The heat of a real summer does funny things to your memory. I find myself instinctively wanting to wear pastels, frosted eyeshadow, roll the sleeves up above my elbow and go to the cinema for the nth time, to see the young Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid cycling to school to face his tormentors to the sound of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer”.
For the heat makes you remember those youthful years when term broke up and the long summer stretched ahead of you. When you felt insulted by the “back to school” uniform window displays in July, aimed at your parents. This is not a whinging column about working professionals trying to offload their spawn in expensive daycamps for the summer.
Nor a failure to acknowledge how the months ahead might feel different for the thousands of especially young people trying to find work. Even if you have work, the world of employment divides now into those with real jobs and paid holiday and the many more casuals. How to recapture the joys of an endless summer when the pressure is on to look for work or cover the shifts of those away?
It is an attempt to consider the value of that structureless time and how we can recapture the best of those carefree weeks and use them to renew and refresh ourselves.
What would you have back? Playing football in the park till it got too dark to see? (That one courtesy of Big Issue editor Paul MacNamee). Staying up till late watching dodgy old movies and then sleeping into midday? Sitting on the porch just enjoying watching, smelling and listening to the pounding of a torrential summer rainstorm? Staying out late in the countryside with a telescope watching the constellations? (Those last two courtesy of a Polish taxi driver with fond memories of spending the summers on his grandparents’ farm).
If you can afford the time and cost, you could join the other 40somethings who’ve not had a holiday for years, I know a few, planning to go interrailing for the first time since their twenties. Why? It’s the chance for those serendipitous encounters that only arise from a lack of real planning. In my own time that included sharing a sleeper car from Vienna with an East German refugee family and listening to their story, in the summer of 1989 a few months before the Wall came down. And a few years later in 1994 being genuinely spooked Hammer Horror-style to spend a night all alone in the youth hostel built beneath Colditz Castle. (The staff didn’t see the point of staying there themselves for just one visitor). During the day I was escorted past the patients in the courtyard of Colditz Castle – it was still a mental asylum at the time. The guide showed me the escape tunnels they were still uncovering. The ingenious fake uniforms (cardboard belts and lino epaulettes!) and tools made by POWs just sat in a room, for the odd visitor like me to marvel at.
Perhaps the thing to do would be to revisit a place which has been transformed over the years by political and social change. Modern Germany remains strangely undervisited by Brits. The point of interrailing was to encounter a genuinely foreign world and open your mind to its possibilities.
A few ideas: Take a week. Even a day. Even if you can’t go away anywhere. Change what you listen to. Swap news/talk radio for music. Tune out of the daily routine. Plan one thing each day that you never get round to doing in your city: The art gallery, the museum, the pool in the evening when the children have gone home. In London a £5 gallery ticket at the Proms or an early morning free wander around the Renaissance altar pieces in the Salisbury wing of the National Gallery.
Grab a pile of things you really want to read. It should be about knowing you have the time to pursue an interest to its limits till you run out of stuff to read on it. I’m not sure what the adult equivalent is of reading all 200+ Amar Chitra Katha comics of Indian mythology and history that I collected as a child. Actually I think it is re-reading them in full. The boxes are ready and waiting under my desk. I’m also now half way through the Buffy The Vampire Slayer box set.
But ignore those highbrow “What I’ll be reading” lists. Try something close to what you’ve enjoyed before, but different. Say Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – the Bronte sister who wrote that tall, dark and handsome brooding alcoholic wife beaters weren’t actually romantic and sexy.
The key is to reset your usual sense of time to something slower and hazier. When autumn approaches your clock will wind faster by itself. But your inner teen will have been renewed.
A version of this post first appeared in The Big Issue Magazine. On sale from street vendors across the UK. Or contact them for subscriptions that also support the Big Issue Foundation.