Of fires, bicycles and buffoons (no, of Mother)

Talking about wonderful things, I had completely forgotten just how wonderful Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie really is. Here are some passages in which he talks about his mother …

  • maintaining (or not maintaining) a fire:

… most of Mother’s attention was fixed on the grate, whose fire must never go out. When it threatened to do so she became seized with hysteria, wailing and wringing her hands, pouring on oil and chopping up chairs in a frenzy to keep it alive. In fact it seldom went out completely, though it was very often ill. But Mother nursed it with skill, banking it up every night and blowing hard on the bars every morning. The state of our fire became as important to us as it must have been to a primitive tribe. When it sulked and sank we were filled with dismay; when it blazed all was well with the world; but if – God save us – it went out altogether, then we were clutched by primeval chills. Then it seemed that the very sun had died, that winter had come for ever, that the wolves of the wilderness were gathering near, and that there was no more hope to look for.

  • riding a bicycle:

… she’d borrow Dorothy’s bicycle, though she never quite mastered the machine. Happy enough when the thing was in motion, it was stopping and starting that puzzled her. She had to be launched on her way by running parties of villagers; and to stop she rode into a hedge. With the Stroud Co-op Stores, where she was a registered customer, she had come to a special arrangement. This depended for its success upon a quick ear and timing, and was a beautiful operation to watch. As she coasted downhill towards the shop’s main entrance she would let out one of her screams; an assistant, specially briefed, would tear through the shop, out the side door, and catch her in his arms. He had to be both young and nimble, for if he missed her she piled up by the police-station.

  • as a light-giver:

Our Mother was a buffoon, extravagant and romantic, and was never wholly taken seriously. Yet within her she nourished a delicacy of taste, a sensibility, a brightness of spirit, which though continuously bludgeoned by the cruelties of her luck remained uncrushed and unembittered to the end. Wherever she got it from, God knows – or how she managed to preserve it. But she loved this world and saw it fresh with hopes that never clouded. She was an artist, a light-giver, and an original, and she never for a moment knew it.

To love this world and live in it with hope and as a light-giver – what more can we want?

As I have said before, I adore Lee’s language, which, in the first example, is almost apocalyptic. I also admire his humour (I love the chopping up of chairs just in order to maintain a fire as well as the bicycle episode) and his attitude of gratefulness, which pervades not only the last of these paragraphs but indeed the entire book, making it a truly pleasant read.

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