Monday 19 March 2018

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning - Laurie Lee

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee is my fourth book for the European Reading Challenge 2018, which is being hosted by Rose City Reader. It covers the country of Spain.

It's many, many years since I read Laurie Lee's Cider With Rosie: I was probably a teenager. It's his most famous book I imagine but As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is quite well known too I think. The event's in this non-fiction book take place immediately following Cider With Rosie, where at the end we see Laurie leaving his loving home in The Cotswolds to explore the world... I think he was nineteen.

He sets off to see the sea on the south coast of England and then heads to London. Luckily, he's adept at playing the violin so is able to perform in the streets and earn some money. During this time he comes to understand the life of the British tramp during the 1930s, how some of them were not able to pick up their lives after WW1, some just don't want a settled life, and a lot were unemployed and looking for work.

After a few months in the the South East he decides to go to Spain (mainly because he knows the Spanish for 'Will you please give me a glass of water') and takes a ship to Vigo in the North Western corner of the country (just above Portugal). From this point he walks, over a period of many months, through Spain to the southern coast. He is ill-prepared for such a journey. The first part is forested and mountainous and not so bad but once he reaches the plains the heat is brutal and unrelenting; the locals think he's mad, naturally, but he's greeted with kindness wherever he goes. How he managed to avoid dying from sunstroke I'm not sure, I fancy he must've been very lucky.

Cities visited include Valladolid, Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz and so on. At one stage he takes up with a South African poet, Roy Campbell, and his family, staying with them for a while. But mainly he was among the poorer sections of Spanish society and Lee's descriptions of the hardship and unfairness experienced by these people are very revealing in respect of why the civil war happened.

For me the most interesting part of the book is when Laurie reaches the southern coast. He visits Gibralter and then walks along the coast until he reaches a small village called Almun├ęcar near Malaga. Here he settles in for the winter, employed by a local hotel as an odd job man and playing the violin at night in the bar. But war is looming, not WW2 but The Spanish Civil War, and sides are being picked. People start to die and Laurie has a decision to make.

I was a lot more impressed with this than I expected to be. Spain is not a country I have much of an interest in (and to be honest, still haven't) but Laurie Lee's writing is so rich and luscious that you can't help but love the book and be fascinated by his experiences. I gave it a five on Goodreads. I wasn't thinking to read the third book, A Moment of War, about his experiences in The Spanish Civil War, but now I think I might at some stage... one or two of the books I read about WW2 in France touched on it and it might be interesting to find out more.



BooksPlease said...

I loved this book too and his other books. Laurie Lee's writing is so vivid, with such lyrical prose and beautiful descriptions of the countryside. I've read Cider with Rosie and A Rose in Winter, which is about his travels in Andalusia which he visited with his wife fifteen years after his last time there during the Spanish Civil War. But I haven't read A Moment of War

DesLily said...

So glad you enjoyed it more than you expected! Love surprises like that!
By reading is down the toilet. Stress, (big time) Anxiety and a week of company kept me from reading much. I finally finished A Man Called Ove.! So upset and nervous all I want to do is sleep in the chair when not in bed. sigh. Cathy was a joy though!

BooksPlease said...

Did you see Andrew Marr's programme on Churchill - about his paintings etc - on BBC4 yesterday? It's very good. It's on BBC iplayer for 29 days if you missed it and want to watch it.

Nan said...

I have this book, and Cider with Rosie. I keep meaning to read them. I laughed when you said you weren't much interested in Spain because I feel the same way. Funny, isn't it what draws us to some places and not others.

Cath said...

Margaret: I'd completely forgotten how beautiful Lee's writing is. It was so nice to be reminded. I'll look for A Rose in Winter, it's not a book I was aware of.

I saw the Churchill doc. when it was first aired. But I was annoyed with myself as I saw they were repeating it and planned to see it again... and then forgot. IPlayer will be my friend in this.

Pat: I love this kind of surprise too. Sorry to hear you're feeling so rotten but glad you had a good time with the wonderul Cathy. She's a gem.

Nan: I definitely think Cider With Rosie would be your thing... such a gentle 'countryside' sort of book.

Ah, you too with Spain. It 'is' funny what draws us to places. Spain has just never interested me... possibly I've always thought of it as far too hot and arid for my taste and yet the north is not and it has a nice coastline on The Med. And hundreds of thousands of my fellow countrymen and women flock there every year to holiday or live. Just not me. I am watching a walking programme set in Spain though. It's called The Road to Santiago and has some British celebrities walking a pilgrim's route across Spain. You might like it too... it's a BBC2 programme.

Nan said...

So amazing to me. There they are going to Spain and all I want to do is be there! Hot weather is just not my thing at all.

Cath said...

Nan: As we were saying with Kay somewhere else... it's a typical example of a country I'm happy to read about but have no wish to visit. And in fact I quite like the fact that I'm improving my knowledge of Spain this year - I could do with doing the same with a few others...