Laurie Lee described this, his best-loved and best-known book, as ‘a recollection of early boyhood’, adding the acknowledgement that ‘some facts may have been distorted by time’. Whether or not they have, as one critic put it, ‘Cider with Rosie seems true as long as you’re reading it – and that’s the most important thing.’
Lee was born in Stroud in 1914, and in 1917 the family moved to a damp and crumbling cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Slad. Laurie’s father abandoned his wife and children when the war was over, and Laurie grew up in a family dominated by women, chief of whom was his mother, a dreamer of dreams who ‘loved the world and made no plans, had a quick holy eye for natural wonders and couldn’t keep a neat house for her life’. Alone she brought up the three daughters of her husband’s first marriage and four children of her own.
In the years during and after the First World War a village like Slad, deep in its remote Cotswold valley, was a small self-contained world. Despite the poverty, for Laurie the hugger-mugger home and the village with its familiar characters and its unchanging round were full of wonder. He writes ecstatically of going blackberrying in summer, playing in the fields when the grass was ‘June high’, skating and carol singing in icy Christmas weather when it hurt to breathe and the air was ‘like needles’. Yet village life could be brutal, and he acknowledges its bitter side too, the grief and violence, the neighbours destined for the workhouse. Illustrated by John Ward, Cider with Rosie is not just a rosy picture of a rural past, but a magical evocation of growing up in a lost world that rings emotionally true.