Tuesday 5 July 2016

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee

In 1934, aged 19, Laurie Lee left his Gloucestershire village home for London, on foot, with only the sparsest of supplies, a thought that is likely to stir wanderlust in the heart of the reader. After having witnessed the sea for the first time (a deliberate detour on his way to London) his travels eventually lead to Spain. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is his recollection of this trip, a sequel to Cider With Rosie, but perfectly readable as a standalone.

His path is by no means easy as he is constantly having to find shelter, relying on the kindness of strangers and his busking with a violin to provide sustenance, a not infallible plan. This is not to mention the physical exertion required to travel by foot, although he does comment on the ease of this in youth that quickly diminishes with age. At times the terrain and weather create an intense challenge, particularly notable as he struggles across the Pyrenees in a snowstorm toward the end of the book. Hardships aside, his road is filled with wonderful characters, comradeship, and a fair few sexual liaisons. He describes the landscapes he passes through with poeticism and provides a vivid snapshot of the places he visits, oblivious to the fact they are on the cusp of the Spanish Civil War. The sudden shift is horrifying as corpses are found on the road. The reader is shocked into the realisation of the harsh realities of war in otherwise peaceful communities and we witness Lee struggle with the opportunity to escape to safety.

His journey is by no means a privileged Grand Tour, but rather the story of a young man enjoying the freedom of movement that would shortly be stripped away. He steps beyond the grand streets and experiences life as it is for the inhabitants of the time. A wonderful memoir of the wonder of exploration and the fierce loyalty that can spring from new encounters.

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