Cummings’ Goings: A Laurie Lee Birthday tipple? Cider, or a fine Rioja

Almuñécar, Andalucía / Photo: Drozdowski

Almuñécar, Andalucía / Photo: Drozdowski - Credit: Archant

BBC Gloucestershire’s Mark Cummings discusses renowned local writer Laurie Lee, author of Cider With Rosie. This year marks the centenary of Lee’s birth, which is being celebrated across the region.

On June 26, I think it should be a legal requirement for everyone in the Cotswolds to rummage around for their favourite drinking receptacle, fill it to the top with some cool refreshing zingy cider and drink a deep, thirst-quenching, celebratory toast to a very special birthday boy. This would have been Laurie Lee’s 100th birthday.

There will be all sorts going on to mark the anniversary including the radio recreation of one of Laurie’s greatest works, ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’. He set off on a walk from Slad in 1934, taking about 18 months to make his way to the town of Almunecar on the south coast of Spain. I’m currently reading it and want to share a passage with you from the early stage of his adventure. He details leaving Stroud after a hearty breakfast cooked by his mother and sets off spending several weeks walking and sleeping rough on his way to the south coast. He describes walking through Malmesbury and Chippenham, eventually making it down to Southampton where he busks along the south coast with his constant companion, his violin. This extract from his leg to London wonderfully describes the effortless fitness of youth:

“Next day, getting back on to the London road, I forgot everything but the way ahead. I walked steadily, effortlessly, hour after hour, in a kind of swinging, weightless dream. I was at that age which feels neither strain nor friction, when the body burns magic fuels, so that it seems to glide in warm air, about a foot off the ground, smoothly obeying its intuitions. Even exhaustion, when it came, had a voluptuous quality, sleep was caressive and deep, like oil. It was the peak of the curve of the body’s total extravagance, before the accounts start coming in”

Wow! How lucky are we to have this genius as part of the warp and weft of where we live. At BBC Radio Gloucestershire we will be recreating the walk, exploring some of the issues he encountered along the way and examining how they are still relevant in our world in the Cotswolds today.

My colleague Chris Baxter will be walking through the Stroud Valleys exploring life then and now. Laurie talks about the influence of his mother so we will explore the role of women in the 1930s. Chris will walk over Salisbury Plain focussing on the wild flower meadows which are described in the book, along the south coast where he made a pretty penny busking and through London where he worked as a labourer. Chris will be joined by various experts and people who knew Laurie well.

On the 26th I’ll present my Breakfast Show from Slad and Chris will continue the celebrations live from Almunecar. When it comes to making a long pan-European journey to find work, we will examine the reverse route where high unemployment in Spain has now led to many Spanish making the opposite journey. The element of this 100th birthday party that really excites me and I hope would have thrilled Laurie is a project we have launched with some adult literacy groups where they are learning to read and write and many are going to learn extracts of As I walked out... and perform them at The Laurie Lee Festival in Stroud in June.

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