As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
First edition (UK)
|Cover artist||Shirley Thompson|
|Publisher||André Deutsch (UK)
Atheneum Publishers (US)
David R. Godine, Publisher (US)
|LC Class||PR6023.E285 Z463 1985|
|Preceded by||Cider with Rosie|
|Followed by||A Moment of War|
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As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) is a memoir by Laurie Lee, a British poet. It is a sequel to Cider with Rosie which detailed his life in post First World War Gloucestershire. The author leaves the security of his Cotswold village in Gloucestershire to start a new life, at the same time embarking on an epic journey by foot.
It is 1934, and as a young man Lee walks to London from his Cotswolds home. He is to live by playing the violin and by labouring on a London building site. When this work draws to a finish, and having picked up the phrase in Spanish for 'Will you please give me a glass of water?', he decides to go to Spain. He scrapes together a living by playing his violin outside the street cafés, and sleeps at night in his blanket under an open sky or in cheap, rough posadas. For a year he tramps through Spain, from Vigo in the north to the south coast, where he is trapped by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Experiencing a Spain ranging from the utterly squalid to the utterly beautiful, Lee creates a story which evocatively captures the spirit and atmosphere of the towns and countryside he passes through in his own distinctive semi-poetic style. He is warmly welcomed by the Spaniards he meets and enjoys a generous hospitality even from the poorest villagers he encounters along the way.
In 1934 Laurie Lee leaves his home in Slad, Gloucestershire, for London, one hundred miles away. Never having seen the sea before, he decides he will go by way of Southampton though it will add another hundred miles to his journey. He begins to walk towards the Wiltshire Downs.
He visits Southampton and it is here that he first tries his luck at playing his violin in the streets. His apprenticeship proves profitable and he decides to move eastwards. Lee makes his way along the south coast, to Chichester, to Bognor Regis, and then on again to Worthing. From there he turns inland and heads north for London. A few mornings later, coming out of a wood near Beaconsfield, he sees London at last. He finally meets up with his American girlfriend, Cleo, who is the daughter of an American anarchist.
Living with her family in a dilapidated house on Putney Heath, Lee tries to make love to her but she is too full of her father's political ideology. Her father finds him a job as a labourer and he is able to rent a room. However, he has to move on as his room is taken over by a prostitute, and ends up living with the Flynns, a Cockney family. He lives in London for almost a year as part of a gang of wheelbarrow pushers, supplying newly mixed cement to the builders. He whiles away his time wandering the London streets, scribbling poetry in his small bedroom and having occasional liaisons with some of the maids from the big houses around Putney Heath. However, once the building nears completion, he knows that his time is up and decides to go to Spain because he knows the phrase in Spanish for "Will you please give me a glass of water?". He pays £4 and takes a ship to Vigo, a port of the north-west coast of Spain.
He lands in Galicia in July 1935. The first half of his journey takes him from Vigo to Madrid. Joining up with a group of three young German musicians, he accompanies them around Vigo and then they split up outside Zamora. He sees a religious procession in Toro. Valladolid is an unpleasant city, full of beggars, cripples and beaten-down young Spanish conscripts.
He makes his way to Segovia, but spends only a few nights in the town because he is impatient to reach Madrid. He makes the long climb through the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains and is finally given a lift by two young booksellers in their van. Madrid is only the second major city he has seen, and he is impressed with it. He lives in a cheap posada and befriends Concha, the girl who buys his breakfast.
By August 1935 Lee reaches Toledo, where he has a meeting with the South African poet Roy Campbell and his family, whom he comes across while playing his violin in the open-air cafés in the Plaza de Zocodover. The Campbells invite him to stay in their house, which lies close to the cathedral. Campbell spends the daytime sleeping but comes to life in the evenings.
By the end of September Lee has reached the sea, having passed through Valdepeñas, Cordova, and Seville to reach Cádiz. Then he comes to the Sierra Morena mountains. Entering the province of Andalusia through fields of ripening melons, he sees the first signs of the southern people. Instead of taking the road south to Granada, he decided to turn west and follow the Guadalquivir, adding several months to his journey, and taking him to the sea in a roundabout way. He lives on fruit and dried fish, and sleeps at night in a yard in Triana a ramshackle barrio on the north bank of the river. It is here that he hears the first mention of the upcoming war.
Disliking Cadiz, Lee turns eastwards, heading along the bare coastal shelf of Andalusia. He hears talk of war in Abyssinia. He arrives at Tarifa, the southernmost point of Europe and moves on into the country, making another stop over in Algeciras, a town which he very much likes.
Half in love with Algeciras, he decides to stick to his plan to follow the coast round Spain, and sets off for Málaga. He makes a stop over in Gibraltar, is questioned by the police, and told to report to their station at night. It takes him five days to walk to Malaga.
In Málaga, he stays in a posada (an inn), sharing the courtyard with a dozen families who are mostly mountain people selling their beautiful hand-woven Alpujarras blankets and cloth in the city. Malaga was full of foreigners and everyone is very friendly apart from the English debs with 'that particular rainswept grey of their English eyes, only noticeable when abroad.' It is the young Germans who outnumber the rest of the colony, amongst them "Walter and Shulamith, two Jewish refugees, who had walked from Berlin carrying their one-year-old child."
Disaster seems to arrive during his last days in Malaga when his violin breaks. After his new line of work, acting as a guide to British tourists, is curtailed by local guides, he is then fortunate to meet a young German who gives him a violin for free . It had belonged to his girlfriend and she'd run off with a Swede.
In the winter of 1935 Lee decides to hole-up in Almuñécar, sixty miles east of Malaga. He manages to get work in a hotel run by a Swiss, Herr Brandt. The whole area is very poor, with the peasants just managing to scrape a living from the sugar cane grown in the delta, and from the sea. With nothing much to do in their spare time, Lee and his friend Manolo, the hotel's waiter, drink in the local bar alongside the other villagers. Manolo is the leader of a group of fishermen and labourers and they sit in a room at the back discussing the expected revolution.
In February the Socialists win the election and a Popular Front, People's Government, begins. In the spring, the villagers, in an act of revolt, burn down the church but then change their minds when Feast Day arrives and the images of Christ and the Virgin are brought out into the open, loaded as usual on the fishermen's backs. In the middle of May, there is a strike and the peasants come in from the countryside to lend their support as the village splits down the middle between 'Fascists' and 'Communists'. There is also hope in the air that the working class will see an improvement to their living conditions.
In the middle of July 1936 war breaks out. General Francisco Franco, had flown from the Canaries to lead the rebels. Manolo and El Gato (the leader of one of the new-formed unions) start to organise a militia. Granada is held by the rebels, and so is Almuñécar's neighbour Altofaro, ten miles down the coast. Almuñécar is mistakenly fired on by a Government warship that thinks it is shelling rebel-held Altofaro. Lee hears on Radio Sevilla Queipo de Llano exulting in the fall of the city. Finally, a British destroyer from Gibraltar arrives to pick up any British subjects who might be marooned on the coast. Lee and the English novelist from whom he is renting a room are taken on board.
The epilogue describes Lee's return to his family home in Gloucestershire and his desire to help his comrades in Spain. He is held back by a liaison with a wealthy lover but finally decides to make his way through France to cross the Pyrenees into Spain. After a desperate climb starting from Ceret in the foothills, in which he gets caught in a snow storm, he ends up in another French village. Here he is helped by a peasant, after another tortuous climb through the thick snow, to cross the border once more into Spain.
An insight into the origin of the title of the book is found in the second episode the BBC Four documentary series Travellers' Century presented by Benedict Allen. In the episode, which looks at As I Walked Out..., a friend of Lee reveals that the title of the book comes from a Gloucestershire folk song. The traditional song 'The Banks of Sweet Primroses' starts with the line "As I walked out one mid-summer morning'.
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- 'The Banks of Sweet Primroses' lyrics on Folkinfo.org
- As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Penguin Books (1971) ISBN 0140033181
- "Laurie Lee". Penguin Group (Canada). Retrieved 22 May 2007.
- Rick Price (3 December 2003). "Reading Room: Book Reviews: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee". www.ExperiencePlus.com. Archived from the original on 8 June 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2007.
- Petri Liukkonen. "Laurie Lee". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Archived from the original on 4 July 2013.