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Cummings' goings: Last drop of cider with Rosie

PUBLISHED: 12:05 27 October 2014 | UPDATED: 17:18 27 October 2014

Apple orchard in the Slad Valley

Apple orchard in the Slad Valley

Archant

Rosalind Buckland was a cousin by marriage of Laurie Lee and was the inspiration for his most famous work. Six million people have chosen to buy a copy of Cider with Rosie and I want to share with you the magical hour I spent with her about 10 years ago.

Mark with Rosalind Buckland, in 2005Mark with Rosalind Buckland, in 2005

A few days before she reached her 100th birthday we lost a twinkly, mischievous, wonderful woman who just happened to be, in her spare time, a literary icon. Rosalind Buckland was a cousin by marriage of Laurie Lee and was the inspiration for his most famous work. Six million people have chosen to buy a copy of Cider with Rosie and I want to share with you the magical hour I spent with her about 10 years ago.

It had been a rather long, bumpy, circuitous journey to her home in Leckhampton to share a drink of “golden fire, juices of the valley”. It started back in 1982 when our O-level reading list was produced and I had the joy of studying two books I’d later go on to read and re-read simply for the sheer pleasure. George Orwell’s 1984 and Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie landed on our desks and gave many of us a perfect excuse to burn the Pure Physics and Trigonometry for Idiots selection and head off down the happy literary path which by-passed the science block.

It’s strange how two totally different books can have such a profound effect and how decades later their subject matter can resonate in a way I would never have expected. Mr Watts (Charlie to us), our English teacher, was always keen to warn us that the Orwellian world of “Big Brother is Watching you” would be the one we’d all grow up into. In many ways he was right, but I never expected my other, gentler text to come to life in such a surprising and enchanting way.

When I studied Laurie’s childhood in Slad, I had never been to the Cotswolds. The Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and Scotland were the source of my childhood adventures, so quite naturally I assumed the author of an O-level text was obviously dead. I’m not the only one to make this assumption as every author you ever study at school has usually pegged it about 300 years before you dive into their words.

Fast forward 10 years and I find myself in Gloucestershire, quite surprised to hear that Laurie Lee is still alive and often to be found propping up the bar in The Woolpack. Then a few years after his death we found out that the real Rosie was still alive whilst we were researching a show I was to present from the Slad Valley. She very kindly granted me an audience and there I found myself on her doorstep with a box of chocolates and a bottle of ‘you know what’. We went through sections of the book and explored the picture Laurie painted of growing up in the period just after the First World War. They were all very poor – she remembered Laurie’s mum being a very strong but kind woman. She was always late for everything but was a massive influence on Laurie’s life.

Rosalind recalled vivid details of Laurie’s two aunties who always wore long dresses and bonnets. She confirmed how horrible one of their teachers was - this is the one who a child locked up in a cupboard in one passage from the book. They never left the valley when they were young apart from one special trip. She told tales of getting a charabanc to Weston for Slad’s big day out once a year which was an open-topped vehicle and took ages on the old Bristol Road. Winters were extremely harsh as they only had one fire and no central heating.

As for the key moment from the book, what really happened? Laurie’s version of this pivotal moment with cider-drinking Rosie under a haywain, “Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie’s burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again.” Rosalind told me they were there together in the field but she didn’t drink any cider and no funny business went on!

Over time she grew to accept and like the fact that the book was about her and indicated Laurie’s accounts were prone to exaggeration… but surely that’s how the best stories sometimes end on the page. When she grew up she married a policeman and lived in various locations across the county ending up in Leckhampton. She would occasionally pop over to Slad and meet up with Laurie and she produced for me a couple of notes he’d given her. One read “For Rosie who is never forgotten, Love Laurie.” My favourite, however, is this one. “To you know who, with long ago love, from you know who… The author/”

As my time with her was coming to an end I produced a bottle of cider from my bag and asked her if she’d share a glass with me. To our joint amusement she let me have the cider whilst she stuck with her tea claiming she didn’t really like the stuff and it was a bit early. Just to drink some apple juice with her was a magical moment and an interview I’ll never forget. Maybe if I’d stayed a bit later she might have had a sip of the ‘golden fire’ because there is a possibility she liked it more than she claimed. Her granddaughter Guila Gregory said: “She always maintained she never drank cider. I got her a bottle of Champagne for her 99th birthday and she said ‘Oh, it tastes like cider! She gave the game away there I think!”

November nibbles

Every picture tells a story...

Flicking through the photos on my phone recently it occurred to me what an amazing place and time we live in. Over the course of a few weeks I had photos of the Tour of Britain bike ride passing through Cranham, the magnificent sculptures of the Crucible2 exhibition at Gloucester Cathedral, my daughter going mad in The Shed cheering on Gloucester versus Sale, Obama in a helicopter leaving Fairford for Newport, the mad, irreverent mock mayor-making ceremony in Gloucester, and my camper van making friends at the rally at Berkeley Castle.

Cider with Humphreys...

I had a interesting chat with the new director of rugby at Kingsholm, David Humphreys. Apart from all the rugby talk I put him through the ‘either or’ round to find out a little more about the man. He prefers the Beatles to the Stones, Strictly to X Factor, beach holiday to adventure holiday, red wine to white, Twitter to Facebook and when asked which he preferred between bitter or lager he went for the careful West county approach - “Neither - it now has to be cider.”

Can we fix it? Yes we can...

I was bemoaning the lack of places there are these days where you can go and take something to be fixed. I have a beard trimmer that appears to have given up the ghost. However I haven’t had it that long and feel it would be lazy and exorbitant to chuck it and buy a new one. Then I heard about the Nailsworth Repair cafe who on given dates collect a group of ‘fixers’ together with specific skills and open the doors to people like me who are useless at repairing things. I’m about to meet this team so I’ll bring you a fuller picture of their work next month.

Playing to a home crowd

As part of this month’s Pets Issue I thought I’d share with you a great evening Tyler, my lurcher, and I had with a bunch of people who LOVE dogs. The Greyhound Rescue West of England team invited us to host a money-raising quiz evening for this brilliant charity. They rescue abused and abandoned greyhounds and lurchers, give them a safe future and find them permanent, loving homes. They need money for kennel fees, heating, bedding and vets’ bills.

A group of volunteers give their heart, soul, time and money to this so I was thrilled when we arrived to a packed Chantry Centre in Dursley. The night was a total sell-out and thousands of pounds was raised. Talk about being the centre of attention, never has a mutt walked into a room full of so many people who all love dogs. Tyler was in his element being fussed, cuddled, photographed and tickled. He hosted the quiz in a calm chilled lurcher style while I recounted the story of him being thrown over a fence (and abandoned) and landing on a tiled roof when a puppy, hence his name. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and then, when he performed a cabaret version of Who Let the Dogs Out the roof nearly came off. To find out more about becoming a friend of GRWE or adopting a dog yourself you can get in touch at enquiries@grew.com or visit them online at www.grwe.com

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This article is from the November 2014 issue of Cotswold Life

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