Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

Another writer I once liked very much is Gerald Brenan. Brenan served with distinction in the first world war and afterwards carted 2,000 books to Yegen, a remote village in the Sierra Nevada, to eke out his family allowance and educate himself. He was a great walker. From his house in Yegen he walked 57 miles in two days to Almeria to buy second-hand furniture, and once he walked the 71 miles to Malaga in 28 hours to meet friends. A lifelong friendship with Ralph Partridge drew him into the Bloomsbury group of writers and artists, and he spent years trying to get his well-developed leg over Dora Carrington, Partridge's wife. Lytton Strachey visited him at Yegen, suffering agonies from his haemorrhoids on the mule trek from the coast. Brenan's book about his Yegen years, South From Granada , published in 1957, was an instant travel classic. When I was introduced to the book ten years ago, what passes for my imagination was enflamed by it.

The following winter (I am such a fool) I rented a cottage in a village not far from Yegen, intending to live as simply, stoically and mindfully as Brenan had done in his cottage, and perhaps to write, and take epic walks, and experience at first hand the rustic atmosphere that Brenan had so wonderfully evoked in his book. The village crouched in a sunless valley; the cottage was thick-walled, built by the Moors. And I hated the place. The village was dismal; the cottage a chilly cave. But I conscientiously made the pilgrimage along the mountain paths to see Brenan's house at Yegen. It was more bourgeois than the rustic hovel he'd described, even allowing for subsequent renovations. Yegen, too, was unrecognisable from the one so lovingly portrayed. Everything was a disappointment. Connected now to the rest of Spain by a two-lane highway, the district was disappointingly modern. Worse still, I was a disappointment to myself. I neither walked after that nor wrote. I hardly read. Instead I watched old box-set DVDs on the telly or went to the bar in the next village where I became the declared love interest of a lonely alcoholic shepherd. I nearly went mad.

Then I met Lynda. We were queuing for fruit and veg at the back of the van that stopped in our village twice a week. She was tall and very present and spoke quietly, almost in a whisper, and the slightest exertion made her breathless. …

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