Years ago, I picked up an illustrated hardcover copy of Cider With Rosie, Laurie Lee's recounting of his early days in west country England just after the First World War. Originally published in 1959, my copy was released in 1984.
I don't know how I came by the book - I think I got it because of the illustrations. It sat about the house for a few years before I read it.
It took me to a place and time I wish I could have visited, with its hardship and beauty. One particular passage comes back to me every Christmas. I hope I'm not breaking any laws by inserting this excerpt, but I feel I must share it with you on this day of unrelenting snow.
The boys set out on their annual caroling trek, visiting the various manors around their little village. Their last stop is Joseph's farm.
We grouped ourselves round the farmhouse porch. The sky cleared, and broad streams of stars ran down over the valley and away to Wales. On Slad's white slopes, seen through the black sticks of its woods, some red lamps still burned in the windows.
Everything was quiet; everywhere there was the faint crackling silence of the winter night. We started singing, and were were all moved by the words and the sudden trueness of our voices. Pure, very clear, and breathless we sang:
As Joseph was a walking
He heard an angel sing;
'This night shall be the birth-time
Of Christ the Heavenly King.
He neither shall be borned
In housen nor in hall,
Nor in a place of paradise
But in an ox's stall...'
And two thousand Christmases became real to us then; the houses, the halls, the places of paradise had all been visited; the stars were bright to guide the Kings through the snow; and across the farmyard we could hear the beasts in their stalls. We were given roast apples and hot mince-pies, in our nostrils were spices like myrrh, and in our wooden box, as we headed back for the village, there were golden gifts for all.