I’ve jumped off term end straight into the long holiday with nowhere to hide from myself. No deadlines, no students, no lessons to teach; the sun is out and yet I’m being a total fester face. I like to have people to do things with and all the lovely people in my life, quite rightly have other places to be over the summer and families to be there with. I need to make some plans, rein in my green eyed monster, or better still, just learn to get over myself.
I think the last time I had so little planned would have been in the summer of ’76 – a similar type of summer weather-wise, if I remember rightly. Scorching hot, hose pipe ban in place, and, as my father worked for the Water Authority, a house full of posters telling us to shower with friend and that a dripping tap was the devil’s accomplice. I was a tom boyish teenager complete with a butch ‘feather cut’ (a Bay City Roller fan whim) and I’m ashamed now to realise that the water curfew had the binary opposite impact on me that it did on my older sisters. I spent the days cycling my turquoise Shopper bike around the south coast where we lived, whereas they were longing for an opportunity to experiment with the unguents and toiletries recommended by Jackie magazine and Fab 208 and their experiments usually needed washing off before they could be ridiculed publicly by our older brother. Any sweat that I worked up cycling with my best friend, was gathered far from our avocado green bathroom and was only very occasionally washed off in the sea
It sounds very Famous Five, and it was, apart from the infestation of ladybirds that year – if you risked wearing yellow, a plague of spotted insects would plaster themselves across you in some ghoulish, moving appliqué . There was also the risk of a high tide washing up some particularly fetid Japanese seaweed – this was bad enough in terms of swimming, for if you wanted to try and rinse off the ladybirds, you needed to slide through a wall of brownish green slime to reach some clearer sea water beyond. Worse still, my mother read that this seaweed was a priceless kind of garden fertiliser and determined that her youngest daughter would be her apprentice in harvesting a humming crop of putrid nectar each morning. My sisters were probably hiding in the bathroom. I don’t remember them ever joining us.
After an early morning reaping, the family’s peugeot estate would be loaded up and the harvest driven home, sea water and sludge dripping from the car’s undercarriage. Water restrictions prevented washing out the boot once it had been emptied, so any peugeot journeys taken later in the day would necessitate driving with every window open to release the flies and stench that would have accompanied the seaweed home. I can only hope that my mother secretly broke my father’s bathing ban. (He would have left for work much earlier, avoiding our return by predicting the mortification he would feel if our cul de sac neighbours saw his wife dressed like a navvy, forking stolen plunder into our flower beds). I’m trusting that mum was rebellious enough to break into our locked and self-metered bathroom for some essential cleansing, I really can’t remember. I tell myself that in a nod to hygiene, I would have had a cursory rub down with a rebelliously damp flannel and dust myself with talcum powder before hitting the road on my trusty Shopper.
Best part of hanging out with my fellow tom boy was the morning visit to the village sweet shop which was always the precursor – it was essential that a day’s cycling was fuelled with a selection of paper sweet bag cones, even if my friend’s mother had usually put some pappy sandwiches and pop (Cherryade) in my front bike basket before we left.
‘Pedlar’s Tray’ the village sweet shop was called, and it lived up to its name. Many happy minutes would be lost deliberating over the halfpenny counter – the tobacconist would stand patiently while we pondered whether a liquorice swirl with central gobstopper would last longer than clubbing together for penny dib dab. Or, we could risk fillings further and choose a selection of penny chews, or there again, perhaps a white chocolate mouse was worth a punt if the weather turned cooler. Pink shrimps were a crowd pleaser, as were rainbow drops which offered more discs per pence. If pocket money had been earnt, we might aspire above the counter to the shelves of jarred sweets lined up alphabetically. 5p could secure a quarter of sherbet pips; pineapple cubes; rhubarb & custard or cough candy twists. A sweet bag chosen with longevity in mind, could be a bonus later in the day when we might bump into some fellow female cyclist and embark on some confectionary trades.
Strange that these social gatherings just happened. No arrangements were made beforehand – no-one would have been allowed to use the family landline to turn social secretary, anyway. I don’t remember being lonely, despite my hygiene issues. If my friends were unavailable, I’d still stock up on sweets and pedal the same roads solo, just as happy in my own company.
Back in this moment though, the weather is scorchingly good. I’m still drawn to the sea. I potter down to the shingle with my book and find it’s perfectly ok to turn up uninvited and solo. I think I even catch some frazzled looking parents looking enviously in my direction. I lie back on my blanket and earwig on their domestic wranglings. I’ve cured my sweet tooth (I wear my fillings as a badge of survival), there is no threat of Japanese sea weed, no hose pipe ban and I believe my personal hygiene to now be excellent. Suddenly summer has possibilities and I pack my little green eye away for it’s really not needed.