This memoir of growing up in the Slad Valley, the idyllic pre-War Cotswold landscape made famous by Cider With Rosie (1960), explores Laurie Lee’s continuing impact on the place.
It begins a year after poer’s death in 1997 with an epic, drunken cycle ride through the heart of the Valley when the locals dressed up as Lee. They called it The Night of a Thousand Laurie Lees and stopped at every pub, raising their fedoras, signing books, singing and carousing in celebration of the poet and novelist. The book ends with a spirited defence of the preservation of the landscape and community centred on Lee’s beloved Woolpack pub.
This centenary celebration of a poetic presence in the Valley is the first book on Lee’s impact since Valerie Grove’s The Well-Loved Stranger in 1999 and takes the narrative back to the Seventies and forward. Lee famously left the Valley in 1934 and walked to London and a literary life in Soho, Fitzrovia and the GPO Film Unit, returning to document his life and out of the Valley in poetry and prose. When Lee asked the young poet whether he was writing, Horowitz replied that he was going to summer writing classes. Lee raised his eyebrows and doubted that he needed them gesturing to the party, the valley, the world outside and his slopping drink.
The narrative celebrates the literary and artistic connections of the Valley, its local families and his own immersion in poetry, song and books. Horovitz writes:
I was taught to delve into the landscape aesthetically rather than
physically, so I learned to float into the names of flowers, lost in the
beauty of cowslip and campion, dead nettle and Michaelmas daisy,
beech tree and ash, but not much of immediate practical value was
hard-pressed upon me. The valley was a palimpsest of imagination,
of the living and dead, and was accessible only through though.
At the heart of his childhood memories are his mother’s reading voice, with its delicate articulation, and poems, which he places in the context of her absent husband and the darkness of nearby Keensgrove wood. Frances Horovitz was stilled and enthralled by the Valley, eventually leaving for a life with the poet, Roger Garfitt. Horovitz recalls visiting guests, such as John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Tom Pickard, and liberally quotes from Lee, cites his father’s long poem, Midsummer Morning Jog Log, written in the Valley in 1984-5, other local poets, and the poems that fired his childhood imagination. Poetry readings, epic parties, bicycles, pubs, and the changing nature of agriculture, the struggle to save the Valley from unwanted development, all feature in this story of roots and gradual self-understanding. The narrative’s arc sees Horovitz returning to his parental home and becoming a fine poet in his own right:
Bluetits pick at the last rotten apple
on an unattended tree.
As shadow swallows the garden
I sit on a log and defy the night.
A bat deftly manoeuvres
through intricate webs of dew-laden pine.
I close my eyes and call your name.
It echoes around the valley,
the sound undulating
through trees and hills,
until my cry is a mantra,
chanted by the whole immediate world
of night creatures, plants and spirits.
The book, illustrated throughout by Jo Sanders and has 28 pages of lavish colour photographs by Dan Brown, is a delight and joy to read.
David Caddy 1st June 2014