As I walked out one midsummer morning
Title: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
Author: Laurie Lee
Reviewer: Caroline Robertson
In the depths of winter, you need a magic spell to transport you into a world of freedom, light-heartedness and sunshine, and this book is that spell. It is short, lyrical and it has no plot, no philosophy, no agenda: it is just a true tale of a young man who leaves his village home in early June to walk across the south of England to London and discover whatever life has to offer:
“It was 1934, I was nineteen years old, still soft at the edges, but with a confident belief in good fortune. I carried a small rolled-up tent, a violin in a blanket, a change of clothes, a tin of treacle biscuits and some cheese. As I left home that morning and walked away from the sleeping village, it never occurred to me that others had done this before me.”
Nowadays, we seem to over-think things and we have replaced simple, direct experience with complicated detached reasonings. In this book, he does only what any of us can do but don’t, so he does it for us. Fortune favours the bold, and because he is bold and he believes in good fortune, the gods smile and life is good to him.
In London, he works as a building labourer through the winter to earn money and thinks of settling down but “I remember standing one morning on the windy rooftop and looking at the racing sky and suddenly realizing I could go anywhere I liked in the world. There was nothing to stop me. I would be penniless, free, and could just pack up and walk away..” and then, solely because he knew the Spanish for a glass of water, he chooses to go to Spain.
And he does just that. It is that simple. He buys a ticket for a boat to Vigo in North Spain and, as early Summer comes again, he leaves England and, two days later, steps ashore in a foreign land. “I was in Spain, and the new life beginning. I had a few shillings in my pocket and no return ticket; I had a knapsack, blanket, spare shirt, and a fiddle and enough words to ask for a glass of water…”
It is this image in the book that transfixes me most of all: that sense of re-birth almost, of being completely free, uncluttered by attachments and possessions, without even language for conversation. And he walks from the North to the South of Spain, living by making music and depending on the open-handedness of a peasant country, finally settling in a coastal village to the East of Malaga in the months just before the darkest era in Spanish history: the Spanish Civil War.
“It started in the middle of July. There were no announcements, no newspapers, just a whispering in the street and the sound of a woman weeping…” and, just as the slaughter starts, a British destroyer moors near the beach to evacuate any British citizens and he leaves to return to England.
Read this book. It will only take you a long afternoon and it will transport you and fill you with warmth and hope If it also gives you with the urge to throw off all the clutter of your nasty urban life and take to the country lanes of rural England or the dusty paths of foreign landscapes, then so much the better!