I will never forget that feeling, walking out of school on the very last day of the Summer Term. Six seemingly endless weeks of freedom stretched out in front of me. There would be, I was quite, quite certain, sunshine
all the way...
Ah, yes, yet another rite of passage which our school-age children, whether infant, junior or high school, have missed out on in this year of 2020.
They have missed out on so much else, of course - lessons, friendships, supportive teachers, sports days, leavers events, end of term fun - that we have tended to forget that they have also missed out on the magical time of School’s Out For Summer.
Mr B and I are currently engrossed in a book called “British Summer Time Begins”. Through interviews with dozens of people, some famous, some not, it seeks to
chart what school summer holidays were like between 1930 and 1980. That cut-off date has been chosen as marking the beginning of the intervention of the digital age, a year before IBM introduced the first personal computer. It was, the author claims, the beginning
of the end of the freedom to “just be” which the previous generations enjoyed. Interestingly, Our Foursome just about manage to creep into the decades covered, being aged between 14 and 7 in 1980. For Mr B and for me, the book rouses many a distant
memory of the fun, the freedom - and the fact that we didn’t actually do very much at all over that halcyon six weeks. What a glorious period of blessed inaction!
The central premise of the book is that Way Back Then our summer holidays were notable for what we didn’t do, rather than what we did. Left mostly to our own resources, if in need of adventure, we turned to Enid Blyton or Arthur Ransome for inspiration,
setting up our own secret societies based on the Famous Five or Swallows and Amazons.
The Darling Daughters, for example, belonged to the Secret Six, along with
Jackie and Gary from two doors along and Sarah, their next door neighbour. They met, three days a week, in our garage where they would sit in a serious circle astride old trikes and wooden boxes, with an upturned packing case as a table in the centre.
I was told that the password was changed every week - but to be honest I always found that a jug of orange juice and / or a large packet of crisps gained me instant admission. Years before, my Little Sister and I made up the entire membership of a most mysterious
secret society which went by the name of the Green Veiled Ladies - so named because of the set of discarded green net curtains with which we disguised ourselves.
Foursome were extremely good at what the book calls Imaginative Play. A favourite was Doctors and Nurses, when the back garden was strewn with bodies lying on towels “borrowed” from the bathroom and every child had to take it in turns to be The
Doctor and the Nurse. Every so often the cry would go up: “My turn now!” as a patient, previously apparently at death’s door, would arise from his or her bed, like Lazarus, and lay claim to the only piece of recognisable equipment (a plastic
stethoscope), possession of which granted Medical Status.
The horse-loving Middle of the Darling Daughters kept her steed (a space hopper, what else?) stabled
in the airing cupboard overnight but brought it out for daily exercise, cantering around the garden and along the cul de sac like the champion horsewoman she knew herself to be, if only in her imagination. Pony Club? Who needed Pony Club?
Above all, there was the playing field across the road, where all the village children gathered to play fiercely competitive games of rounders. Many’s the time Jemima the rag
doll was called upon to serve as fourth post. My Boy remembers the playing field, and the games played there, as being the essence of an idyllic childhood.
every page of the book, Mr B and I come across another memory which chimes with us. One interviewee mentioned that her mother insisted on dressing her and her sister to look like the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret as children. Oh, yes! I cried - that
was us, my Little Sister and I.
We are only up to Chapter Six. Future chapters include “Not Going Abroad”, “Nothing Much Planned”
and “The Day Long Holiday.” You might think it all sounds a little, well, negative - but it’s not at all.
It’s the story of Long Ago Summers
when we were busy doing nothing much at all - and basking in it. Because, as your faulty memory will doubtless tell you - it never, ever rained on those endlessly sunny summer days...