscany, which thrilled me before I visited the area, visiting many of the places of his route, his words in my hand, and wishing I too could walk those miles from Florence to Siena. Marvellous, and re-typed for you to be read through that link.
But for now I think we’ll bring As I Walked Out back to The Bedside Table to read again. And I might even have a go at some of his poetry. Thank you John Craven