The days are getting longer, the daffodils are peeping and Spring has truly sprung. At last we can say farewell to rotten old Winter though, to be fair, Mother Nature was kind to us this year. [Somehow I still think I will be shivering my way through the A-I Club Finals in Croker on St Patrick's Day as usual...but we'll see.] Anyhow, if you need some inspiration to get out of house then check out the following and transport yourself.
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (1959)
Laurie Lee was a man who both 'talked the talked' and 'walked the walk'. In 1934 he left his Gloucestershire village as a young man 'soft around the edges' and headed to London where he survived by busking with his violin and labouring. Tiring of that dreadful city, he went to Spain where he spent a year free-wheeling through the sun-baked countryside drinking wine, chasing the local girls, and sleeping under the stars. The Spanish Civil War was looming and Lee eventually made his escape on a British destroyer. Lee is an evocative and sensual writer and manages the delicate balance of being wide-eyed without being naive. If ever there was a writer who deserved Dryden's valediction - 'tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today' - it is the mighty, unbounded soul of Laurie Lee.
A Time Of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977)
A Time Of Gifts had such an impact on me as a teenager that I hot-footed it to Czechoslovakia after reading it but, unlike Patrick Leigh Fermor, I took the easy and bland route by plane. Fermor decided to walk, as his masterpiece's subtitle has it, 'from the Hook of Holland to the middle Danube'. Based on his travels through Europe in 1933/34, A Time Of Gifts was not published until 1977 when the author was 62. There is an inevitable nostalgia about the book - especially for a pre-Second World War Europe - but it never becomes cloying. In many ways it is a young person's book, brim full of the promises of youth before the compromises of maturity kick in. Fermor tempers the sense of adventure of his younger self with later reflections on history, art, and memory. Honestly, do yourself a favour and read it today. It is a treasure.
Edge of the Orison by Iain Sinclair (2005)
Iain Sinclair is one of the more interesting British writers around at the moment. His perennial theme is 'psychogeography', i.e. the study of the effects of the physical environment on the behaviour of individuals. Although Sinclair is regarded as the great British exponent of this, he sees a similar outlook in writers such as De Quincey, William Blake, and J.G. Ballard, not to mention the likes of Alan Moore, Peter Ackroyd, and Will Self who have been explicitly influenced by him. Edge of the Orison takes Sinclair out of his preferred urban environment to trace the route taken by the nineteenth-century poet John Clare from Essex to Peterborough. Sinclair is a dense and sometimes obtuse writer but his application of mythology and history to landscapes is never, ever dull. Well worth investigating. On a side note, Alan Moore claimed in an interview that Dublin was a city ripe for a psychogeographical study. It is a pity no Dublin writer has taken up this challenge. Too busy I suppose writing disguised autobiographies about 'family secrets'. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz......
The Rings Of Saturn by W.G Sebald (1998)
Now this is a bona fide masterpiece. The Rings Of Saturn is an account of a journey by the German writer and academic W.G. Sebald on foot through East Anglia. No mere travelogue, it is a meditation on a variety of topics from skulls, fishing boats, Joseph Conrad, and the role of sugar in the creation of art. Something readers find odd about The Rings Of Saturn is how disturbing it is. Sebald is invariably drawn to the pervasive presence of evil in the world and how helpless we seem to be in the face of it. This is contrasted with the gentility and generosity of the people he meets on his walk. It is a truly singular literary work and, though it may not be to everyone's taste, it is certainly worth exploring.