laurie lee: a walker-writer of genius

P10_Blythe_web_1095757hRonald Blythe at the Times Literary Supplement:

How he would have hated it – to be remembered as a centenarian. The youth with the violin and the spate of fresh words. He is best remembered as a walker-writer of genius. Like nearly everyone of his generation Laurie Lee had little option but to tread life out. First to the elementary school, its limitations forgiven, then the walks to sex, to love, to battle. These would keep him young in his own eyes until he died. It was not a bad way to deal with the years, to walk them out. To be the lad with the fiddle on life’s highway. But his lasting music was in the way he wrote in a carefully crafted hand which couldn’t tell prose from poetry.

Born in Slad, Gloucestershire in 1914, a village that lay in shade and caught little of the sun, he simply walked out of it one midsummer morning. It was not an original thing to do at the time, vagrancy being common. Patrick Leigh Fermor was eighteen when he set out for Greece. But their circumstances were vastly different. Lee’s first stop was a London building site. Neither would have heard about John Clare’s walk from Epping to Peterborough with bleeding feet. Theirs had an enchantment about it. However, there were dark companions, a whole army of them pushing prams piled with bedding, men in khaki greatcoats, women in headscarves, tramps, loners who trod from workhouse to workhouse. And cyclists free as birds but with few useful destinations. The bike had destroyed the parish boundary and its old demands. Shorts, Aertex shirts and Penguin books in the saddlebag, but not for Laurie Lee. He “took to the road” in 1934. The fields on either side of the road were cultivated but behind them lay an agricultural depression as bad if not worse than the workless backstreets of towns.

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