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We were warned that the summer of 1976 would be a hot one.
Even back then, some British weather forecaster had the know-how to tell us in about May or June that we would have a right scorcher that year.
Trouble was, we didn’t have any way of properly preparing for something like that. We didn’t have air conditioning in our homes, cars, buses or trains. We didn’t have air conditioned offices, shops or schools. Nobody had ceiling fans anywhere.
I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered if the weather forecaster hadn’t said anything at all. We were helpless, either way.
When it came, the summer was indeed searingly hot. Temperatures went into the upper seventies and frequently tickled the eighties every day for what seemed like weeks on end. Buses and trains stopped running. Old ladies fainted in the middle of the road. Dogs stopped walking. Flowers and shrubbery wilted. Fields and meadows, dried riverbeds and pavements developed cracks like jigsaw puzzles.
It reached a point at which people actually accepted brochures from salesmen in pedestrian precincts just to have something with which to fan themselves. I’m sure The Knitting Emporium and Save the Whales thought they were having a marvelous year because all their flyers were suddenly taken.
Eventually, when grown men started wearing t-shirts in public and strangers in shops started commenting “Gawd, it’s ‘ot, innit?” without first being introduced, we decided we’d had enough. This was becoming all too ludicrous. It was verging on the continental. People clearly weren’t keeping calm and carrying on.
My parents scanned the map and pinpointed a place where we might surely find relief. We packed up sausage sandwiches, bottles of Tizer and little pots of yogurt, rolled up swimming trunks and towels, jammed everything into the old green Mercedes and lolloped off down the sleepy country roads to the coast.
Camber Sands is a lovely spot. The dunes are shallow, summer breezes whisper through the spiny grasses, the ice cream van goes ‘bingle bongle’ on a twisty lane somewhere out of view and the sea is very nearly not army-green.
Not a tree in sight.
The sun was white-hot.
The whipped sand clung to everything.
We were slathered in protective unguents as though prepping for a cross-Channel swim. After an hour in that Gobi landscape, we looked like craft-shop mannequins.
In case you’ve never tried eating a yogurt on a blistering and very windy beach, take my advice and don’t.
“Well, this is delightful,” everyone thought. “Pass the sausage sandwiches!”
“Is this how the Egyptians live?”
“Probably. Except they don’t have such good sausages.”
“Or yogurt, I should think.”
When the sun eventually sank into the sea and all the sausages were gone, we packed everything back into the car and promptly joined a bumper-nudging traffic jam of all the thousands who had sought the same paradise and whose painfully pink thighs were now glued to the vinyl seats just like ours.
Those were the days.
Last week, Britain, Europe, Asia and the US collectively experienced some of their hottest days on record. London and Paris actually measured temperatures over a hundred degrees. That hasn’t happened since the planet was last covered in bubbling magma.
This time around, it’s all far more frightening, not just because we’re older and wiser but also because quite possibly, as someone cleverly posted online, “This is the coldest summer of the rest of your life.”
Pack the good sausages. The ladies are fainting in droves.