Derek Turner takes a look at 'Down in the Valley', a slender, but well-conceived volume that revisits the scenes of Laurie Lee's classic of English rural writing.
Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie (1959) is a classic of English rural writing, lauded for its evocation of Gloucestershire’s Slad Valley in the early 20th century and the last days of an intensely experienced, millennium-old way of life.
This slender, but well-conceived volume revisits some of these scenes and themes and adds new ones through interviews conducted with Lee in 1994, three years before his death.
We return to the village pond, with its swimming children, coots and the corpse of poor suicidal Miss Flynn. We find ourselves exploring old ways across the hilltops made impassable by ‘fallen trees and rocks, and abandoned cavaliers, cannon, armour’, carousing in the Woolpack and superstitiously shunning slumped cottages and sinister gibbets.
We encounter the valley’s eccentric inhabitants and some of Lee’s closely observed and unpretentious poetry: ‘And the partridge draws back his string/and shoots like a buzzing arrow/over grained and mahogany fields.’
The author embraced modernity, even as he regretted its ravages. He relished James Joyce, jazz, travel and even war (he volunteered to fight Franco), but was always aware of the brooding presences underlying daily life. Beneath Slad’s slopes lay deep sleepers, from the Stone Age to people he’d known in his youth. Behind the spinking blackbirds, stridulating grasshoppers and strains of Elgar, he heard timeless stories told in West Country dialect or the tones of the King James Bible.
Lee read great books in the greenwood and, when he drank summer’s cider with the blooming Rosie, he felt rooted in an English Arcadia, at one with the ancients.
This is a charming tribute to a genial and gifted author, who blended darkness with light and realism with romance to superb effect in the service of a special place – and of all England.
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