Tuesday 2 May 2023

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Finished April 23
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee

This memoir covers from the summer of 1934 to late 1936. 19-year-old Laurie has never left the area of England he grew up in before this time, but he sets off on foot from his home in the Cotswolds heading for London. He has never seen the sea and so decides to go via Southampton, adding about 100 miles to his journey. As he walks he either eats what he has brought with him, what he finds on the land, or what he is given by those he passes by or stays with. He is not the only one on the road, and he at one point he travels with a long-term wanderer named Alf. I have to say that this reminded me of a homeless man I was once acquainted with, also named Alf, and made a connection to this fleeting glimpse of a person. Laurie finds a room in London and a job working construction and trying out various entertainments in the city. After nearly a year, when the building project he is one comes to an end, he realizes that he is free to go anywhere and he buys a one way ticket on a ship to Viga, Spain.
In Spain, he resumes his walking, stopping and playing his fiddle in the streets for what money people are willing to give. He has rudimentary Spanish, and lots of curiosity and he meets a wide variety of people from other travellers to locals from all walks of life. The heat he encounters is one thing he is unprepared for, and he finds himself suffering badly at times. 
We follow him as he goes to Valladolid, on to Madrid, and then to Toledo, stopping for varying lengths of time depending on how people react to his music and where he can afford to stay. He continues south, crossing the mountains into Andalusia stopping in Seville and then going down to the coast. After a brief visit to Gibraltar, he goes on along the coast, ending up in the town of Castillo. He had planned to go further, but at this point the Spanish Civil War breaks out in the area, and he finds himself going to ground there with the townspeople. Soon after, a British warship stops and offers a way out for him and the British writer who has been living there.
There is an epilogue that comes six months later when he finds himself once again at the Spanish border, looking to help those he grew to care about in his journey.
This is a very personal story, that gives a real sense of the world of the time, and the places and people that he met along the way. He wrote it more than three decades after the events contained in the book, with an eye to the bigger picture he didn't see at the time, so one gets a sense of the looming unrest, but it doesn't overtake his personal story. 
An enlightening read with a real sense of place and time. The language is beautifully descriptive. 

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