KCLR played hits from the ‘70s ahead of the ten o’clock news: Elton John and Kikki Dee sang ‘Don’t go breaking my heart’ and then Tavares declared that ‘Heaven must be missing an angel’. Elton and Kikki were Number One forever during that heatwave summer of 1976, week upon week of sunshine serenaded by a song without the angst or anger that would be ushered in by the age of punk rock.
The sun really did shine all summer long: it seemed to begin in May and continue to the late August Bank Holiday Monday. People are happy when the sun shines and those summer months were filled with cheer. England were pounded by the West Indies in the cricket test matches and no-one worried too much. The drought conditions prompted the Government to appoint a minister to try to deal with the problems, but who could get cross about the sun shining? Unlike floods which might have been prevented with proper defences, sunshine is entirely beyond political control.
The long summer weeks saw our family take a holiday in Westward Ho! in North Devon. Camping can be miserable, but that August it was perfect. Sitting out under afternoon blue skies, playing games on the vast beach, listening to music in the beer garden at nights; there could be nowhere better. Skin cancer had not arrived among us and tans were deep and dark; suntan lotion was something used by people who flew off to Costas on holidays far beyond our pockets.
There seems hardly a shadow across the memories of those summer weeks. Bringing in the harvest on my grandfather’s farm had been fun and not work; the companionship and laughter in the wheat fields had created made even riding along on a trailer pulled by an old grey Fergie seem a special moment.
Memory is often revisionist, rewriting personal history to fit one’s personal perceptions of times (there are other years that seem entirely bad, but that cannot be the whole truth), yet trawling the brains recesses for thoughts from that year, there seems nothing negative about those summer months.
It is odd that 1976 can be recalled in such unalloyed terms; odd that a whole summer can seem, in long retrospect, to be a dreamy time. 1976 was the year Britain became insolvent and had to go cap in hand to the IMF for a £2 billion bailout. Our family took the Daily Mail and there must have been countless column inches of vitriol towards the government of the day, yet nothing remains in the memory.
Could it be that there are Irish teenagers, fifteen year olds heading towards their sixteenth birthday, who will look back on 2010 and have no recall of the events that fill our news media? Could it be that in 34 years time a 50 year old will look back and wonder what stories he might have missed. It would be nice to think that there are at least some people who live outside the shadow of bad news.