There’s a wonderful richness of folklore, legends and stories about apples in England, especially in the West Country where apple growing is a deep-rooted tradition. This is my version of an Apple Day tale, Lazy Lawrence, based on an oral story collected by the celebrated folklorist Ruth L. Tongue. Allegedly the name ‘Lazy’ Lawrence derives from the inability to walk after drinking too much cider, as in: ‘Lazy Lawrence has got your legs!’
A story! A story! Listen to its flavour!
There’s a name that everyone in Devon, Dorset or Somerset used to know: Lazy Lawrence - the pixie pony, the faerie horse, the spritely stallion that gallops around the West Country orchards guarding the apple trees and protecting their juicy treasures. And some old folk still remember that picking other people’s apples risks a perilous encounter with Lazy Lawrence, for if roused to action he could give a nasty nip with his teeth or a cracking kick with his hooves. Worse still, if he caught you in the glare of his glowing green eyes you’d be transfixed, rooted to the spot, unable to move a muscle except your lips to cry: “Lazy Lawrence let me go, don’t hold me winter and summer too!”
My story begins a few years ago in deepest Dorset where there lived an old farmer and his wife, who between them owned a big and bountiful apple orchard. It was a wild and wonderful place, filled with rows of twisted trees that each autumn produced an abundance of ripe, rosy fruit of sundry varieties: there were apples for eating, apples for keeping, apples for cooking and apples for turning into cider. The old couple looked after the orchard with tender care, and neither did they neglect the orchard denizen, Lazy Lawrence. Every evening they left him a bucket of cool, clear water and a dish of thick, fresh cream. Sure enough every morning both bucket and bowl were empty.
But the fruit farmers had a nasty neighbour: a mean, malicious man; as bitter and twisted as sour cider. Living alone at the edge of the village he spent all his time studying dark magic from ancient books until he became a powerful conjurer, using his sorcery to serve his own selfish desires and harm others. That year, in October, he looked upon the old orchard of ripening fruit with jealous eyes and determined to use his magic steal the apples from the branches – partly from greed, partly from spite. But he was well aware of Lazy Lawrence, the supernatural guardian amongst the trees, so, like a spider spinning a web, the cunning conjuror carefully laid his plans…
First of all the sorcerer bought a huge wicker basket, as big as a farm cart, onto which he wove magical spells of protection and levitation. Then one clear autumnal evening, as the Hunter’s Moon rose, he climbed into the basket and began to sail it across the night sky. He landed the flying basket right in the middle of the orchard, then using more sorcery began to remove the apples from the trees and into the basket beneath him.
Pretty soon he’d nearly stolen every last apple from every last tree. Every apple, that is, except one: a big Bramley that still clung stubbornly to its branch. But the sorcerer was so selfish and spiteful that he couldn’t bear to leave even one single apple in the farmer’s orchard. Multiplying his magical enchantments he strained with outstretched fingers… until with a sudden crack the apple finally snapped from its stalk. With great force it flew through the air and hit the sorcerer full square in his left eye. Falling backwards out of the basket, he hit the ground with a loud cry of pain – which was immediately answered by a horse’s whinny. There was Lazy Lawrence with flashing eyes and bared teeth, and before he could scramble back into the basket the conjurer was soundly nipped and kicked round and around the orchard. Eventually, turning to face his foe he, was caught in the full glare of Lazy Lawrence’s green eyes and was suddenly transfixed, rooted to the spot, unable to move a muscle except his lips to cry: “Lazy Lawrence let me go, don’t hold me winter and summer too!”
But Lazy Lawrence didn’t let him go and the sticky-fingered sorcerer stayed there all night long, as stiff as a scarecrow, until eventually as the morning sun crept into the orchard the spell was broken. As soon as he was free the mean magician ran as fast as he could - out of the orchard, out of the village, right out of Dorset and into Somerset. Perhaps he’s still running today, only he can’t go as fast as he’d like on account of only having the sight in one eye!
When the farmer and his wife came to the orchard later that morning they found all their apples already picked and packed in a big wicker basket: apples for eating, apples for keeping, apples for cooking and apples for turning into cider. They also noticed dozens of horse’s hoof-prints underneath the apple trees and knew that Lazy Lawrence, sentinel of the orchard, had done his job.