One of the good things about attending a TD day at work is that they usually finish earlier than my usual working day, which is especially good today as the weather is just so wonderfully brilliant. I’ve been counting down the hours until I could come home and hit the garden with a good book and a Lyons Maid Strawberry Mivvi, but the moment I stepped out of the school building I knew that it was just too hot to sit outside trying to read and cope with a drippy Mivvi. Rather than risk turning an unflattering shade of pink and possibly suffering from sunstroke, I decided to write a blog post and venture into the garden once it’s finished, which as I type at a snail’s pace it could be well after the sun has set.
Summer has always been my favourite season. It’s the one I remember most fondly as a kid and of course my childhood summers were full of endless hot, blue sky days when it never rained except for nights when storms had me burrowing under my orange brushed nylon sheets where the static electricity competed with the electrical flashes of lightning that lit the night sky. Summers were just the best, but what made them so memorable and fun and brilliant?
The end of the summer term at school could never arrive too soon as I knew that the first day of the holidays meant that mum and dad would wake us in the middle of the night and bundle us into our car that was stuffed to bursting point with what seemed like all of our worldly goods and go on holiday! We would drive heading southwest for what seemed like forever. The M4 and M5 didn’t exist and nor did dual carriageways, so we drove at a steady 50 to 40 miles an hour along country roads and through sleepy towns, stopping in lay-bys for coffee from the thermos, hardboiled eggs and wees behind the bushes.
More often than not we ended up in a caravan in Cornwall. Not the all singing, all dancing mobile homes you get today complete with all mod cons, but what was basically a tin hut on wheels with gas lamps that hissed and a two ring gas stove on which a kettle seemed to be permanently whistling. Stored under the caravan was all the paraphernalia needed for trips to the beach. Nets for exploring rock pools, lilos and my air-ring shaped like a swan, buckets and spades (long and short) and the all important windbreak which would mark out our territory. Money was tight and there was little left over after paying for the caravan for treats or visits, but that didn’t matter to us. All we needed was sand to dig, the sea to swim and cavorte in and being together as a family, especially as Dad usually spent most of his evenings at home in his shed surrounded by televisions that he enjoyed mending. We shivered changing out of wet cossies under homemade towelling ponchos, our skin toasted and was duly smothered in calamine lotion, and we ate eggs and bacon for breakfast instead of Shredded Wheat. Sand got everywhere in the caravan including between the sheets and we were told to ‘hang on’ when we needed the loo in the night rather than have to traipse over to the toilet block.
We went abroad when I was older which were great but looking back it was those early budget caravan holidays that I remember fondly for the simple pleasures and the anticipation of an adventure to a far off corner of the country.
Freedom and adventures
There wasn’t much point in staying inside when the weather was good and the days were long. Our lives weren’t dominated by screens, big or small and the more fun was to be had outside than in. As soon as breakfast was eaten, mums would literally push us through the front door and tell us not to return until lunch or even tea time. You’ve probably heard this countless times but I grew up in an age when there wasn’t the worries of today. Roads were nowhere near as busy, there were flashers to be laughed at if you were in a gang and the word paedophile was in the dictionary but in our world didn’t exist. We were trusted to be good, take risks and be home before dark.
I grew up on a drive on the very edge of Bristol. The houses were new when my parents bought theirs. They were newly weds and so were most of the other new house owners and they all had their babies at roughly the same time so I grew up living in a road where children almost outnumbered adults. I had no need to go far for my friends as they were all my neighbours. Summer was spent playing rounders in the street, running races around the circuit of the drive, daring each other to go in the witch’s garden and playing kiss chase up the back lane. We built dens on the old railway embankment that today carries the Bristol and Bath Railway Path or went exploring and hiding in the bracken on Rodway Common. We were spies one minute and cowboys and indians the next. We walked for miles and our parents had no idea where we were, but as long as we came home, they didn’t worry.
Living on the corner of our drive was a middle-aged couple called Uncle Ray and Auntie Peggy. They didn’t have children but loved all of us and allowed us to play in their garden which was biggest of all the houses. They fed us biscuits and gave us squash but best of all they took us on adventures in their mini. Five or six of us would squeeze into the car and off we would go to Weston, Portishead or Clevedon. Nobody doubted his intentions. Nobody thought that inviting children into their home was suspicious. Can you imagine that happening today? My 89-year-old dad would probably be seen as a possible danger by some if he even dared to wave to a child these days! How sad times have changed when freedom, adventures and friendly childless couples scare the living daylights in our society today.
The Summer of ’76
Those of you who are past the first flush of youth will remember that long hot summer that just went on and on. Imagine a heat wave like the one we are currently experiencing, but rather than lasting just a few days, it lasts for weeks. The novelty of blue skies and blistering heat soon wore out for most people but not for the 16-year-old me. The reservoirs soon dried up and so did our taps at home. We queued at standpipes, shared water to wash and watched our gardens wither and die. The heat made many lethargic, tetchy and longing to see the arrival of rain carrying clouds. The tarmac became sticky to walk on and sleeping became impossible. I got sunburn and sunstroke after spending the day at Fishponds Lido and bitten by swarms of flying ladybirds. Ladybirds were everywhere! I lived in shorts and cheesecloth shirts tied to show off a flat midriff, listened to Abba, Elton John and Kikki Dee, Demis Roussos, The Real Thing, Candi Staton and Peter Frampton. I went on my first camping holiday without adults at Osmington Mills near Weymouth. There was a group of apprentice butchers from London who we hooked up with and drinking pale ale at the pub, which was the only drink I could think that wasn’t lemonade. They were halcyon days. It was a great summer.
“It is easy to forget now, how effervescent and free we all felt that summer” – Anna Godbersen Bright Young Things
The summers of caravans, buckets and spades, playing out until late and cheesecloth tops are long gone, but summer is still the best for different reasons. Going to work without a coat or warm top, reading books in the garden, alfresco dining, lavender, bees, strawberries, bare feet, flip flops, fetes and fairs, salads, bbq’s, long school holidays (the plus side of working in a school) roses, rose wine, Pimms , open windows and doors, washing drying super quick on the line, wild flowers in the hedgerow, feeling positive and happy, the smell of sunlotion and long waited for holidays.
It’s cooler now, so time to stop writing about summer and go and experience it in my garden. Back to the book and a drip free lolly.. Bliss! Enjoy the sunshine everyone. xx
PS Sorry about the lack of personal photos. I wish that I had access to family photos. I’m sure there must be a stack of them in Mum and Dad’s loft.