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Long ago and far away
on 23 August 2007
"They said: `You're Laurie Lee, aren't you? Well just you sit there for the present.' I sat there all day but I never got it. I ain't going back there again." This is Laurie Lee's unforgettable description of his first day at school.
I have a special affection for this book, as my mother grew up in the Stroud area and was only two years younger than Laurie. Even if they didn't actually know each other, it is very likely that they met.
The story manages to be both lyrical and realistic. One minute it presents a childhood idyll, next you are faced with death - sometimes sad, sometimes brutal.
The core of the story is the life of Laurie's large and boisterous family, living in cheerful poverty in their Cotswold cottage, and above all his mercurial, warm-hearted mother (his father plays only a bit-part in events). "She was an artist, a light-giver, and an original, and she never for a moment knew it."
It is a common tendency to look back on the period of one's youth as a turning point in history, but when you read the last chapter you will understand Laurie's claim "The village had a few years left, the last of its thousand, and they passed almost without our knowing".
Rosie really did exist. Indeed, she outlived Laurie, and in 2004 she was interviewed by BBC Radio Gloucestershire (in relation to her role in the story, she suggested that Laurie was "prone to exaggeration"!)
There were two excellent TV adaptations of the story in 1971 and 1998, starring respectively Rosemary Leach and Juliet Stevenson, and both are available on DVD. There was a third adaptation in 2015, also out on DVD, but it is less true to the book's content and spirit.
The book is as golden as the cider of the title - read it and delight.