Most people have happy memories of their childhood even if it were not an entirely happy one and for many people it is summer time that they look back with fondness.
I remember a lot of my summers with happiness, even the boring the ones. Our family didn’t do summer holidays or even day trips so for the long 6 week school holidays we had to make our own entertainment to while away the hot summer days. My first summer memories were of riding a donkey on Scarborough beach before falling off onto the sands at the sprightly age of 2.5 years old. The same year also saw me master riding a tri-cycle to such a degree that I could ride it in reverse down the slope of the front drive all the way down to the garage or at least where the large pot of paint was standing whilst my Dad was painting the door. I fell over and so did the paint but only I got the blame and a smack. Still the summer of 1976 was a memorable one even at that age as the summer of the drought and the summer to which all over summers since are invariably compared. Maybe it was this summer that got me into hot places and deserts. This must also be the reason for everyones photos from the 1970’s to feature really red and brown people and very yellow grass and usually sporting rather dodgy hair. There is a photo of me somewhere in 1977 with a very brown tan having a cheese sandwich in the street for the Queens silver jubilee street party which compared to the lousy weather of the diamond jubilee this summer should say it all when it comes to climate change.
I started school in September 1979 and for the next 3 summers I would spend 4 or 5 weeks with my Grandparents. We’d spend the days going on day trips on the train all over England and once after taking a wrong turn, in Scotland. We’d also go for long walks along the shore and build bonfires from washed up tyres and wood. I remember looking back at the black smoke from the burning rubber which would be visible 2 miles back at home and sometimes burned overnight. Also the rather awful smell of burning seaweed. Lots of days were also spent building and flying kites and I was generally outside playing from before breakfast until night-time. When the weather was hot in the evening I always remember the relief the next morning of walking downstairs barefoot onto the cold linoleum floor and feeling the coolness all around me and the humming of their ancient fridge freezer.
The early 1980’s saw us move house hundreds of miles south so the summers with my grandparents came to a grinding halt. Instead here summers were an endless run of hot sunny weather. Each summer would have its own fads and sometimes these included playing computer games on my old Commodore 64 spending 12 or 14 hours a day either playing with my brother or with friends. Each summer would be the same in a way in that we would get into something before it got a bit out of control and we would move onto something else be it water bombs, war games den building. We’d play professional sports with no professional equipment. Football in the back garden until the lawn was warn away and the fruit tree goalposts had lost more of the fruit. Cricket using tennis balls or cooking apples and the bat would be any old piece of wood. When Wimbledon would be on TV we would play with archaic wooden rackets until our only balls went into other gardens or in guttering. That was a bizarre thing about sports games as a child, the whole street would have favourite balls and we would operate on a cycle of balls and as and when balls went missing we would rotate until a way was found to retrieve the missing balls from trees and gardens days, weeks or months later. Of course when a window was broken the ball was usually lost for good.
We’d play golf with pebbles and see how many shots with our shoes it would take to get them into the street drains and make huge attack forces out of lego and plastic WW2 soldiers. When Robin of Sherwood was on TV we all skinned branches and have sword fights and we’d have wooden swords, daggers to throw at evil Norman soldiers. Most of all time was just spent riding bikes 30 or 40 miles a day just going up and down the same street or going round the block. Sometimes we’d play bike related games where you had to stay in a large square area and force others to go out of the area or put their foot on the ground. We’d call it “ramming” though we didn’t usually crash directly though when it happened it could get nasty and then we would move onto something more peaceful for a few days at least.
As I grew up I got into building plane models and eventually summer jobs. It was always hot and sunny though and all the children would feel pretty unhappy if they had just 1 or 2 bad days out of the 6 weeks. The last 2 weeks of the holiday were always a bit of a downer… who ever wanted to go to school anyway and why did the clothes shops advertise “back to school” gear on the first Saturday of a 6 week holiday? That always ruined the day seeing those posters. No-one has their first day at work with retirement posters on the office door.
Other children would sometimes get bored but I never did and if I did then I enjoyed it. The sense of having all the time in the world to do with or do nothing with as I wished. I loved doing nothing and still do. When others went to various sports clubs or activity camps or even just the scouts after school, I was much happier just doing my own thing at home. It is strange how that hasn’t really changed at all. Money was always a bit of an issue but I never wanted anything extravagant and would wear my clothes and trainers until they were full of holes and rather than pester parents for money I was quite happy to do paper-rounds and other odd jobs and save up for 6 months if necessary to get a computer part or a small bedroom tv. Another of the phases we went through was bottle recycling. We would pay 10 or 20p for a large bottle of drink and if we took the bottle back we would get 2p or 5 p back. It was always a thrill to get a “free bottle” after a week or two. How different the 80’s were to the 90’s when things like drinks and snack foods went from treats to many peoples staple diets.
The late 80’s and 90’s were great summers and generally boiling hot. We’d know the weather would be hot as the BBC graphics would change from yellow to red and they would stay that way for weeks on end. These summers were always overshadowed by exams and studying but there were lots more opportunities to enjoy the summer-time. Summer became more of an event with summer movies and summer music. Of course at this time living in England, often our summer movies were the Hollywood blockbusters of the previous Christmas but I spent many a happy summer afternoon hiding from the heat and watching Bruce Willis taking out terrorists at a snowy Chicago airport and the like.
Finally the mid to late 90’s was when I went to University and their summers started pretty much straight after Easter which could mean that aside from exams and revision you could be on your holiday from April until October. What a great time!! Due to the area of my studies being African and Asian history I would spend hours reading books, ancient and new and planning holidays to places near and far. Some that I have made it to and others that are still on the to-do list. I particularly remember the hot summer of ’96 which was my graduation year. I knew I was going to do an Masters in September but those 4 or 5 months of free-time were a gift from heaven. I knew that it wouldn’t be like this forever and soon I would have just a few weeks a year away from work if I was lucky. All of my friends at the time were from fantastically far away countries and I spent months day dreaming and planning an overland adventure from London to China and all sorts of variations. I just enjoyed planning it and finding new routes to go and different places to visit and seeking out feasible but demanding routes to get to obscure battlefields in Syria or palaces in Uzbekistan or Iran. I never actually made it on the whole trip but I have done sections of it individually but the distances involved mean it is probably one to do in retirement. I have no problem visiting dangerous or unusual places, I love the isolated deserts but also busy cities too but just as long as they are different to home and the people in them are people and not tourists.
Summer ’97 was the last great hazy summer, partly due to university and mad days writing articles and television manuscripts but also for the election of Tony Blair. I remember how the whole country partied for weeks afterwards and my college friends and I debated the minutiae of policy changes, democracy, economics, foreign aid and policy and other such things. Eventually the joy of the Blair years would subside just as work life would take over and summers became just another season where you went to work, they aren’t as fun, long or hot as they used to be. Given that you rarely seeing children playing outside any more I am glad I grew up when I did.