This morning definitely felt like September. Nothing but grey out of the window. A few crunchy leaves already lining the pavements. That touch of autumn in the air always makes me nostalgic for the summer that’s only just past.
Summer has always been more about a state of mind than a state of weather. Perhaps that’s what happens when you grow up in the UK – the promise of endless sun, picnics and bike rides will stay firmly between the pages of your old Enid Blyton books.
Instead, it became a time of freedom. Where the days blur into each other and you could just as easily spend all day trundling up and down the street in your roller skates (we had those awful plastic ones you strap onto your shoes), inventing target practice stacks on an old pasting table with empty cans in the garden, or constructing giant games all over the bedroom floor that only ended when we got bored and a hurricane destroyed everything.
There’s something lovely about light evenings…
When I started teaching, that time of year regained some of its magic. Six whole weeks, stretching emptily away (not counting the scheme of work I had to write, the reviews of results, and all the other things I didn’t get done in the summer term). It was a sort of enjoyable disorientation.
Now, I find the days blurring for different reasons. As a freelancer, technically there’s not difference at all. But the presence of my three-year-old and the inordinate amount of holiday they have in France (eight weeks?!) meant that the blog, the writing, the newsletter, the courses, the workshops, have taken a hiatus. I’ve tried the odd scribble, but I’m just too busy. I need to have imaginary (and real) picnics, go to the park, put the baby dinosaur to bed and read books. I suppose there are worse ways of spending your time. I still don’t know what day it is, although the activities have more repetition (I’m writing this blog in a tent made between the sofa and some chairs).
Some of my interactions this summer have been a little strange
The other change this summer was that I actually interacted with other people. Friends, family, all those people that have been 2D images on a screen for, in some cases, over a year. Despite the prospect of quarantine and the looming delta variant, we decided to spend a month in the UK. We took a lot of Covid tests, we worried and wore masks a lot. But oh, it was wonderful.
Perhaps the defining moment for me was the summer barbecue with my family. A yearly event, we just about managed last year with social distancing in my sister’s garden, table service (thanks, kids!) and limited interaction. Of course, it poured down. This year, the British weather did that thing it sometimes does, when it’s freakishly warm. We were all clad in trousers or leggings, seeing as the day started grey and drizzly. But as it went on, the clouds cleared and the sun came out.
Puzzles were a helpful way to pass quarantine time
We entered into that beautiful barbecue state. Flushed with Pimm’s, heavy with meat and giddy on sauce and salads. There were brownies, cheesecake, key lime pie, fresh fruit salad and cookies. I didn’t mind zesting and squeezing six limes to make my contribution because it was one of those times when you appreciate the collaborative and tribal nature of food.
Later in the afternoon, the stories started. They might start with the word ‘remember,’ or a simple smile. They aren’t told for the telling. It’s more of a shared history to wallow in. Parts of it are passed around, each person embellishing or elaborating, adding a detail here or an exclamation there. At the end of it we all look at each other, our connections thickened through this shared moment of narrative. We were all there then. And here we are now.
My famous key lime pie
If you want an example, I’ll let you in on one. When I was about seven I was on a swing in the garden with my roller skates on. Right next to our garden was a very tall chain-link fence. Higher and higher I went, swooping my skates against the knobbly wires of the fence. And then, I got stuck. One skate got entangled with the wires, right at the top. There I was, stretched between swing and fence, one foot dangling and the other immovably stuck. Of course, my mum did eventually climb up, unhook me and help me down, but not before much hilarity. In an age before mobile phones, all we have is our telling to recreate the spectacle. Which I think I kind of like.
This summer has, of course, been an odd one. I hope that in some ways you’ve managed to have some enjoyable disorientation, and that you had your own shared stories to chew over, even if it wasn’t in a sunny garden.
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