I first read this book about twenty-five years ago when I was little older than Laurie Lee was in this memoir. It begins in 1934 with Laurie embarking on a journey from his home in the Cotswolds where he heads eastwards along the south coast of England and then towards London. He is young, clueless and naive, but therein lies the appeal of the book. The young Laurie is looking for adventure but doesn’t quite know where or how to find it. Coming to the end of a labouring job in London Laurie decides to travel abroad and when he notes that he knows the Spanish phrase for ‘Will you please give me a glass of water?’ he decides to get a one-way ticket to Spain. Arriving in the north-west city of Vigo he walks slowly southwards, with his fiddle-playing being his only source of income. By the end of the book he has made his way to the southern coastal town of Almuñécar where he stays for a while working in a hotel. However the civil war breaks out and Laurie ends up being evacuated back to Britain. The novel ends with Laurie making his way back into Spain across the French Pyrenees.
This is a wonderfully poetic book about youth and the joy of living. I decided to re-read it at this point because I noticed on the GoodReads page that it was first published on 12th December 1969—exactly fifty years ago today. I’ve tried to verify this date but have not had much luck, so I’ll choose to believe it until proved otherwise. The publication date is especially significant to me as it was also the day that I was born.
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. I was excited, vain-glorious, knowing I had far to go; but not, as yet, how far. 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.