This article is more than somewhat inspired by the fact that as I sit here in my car in the office car park in Spalding, pen in hand, trying to think of something to write about, the UK is experiencing something that – all rumours to the contrary – does occur here every few years – SUMMER!
For nearly three weeks now the daytime temperature here in East Anglia has been anywhere between 25 and 31 degrees Celsius and at night it has been struggling to get below 20 degrees.
Now I do know that to one of my readers such figures would represent quite a chilly day or night – but I’m not in Thailand, I’m in England and for us that is HOT! Besides, he has air-conditioning in his house which is, of course, cheating!
We have a fan which moves the hot air around the room at varying speeds.
As I said earlier, nice hot summers do happen here quite frequently – I can even remember a few – one in particular:
1976 – a lovely summer that ran from mid-June to the end of August and that is still known in this country as “The Great Drought” . I spent some of it on holiday, enjoying the local Railway system via something called an Anglia Ranger ticket which enabled a friend and I try to chat up girls at the seaside in Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth, Felixstowe and Clacton-on-sea with (it must be said) a total lack of success! For some reason none of the girls believed that we were vacationing North Sea Oil Rig Helicopter pilots – perhaps it was the long hair and lack of money that gave us away! I also spent a good many of the weekends during that time sleeping off lunchtime drinking sessions (it’s very important to keep the fluid levels up in a drought!) in Christchurch Park in Ipswich.
What I particularly remember though is the night that the drought ended.
Friday 27th August 1976 was quite a day! To begin with I had to get to work particularly early as it was the last day of the Ipswich branch of Barclays Bank Trust Company – the staff and case work was being divided between the Chelmsford and Norwich Offices and the two staff going to the former office (myself included) had to see the necessary crates of files onto a removal van and accompany them to the new site. All went smoothly and at lunchtime we were able to join the removal men and some of the Chelmsford staff for a few pints in the Saracen’s Head before returning to the, now nearly empty, Ipswich Office. It was a good job that I didn’t over-indulge at lunchtime as the Manager had got in a number of bottles of wine to celebrate\mourn the closing of the office.
At 5pm we locked up for the last time and adjourned, somewhat unsteadily, to the Crown & Anchor to continue the wake and I had to struggle to remember to take my rucksack with me.
Yes, indeed. And a tent! Because, just to make the day even more interesting, I was departing that night on a coach with my friends for an 18 Plus Club weekend under canvas at Trentham Gardens near Stoke-on-Trent! The coach was picking us all up at 8 p.m. fortunately only a few yards from the back entrance to the aforementioned pub and you may imagine the state I was in when I boarded it!
Nevertheless I was nearly sober by the time we arrived at the campsite and it was around midnight, when I was trying (in pitch darkness and with much swearing) to put up the small two person tent that I had borrowed from my sister, that the drought chose to end! Fortunately I did have the presence of mind to slacken off the newly tightened guy ropes before diving in for shelter from the enormous downpour that followed.
2006 – My daughter Carla graduated from Lancaster University in the July of that year and we hired a cottage in a village called Quernmore just outside Lancaster for the week commencing Saturday 15th July. We drove up in two cars – Faith, her mother, my mother and our two girls in our car and my Dad and I plus most of the luggage in his with me doing the driving.
I did not know it of course but it was to be the last time I would be able to spend any time with my father and I am very happy that we got to talk about a number of things and feelings on the two 200 mile drives that we probably wouldn’t have discussed had the ladies been present. Two months later Dad died rather suddenly in hospital.
We had some nice outings to various places in and around the southern Lake District and the weather was good with the temperature steadily rising as the Graduation Day on the 19th approached and on that Wednesday it reached the mid to high thirties Celsius! So apart from my feelings of immense pride in Carla’s achievement, my enduring memory is that on what was proclaimed then as the hottest day of the century so far, I had to wear a bloody stifling dark SUIT and a TIE!
I find, in fact, that in writing about those two glorious summers I have actually veered some way away from where I originally wanted to go with this piece. That happens sometimes when you write – the story goes off to somewhere you had no intention of going to and has rather forcibly to be wrenched back on course.
Any extended period of sunny weather here results in our normal soggy environment being rapidly dried out and all that evaporated moisture accumulates in the sky awaiting its revenge for this enforced relocation. And that revenge usually takes the form of…. a thunderstorm!
I like thunderstorms! I like watching the flashes and counting the seconds from “flash to bang”, calculating the distance of the storm on the basis of roughly five seconds to one mile.
I like being outside and feeling the power of these elemental forces building around me and have, on occasion, stood in my back garden with the core of the storm passing right over me, arms outspread and head thrown back shouting “Come on then Thor, you pansy! Let’s see if you can hit me!” The said Norse deity must have been having an off day because, even with that amount of provocation, he still missed!
I recall when I was about 10 years old, just after we moved to the “new” house in Ipswich that my mother still lives in, having to go to bed at about 8 p.m. on a hot summer evening (you went to bed when you were TOLD in those days) and being unable to sleep because of the oppressive heat and the fact that it was still daylight outside. I tried listening to Radio Luxembourg on my little transistor radio but on hearing lots of strong static interference crackles over the usual hisses and “fade” I put the radio aside and looked out of my bedroom window where, sure enough, a thunderstorm was brewing.
When I say “brewing” I mean that it was forming so quickly that the clouds seemed to be seething and boiling like the ones accompanying the arrival of the alien spaceship at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”! It also had such frequent flashes of both “sheet” and “fork” lightning that there was a constant background rumble of the accompanying thunder as well as individual loud “booms” and “cracks”. The storm seemed to roll down from the north towards me and over the continuous thunder I could hear through the partly open bedroom door my mother telling my father to make sure that everything electrical was turned off AND unplugged!
Not that we had much in the way of electrical equipment then – the radio, the TV, the kettle and the cooker probably just about covered it – but she was always insistent that they were as immune to lightning strike as they could be made if a storm was anywhere near. I usually had enough warning to be back in bed and pretending to be asleep when she came in to check that even my battery powered radio was switched off!
And that’s the thing that I find strange! My mother had a really serious phobia about thunderstorms (I don’t imagine she cares much either way these days though) and tried unconsciously to instil that fear in my sister and me too. When we were small and still at home with Dad out at work and a storm arrived she would take the two of us onto the stairs at our original home until it passed. The stairs in question had a door at the bottom and opened onto a landing at the top which was in darkness if all the bedroom doors were closed. You could still hear the thunder (which is how she would know it had ended) but we were all “protected” from the lightning!
I remember her once being really freaked out on learning that I had walked home from junior school through a small, very localised thunderstorm that she hadn’t been aware of at home. I was more concerned at being soaked to the skin than having been at risk of being burnt to a crisp by a million volts of static electricity! She was the opposite!
So really, if childhood “conditioning” does actually work, I should be cowering in a nice dark place or screaming inwardly while pretending not to care every time that great Norse chap in his horned helmet starts banging his big hammer! Unless, of course, I AM an incarnation of Thor himself – that would explain it!