“Any good weather after the Twelfth is a bonus.” The woman’s words remain fresh after twenty years; it was Northern Ireland and late July, our annual holidays were still to come and the summer was already considered past.
A week after the Twelfth of July parades in the North, and today would have been the first day of the English school holidays. The summer break was six, short, sharp weeks, none of the leisurely nine weeks enjoyed by primary schools in the Republic of Ireland, or the meandering three month vacation enjoyed by most secondary school students here. The shortness of the time off made it a time that was more intense, perhaps that is still the case.
Our family holidays were always taken in late August, once they were so late that we had returned to school before having the opportunity to go to a chalet in Lyme Regis for a week. It was never quite clear why we went just so late, much of it seemed due to our father’s work. Once we went for a three week camping holiday in Devon and he spent the middle week away from us working in Scotland, on another occasion, he drove the six hundred and thirty miles from Lossiemouth overnight on a Friday so that we might leave for Westward Ho! on a Saturday afternoon. It is easy to remember the day of departure in 1977, we were packing camping equipment the evening before when the BBC brought news of the death of Elvis Presley.
Summer would culminate with the bank holiday weekend, the last Monday in August provided a last “hurrah” before the autumn had to be faced. Even the weather seemed aware of the calendar, the great heatwave (and the severe drought which accompanied it) in 1976 came to a violent end with terrific thunderstorms and deluges of rain as we travelled home to Somerset on the bank holiday. From a holiday where the sun had shone through every hour of daylight, we drove eastward on roads affected by flash floods – it was time for the autumn to begin.
The shortness of those English summers created a sense of community, everyone celebrated summer together, everyone realized that this was an important time in the year. The traffic jams on the roads to the West Country could be phenomenal, but everyone travelled regardless of the time it took; perhaps it was part of the experience, part of what it meant to go on holiday.
Reading the Somerset local press, the calendar for late-July and August seems filled; the weeks offer a burst of frenetic activity, weekends offer numerous diversions. For all their reserve, the English know how to do summer.