‘What will you do for the weekend?’ asked my mother when I phoned her this evening.
I was confused. Had I forgotten something? I have a great propensity to do so. ‘The weekend?’ I asked.
‘It’s August bank holiday this weekend.’
‘Ah,’ I said, ‘in Ireland it’s the first weekend in August.’
If the English are about to have their August bank holiday, then the summer really is over.
The August bank holiday marked the end of the summer holidays during childhood days. It was a harbinger of doom, it announced the imminent onset of a new school year. Perhaps it was also the time when the return of the darkness became apparent.
Standing in the low ceilinged kitchen of my grandparents’ farmhouse, a vivid memory remains of an aunt who was staying there over the holiday weekend staring out into the evening gloom and saying, ‘Eight o’clock and it’s getting dark already’.
Of course the days had been getting shorter since the solstice, but it hadn’t seemed to be noticeable. A couple of minutes each day hardly register when you were outside every evening. When the couple of minutes had accumulated into a couple of hours, the realisation comes that the summer really is past.
In memory, it is the darkness that remains as frightening. Darkness meant real darkness. There was not a single streetlight in the village, and apart from the lights from the windows of the scattered houses, there was a sense of overwhelming isolation.
Once darkness fell, people went indoors, closing out the world of wind and rain. The outside world continued to exist only through the flickering black and white images on the television.
Years later, trying to articulate those childhood fears caused bafflement to the listener. ‘Surely the autumn and winter were cosy times when you could sit inside by the fire?’
‘No, they weren’t. Sometimes I had to watch the news on the television, even if I didn’t understand it, to break the sense of isolation; to make the day seem real’.
‘But how did that help?’
‘It just did. It meant that the world and life was carrying on’.
Little things became sources of encouragement, things like a BBC piece about the springtime in New Zealand that brought a feeling that while we headed into the cold darkness, there were people for whom the light was returning.
August bank holiday? Now if it had been the May bank holiday. it would have been more welcome.