Friday, 27 July 2018

The long hot Summers of childhood


It wasn’t just that one of 1976, I’m sure.  Perhaps we’re programmed to only remember sunny Summer days and the things we did on them, because I swear that all my childhood years were absolutely full of them.  No dull, rainy July mornings linger in my memory at all.

Instead the memories are characterised by the feeling of hot black tarmac under my bare feet when I ventured out onto the quiet bit of cul-de-sac out the front without my flipflops - footwear abandoned because the soles had already cracked and split like wafers.  Hard gritty lumps of road stuck to my naked heels like chocolate chips in cookie dough, is there something masochistic about that I wonder, a tactile pleasure bordering on pain? - and I loved the smell;  how do you describe the smell of hot tar?  Kind of oily, burnt-toasty, strangely satisfying.

We sucked on Ice Pops that melted so quickly you could drink the last few mouthfuls: undiluted fruity syrup so deliciously intense in flavour it almost made you wince.

There was the Summer gang - 1973 or ’74 perhaps.  Jill, Liz, Richard and me, rolling down grass hills, riding our bikes over home-made ramps of splintery planks, jarring our wrists on landing and carrying on regardless.  Bouncing psychedelic Super Balls against the back of the houses for as long as we could keep it up.  Thud thud thud; wall ground hand, over and over and over, getting the trajectory just right so you barely had to move.  I loved my Super Ball, me.


We didn’t want John to join our gang of Nerds-cum-Secret Agents.  We weren't sporty or tough in the least, we were normally pale, bookish children, but Summer meant being outdoors and uncharacteristically physical.  Liz's kid brother was too babyish, so we set a really hard initiation test.  It was dangerous, you had to jump off the high wall and land on Jill’s concrete patio, do some high-kick 'French Skipping' moves, other stuff too that we figured would test the limits of endurance for an average 9 year old.  All in a set order as well, ten or maybe twelve tricky manoeuvres which had to be remembered and successfully completed to join.  One of them might have been a spelling test - we were the kids who'd had first editions of Watership Down after all.  We met in Liz’s dad’s garage, sitting on old paint cans with dented lids or the faded deckchair sticky with abandoned spiderwebs and their previous inhabitants' dismembered legs.  It felt important and secret, even though we didn’t really have a clue what to do….  apart from setting difficult initiation tests for future members who didn’t exist.

John didn't get in, by the way.  We may have engineered that slightly.

It’s 32 degrees here today, I believe.  Just like it was every single day of every single school Summer holiday, the ones in the ‘70s that lasted for years and years.

20 comments:

  1. Why am I feeling kinda sorry for a kid I never met - though whose name I share - from a town I never lived in, and from a time long, long ago?

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    1. It's a tough world out there, isn't it? Being someone's kid brother pretty much meant automatic exclusion anyway - but he was also a cry-baby. No-one wants a cry-baby for a secret agent.

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  2. All day every day in camps with old ridge tents under the trees in the garden and in the evenings races on roller skates or scooters down the hill onto the main road ( so few cars!) I can't remember being allowed indoors until tea time.

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    1. Perfect. And yes, not allowed indoors until tea time - which suited us fine. In fact I remember those Summer evenings when it was so light and warm so late that I had to be ordered to come indoors because it was already way past bedtime.

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  3. God, I'd forgotten those amazing coloured power balls!!! I loved bouncing mine off the outhouse walls in the evenings as the sun went down and then flying through the pear tree branches as the last rays of the sun dipped down behind the hills and the bats came flittering out to play. The swing was way down the garden in the trees but I could see the light from my grandparents TV in their living room window and would be brave enough to stay on the swing until the way back up the steps became pitch black. My little gang used to roam for miles through the woodlands and farm fields, sometimes right down to the coast. We often used to hang out near the dreaded "Flowey" pool with it's terror inducing weir. We were all brave during those hot sunny days (you are correct, there was never a cloud in the 70's and rain only fell when we were in school) but I used to have nightmares about all the kids who supposedly drowned there!

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    1. Glad to have reminded you of those balls - they were brilliant - I'd like one now if I had a decent wall to bounce it against without the risk of a shattered window...
      Lovely description of your surroundings there; I can absolutely picture it.

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    2. I know, simple pleasures. I guess we'd raise a few eyebrows playing bounce with brightly coloured power balls at our age.... all the more reason, hee he ;o)

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  4. Well C, you have definitely found your blogging mojo again. This is a wonderful account of what we "of a certain age" remember as being just an average summer, nothing remarkable what with heatwaves etc! I don't know how many ice poles (pops down south obviously) I must have consumed during my childhood but I'd forgotten just how concentrated that syrup must have been and that the green one was the most intense of all. Loved my super bouncy ball too and could be entertained for hours going through the ritual of hitting every stone block of a certain hue on the gable end of my house, on rotation. My grandparents lived next door and they had all the cousins to stay over the course of the summer so there was a constant stream of playmates to head off on adventures with - Exploring the woods, climbing the ruined castle on a hill and heading to the park with it's death-defying apparatus - chutes of astronomical height and roundabouts of metal that could reach Mach 2 speeds (all gone now). It always felt like summer because even if it was raining we always wore shorts and sandals. On bad weather days you just added a woolly pully or a cagoule.


    Sadly my daughter did not have this kind of childhood summer, not that we didn't let her, but by the turn of the millennium very few children were allowed to head off unsupervised for the day - Everything has to be structured and heavily supervised/regulated nowadays (and is expensive). Problem is they reach 16-18 and are suddenly let loose on the world and are totally inexperienced in fending for themselves and making streetwise decisions. Goodness knows what it'll be like for my grandchildren (if that ever happens) but not going to be like our summer childhoods that's for sure.


    Thanks for reminding us of all those great aspects of OUR childhood summers - A great time to have been that age.

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    1. Thanks Alyson - didn't want to get too nostalgic but the whole feel of those childhood Summers has been so much in the forefront of my mind with the wall-to-wall sunshine we've been experiencing these last weeks. Of course now it's Autumn. Wet and windy and fallen leaves everywhere, totally different!

      As with Circe's Attic and Yve above, lovely to read of your childhood exploits too. Interesting that we're all female and our activities were so boyish - I suppose we didn't even think of them in those terms, it wasn't about girls doing one thing and boys doing another, it was just about being a kid.

      Like you also, I am so glad of my childhood freedom. I cannot imagine growing up with so much supervision and restriction that seems to be the norm now. How did it get to that, I don't even know. Is it too late for a more free attitude to come round again? A backlash against this over-protection? Even without children or grandchildren to think about myself, I can't help but hoping it's not and that somehow in the future it will all come round again. But sadly find myself doubting it will.

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    2. I was reminded of my own childhood when I went over to a friend's to watch a film the other evening. They have 3 youngish children and live on a farm in the gorse covered hills (which had just burst into flames and was being doused by the firemen much to the excitement of the local villagers). I was thinking how idyllic and old fashioned their childhood appears to be. Don't get me wrong, they have all the usual gadgets and access to social media, but still choose to bomb round on their bikes and play out until dark with cousins and friends. They roam for miles too, the only difference is that they have their mobile phones with them. I HOPE that once you get away from big towns and cities, children are still enjoying a lot of freedom... I think the tide will turn, things always come around again.

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    3. It's great to hear that kids in rural areas still have that kind of childhood. I think the biggest problem in towns and cities is the sheer amount of traffic and, sad to say, there would always be someone ready to alert the authorities if youngish children appeared to be unsupervised - A parent's nightmare scenario.


      And to C, yes thanks for reminding me that we did all partake in what would be seen as boyish activities as preteens. Such a carefree time and then wallop, the hormones kick in and life for females gets a whole lot trickier for a long, long, time. In my late 50s now and those flipping hormones (or the lack of them) are still causing no end of problems. Ooh, I've mentioned the unmentionable!!

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    4. That's really reassuring, Yve. Yes I think you're right, perhaps it's the difference between town and country. I do hope the tide will turn again generally for all kids some day.

      And Alyson, yes, I hadn't even thought about the difference in traffic, a big change there. As for the unmentionable, feel free to mention it - in the same boat here! I have even had a post idea brewing about this very subject, but don't wish to alienate our lovely male readers... on the other hand, isn't the very fact that I might worry (probably unduly) about such a thing all part of the problem?!

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  5. Great writing, C. Yes, all the summers I remember from my youth were glorious too. And Superballs!

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    1. Thanks Rol. Ah, lots of Superball love here, I had no idea!

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  6. I remember a lot of things that aren't there any more. We have become history.

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    1. If written by the victors, then good for us :-)

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  7. Now that I come to think about it, you're quite right C. Back then Summers (school Summer holidays anyway) seemed hot and endless, while Winters were snowy and bitterly cold - wasn't *every* Christmas a White Christmas when we were young? In my mind that's the way it was anyway. I don't recall any chilly, damp Summers or overly mild Winters.
    In the heat of a hot Summer day I'd go up to Mr & Mrs Strutt's sweet shop (crossing the main road on the way) or down to the bottom of my street to Cissy Green's (which was what would now be called a convenience store, but was in reality a dirty shop full of stuff in cardboard boxes overseen by Cissy herself, who sat in the corner puffing on her ever present ciggy) to buy myself a jubbly. Bigger than an ice cream, denser than an ice lolly and far cheaper than both (tuppence as I recall). A pain to consume though. As much ended up on the ground as in my mouth. Too bigger bite resulted in the brain freeze headache from hell!

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    1. Haha yes, not only consistently hot sunny Summer hols but of course snowy Christmas hols too, full of sledges and snowballs, every year.... Funny how we colour our memories like this so subconsciously.

      Love your description - had no idea what a Jubbly was though and had to ask Mr SDS who immediately came up with very similar recollections! I wonder why they don't make them any more....

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  8. Super Balls never go out of style. My kids love 'em and ask to get new ones all of the time. They do get lost.

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    1. D'ya know, I didn't know you could still get them, although I suppose truth is I haven't actually looked. I even wondered if they might be deemed too "dangerous" along with several other toys/games of our youth - I'm so glad they're not and that your kids play with them. Never has a ball been so aptly named!

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