Rosie Burdock

Some books mark you. Such a book is Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, a paean to the Gloucestershire countryside around Slad. It is a book of almost undefinable beauty, a countryman’s book. You can smell the heat of summer, heady with blossoms and hormones. The end, if you will, of an age of innocence. Of different times and places. That painful, industrial even, transition into post-World War II Britain.

For myself, living mostly in the cradle of Harold Wilson’s of British industry, its white heat fuelled by coal, the black gold of Yorkshire, the West Country of Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire was full of magic. I, like my sister, was sent to boarding school at 13 in the earnest belief that it would turn us into gentleman and lady respectively. It taught neither the necessary skills. To this day I forget to hold doors open for ladies, to doff my hat in their presence, and so on. I was, by their standards something of a disappointment.

But growing up in the West Country taught me to distinguish the seasons, to mark their passing, their transition in buds, leaves, and the opening of flowers. It taught me their scents, nights hot with hibiscus and night scented stock. To this day, some perfumes transport me backward to those days, late summer evenings, the rusty gate squeaks of crickets in the fields.

I met my girl in the long hot summer of ’74 and I see her still, silhouetted against the sunset, beckoning me to her with curling finger. She was called – well, you didn’t really think I would give away her name did you. For me, she was Rosie Burdock, the eponymous beauty of Lee’s book, whose cider-hot kisses beneath the hay wain lyrically defined his book.

Savernake Forest, in June 1974. Lying on trampled bracken, light filtered through beech leaves, rustling in the wind. Her raven hair, hazel eyes and pale freckles, bows, buttons and fancy complicated clips and zips. As clear today as they were some nearly 50 years ago. Our lips, tingling with cider, close enough to kiss or to withdraw. Pupils dilated, black pools of lust. Time stood still.

We carved our initials inside a heart in the bark of a large beech with my penknife and held hands, swaying with the cider.

When I finished reading Laurie Lee’s book, I was inexplicably saddened. So many books give so much yet, in a way, this book took from us. It described a passage into adulthood, a path through the hedgerows and bracken. But it also closed that door behind us. Innocence lost can never be recovered.

Rosie married, but not me. Still lives in Gloucestershire I believe. We exchange Christmas cards. You can still see those initials carved in the tree in Savernake Forest. If you know where to look.