Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A Benchmark

I THOUGHT THAT I'd mentioned this book a while ago but, skimming back through the archives, it seems I hadn't? I know mon ami Coralie is an avid reader, and I've neglected her as regards book recommendations recently. But this one was worth waiting for, Mademoiselle Thabot.

I've read a few travel books; some good, some bad. As I Walked Out One Midsummer's Morning by Laurie Lee is an outstanding piece of work. Aged 18, in 1934 he set out from his home in the Cotswolds and walked to London to seek his fortune. After working as a labourer for a while he decided, on a whim, to take a boat to Spain...this despite having just one Castillian phrase in his linguistic arsenal. Arriving in the northern town of Vigo, he set off on foot through the countryside.

What follows is one of the most beautifully-written tales of a yesteryear Europe you could ever be fortunate enough to read. His descriptions are incredibly evocative and atmospheric; if his account of this wildly varied, colourful riot of country doesn't inspire you to visit Spain, then nothing will. His wanderings took him as far as Granada, where he was evacuated in 1936 by the Royal Navy as the civil war broke out.

I read this book in Mexico and Belize. It's always good to swap books on the road, but I couldn't bear to give this one away; particularly as my copy was a 70s edition, complete with intricate, almost Dickensian, pen-and-ink illustrations by Leonard Rosoman. So I gave it to Kneehead to take home and post from the UK, fearing the Belizean post office would lose it. Wouldn't you know it, the Glasgwegian posties managed to mislay it...it never made it home. I've since sourced another copy, I just hope it's the same one.

I'm planning a few months in Spain at some point, perhaps next summer, to follow in Laurie's footsteps. The journey couldn't possibly be as interesting as his; can you imagine how few people travelled in those days? But I'd like to do it as a pilgrimage to a writer who has inspired me.

If you pick up a copy, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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