Slow Cotswolds

  • A year spent with Laurie Lee

    I have spent a year reading a book by Laurie Lee. It's not that I'm a slow reader; I deliberately chose to take a year to read the book. I began on 1st January 2016 and finished today.

    The book, published in 2015 by Penguin Books, is titled 'Village Christmas And Other Notes on the English Year'. On the inner sleeve the book is described as 'a moving, lyrical portrait of England through the changing years and seasons.' It's divided into four chapters - Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn and within those there are six or seven short passages of prose. Hence, I decided to spend the year reading the book and began with some of the short pieces from 'Winter' back in January 2016, looked forward to 'Spring' and 'Summer' and enjoyed 'Autumn' amid the first frosts and changing leaves. Today I read the last few passages within Winter.

    As always, Laurie Lee's writing is sublime; words that one can indulge and sink into. He writes about carol-singing in his village as a young boy and the unforgettable childhood moments of waking up on Christmas morning to a bulging stocking. He describes 'the indestructible old lady' who previously owned the cottage he lived in when he returned to Slad as an adult, finding his love of gardening in 'Spring' and his memories of a childhood summer with its 'warm green breath on the eyelids'. He talks of how Slad had changed between the time he left home (when he was 19 years old) and when he returned some 25 years later and how the pet dog has replaced the pig in villagers' gardens. And he comedically mentions the schoolgirls who, studying Cider With Rosie, visit Slad and unwittingly ask Laurie Lee if he could direct them to his grave. He responds that they'll most likely find him 'buried in the public bar' of his beloved Woolpack Inn 'most days'.

    There are other short pieces, in particular about his time living in London but of all the languid poetry that seeps through the pages, my favourite is his description in 'Autumn' of the Harvest Festival. It's a moment when he returns to the Stroud Valleys from London as an adult. He writes, "Never had I seen a landscape more tender, more inexhaustible in its variety, more jewel-like in its reflections of sky, leaf, stone and water. Since leaving the district, more than twenty years ago, I have travelled through some forty countries, but I know now that the green crumpled valleys around Stroud are unique in their beauty of contour, intimacy, pastoral charm, and in the shining light that fills them."

    Simple and perfect. The Cotswolds are indeed very special.

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