It is for his prose that I love the writing of Laurie Lee, although it’s darn near poetry anyway. Cider with Rosie was what started this love affair, the flames were fanned by Village Christmas, a slim little number that had me wanting to be ‘carol-barking’ with the young Laurie and the boys from the village choir, trudging through the snow and being given food and hot drinks.
That speaks to his power of writing. I mean who in their right mind would want the poverty and the poor accommodation of his early life? He was happy though, he knew what to expect with each season as behoves a true countryman. His Mother loved him and his siblings, his Dad having left Lee’s Mum with children from his previous marriage and the children they had together, then departed the scene only to show up occasionally and send money at about the same rate. Village Christmas does cover a wide range of other subjects besides Christmas, festivities and seasons: Things I Wish I Had Known at 18, Chelsea Towards the End of the Last War, The Lords of Berkeley Castle, The Lake District, and the Lying in State of Churchill to name a few.
As I Walked out One Midsummer Morning has Laurie leaving his beloved Slad and walking slowly to the coast and eventually London and the next stage of his life. Becoming a builder’s labourer keeps him in food and shelter until the building work is finished.
By this time he’s keen to see abroad and has learned to ask for a glass of water in Spanish, so the choice is obvious. Arriving in 1935, he makes his way from north to south, living with the people (especially the girls). Laurie witnesses the dissatisfaction and poverty which led to the start of the Spanish Civil War, and when war starts he is rescued along with other expats by a British warship.
These delightful books are written from the retrospective of an exile. Laurie has been accused of an incurable leaning towards nostalgia and to quote the man himself “The only truth is what you remember”. This fan is delighted with nostalgic excess.
Another poet, another nostalgic read — Dylan Thomas‘s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Thomas’s writing is also evocative of another time and place and gives such a warm glow – despite the snow which arrived from the heavens each and every Christmas without fail. Firing snowballs at cats and writing naughty snow messages were a regular event. Written as an adult with sly humour, this creates pictures in my head that make me laugh aloud.
More grown up — but even more entertaining — is Under Milk Wood. The library has it as a narrated play, a talking book to lose yourself in, and play form in a book. Join the dreamers of Llareggub:
- No Good Boyo a lazy young fisherman who dreams peevishly of “nothing”, though he does fantasise about Mrs. Dai Bread Two in a wet corset and is known for causing shenanigans in the wash house,
- Myfanwy Price and Mog Evans who conduct a romance entirely by correspondence and dreams,
- Mrs Organ Morgan wife of Mr Organ Morgan who plays the organ constantly,
- Mr and Mrs Willy Nilly, he’s the postman and together they open the mail each morning, so they can spread the news around the village.
- Mr Pugh, the schoolmaster who would dearly like to murder the domineering Mrs Pugh and hopefully orders the book “The Lives of Great Poisoners”,
- Dai Bread the bigamist baker who dreams of harems,
- Mrs. Dai Bread One, Dai Bread’s first wife, traditional and plain and
- Mrs. Dai Bread Two, Dai Bread’s second wife, a mysterious and sultry gypsy.
Prepare to lose yourself in Llareggub as your narrator takes you from dawn to dusk with a host of exuberant, very human and memorable characters.
Milkwood was 20 years in the writing and is viewed as the best radio play ever written.
I’ve been stumbling around in my head for words to describe Thomas’s and Lee’s hold on me and why their work brings me such pleasure, but was bowled over completely and failed. I think silver-tongued, spellbinding weavers of words gives you an idea of their work — but read and listen for yourself, and see what you think.
Despite all of these books being written later in the author’s life, and being set long before my time, they reach me still. Do you find yourself reading nostalgia from before your time? Of your time? Do you revel in a read that makes you smile and feel good?