You’ve honestly not read this?
It’s a memoir about growing up in the bits of Gloucestershire that progress skipped, starting just before World War I but with barely any reference to the outside world. Lee had been to a lot of other places between living this life and writing about it, as he took the money he got for getting poems published and walked to London in the 30s, then hopping on a boat to Spain to busk with his fiddle just before the Civil War. The skill with words that got him out of Slad, with its claustrophobia and insularity, helped him catch what it was like precisely, and the distance and perspective he had on it made some of what he’d left precious. Only some; he’s unflinching about what agriculture was like in those days and it’s hardly any surprise that he was so keen to see what else was out there. Looking back on it is less nostalgia than near-disbelief that it could have been like that in his lifetime.
This is a book to read slowly. Not just to get the feel of that time’s pace but because, sentence by sentence, Lee makes better use of simple language than almost anyone. Quite apart from that accomplishment, it is the ideal book to simultaneously allow the reader to de-stress and to count his or her blessings. You can see why he fled to London but also why he came back.
By Tat Wood