This is a book I always thought I had read. Soon after starting to read it I realized I hadn’t. I think it is such a familiar book, it’s easy to assume reading of it must have taken place at some time. My copy looks well read and has sat on my shelf for such a long time, I don’t have any idea where it came from. However, whether it was a re-acquaintance or new acquaintance I was very happy to pass the time of day with ‘Cider with Rosie’.
Cider with Rosie is the story of Laurie Lees Childhood in a remote Cotswold Village in the period soon after the First World War.
“All my life was the war and the war was the world. Now the war was over, so the end of the world had come”
The book opens with the most wonderfully fresh descriptions of his countryside home.
“[the grass] towered above me and all around me, each blade tattooed with tiger skins of sunlight. It was knife-edged, dark and a wicked green, thick as a forest and alive with grasshoppers that chirped and chattered and leapt through the air like monkeys”
First impressions are not always reliable as it soon becomes evident that despite the idyllic beauty of the landscape these were hard times. Laurie and his family lived a hand to mouth existence where danger lurked at every tree covered, grass scented corner, and where food was often in short supply.
“There was rain in my shoes and mother disappeared. I never expected to see another day”
When food was freely available it was gorged on with wild abandon “We grabbed and dodged and passed and snatched and packed our mouths like pelicans”.
Nowhere is the grimness of the times more evident than in a particularly distressing tale of an elderly couple. The couple had spent their whole lives together surviving through the ‘durability of their love’. At the end of their lives when no longer able to care for themselves or each other they are separated, torn from their home and taken to the work house. Movingly Lee comments
“ It was the first time in all their fifty years they had ever been separated. They did not see each other again, for in a week they were both dead……Divided their life went out of them, so they ceased as by mutual agreement.”
The book is undeniably evocative and prods regularly at all the senses. Taste and smell are sharply awoken particularly with descriptions of food.
“There was a smell of sharp lemons and salty butter, and a burning hiss of oil” I yearned to eat those freshly cooked buttery pancakes after reading that.
Apart from the beautifully poetic language which I loved I was in awe of Laurie Lees Memory of his childhood. He didn’t write this until 1959, and yet his recollections for not just events but feelings, smells, and textures too is so clear
Cider with Rosie is the first in a trilogy and I certainly plan to read the following two books.