1976 An' All That

Summertime
So here we go again. I think I welcomed summer in last year and what good did it do us? So this time learning from the last, I shall just nod my head reverentially towards the rising currant bun and then not mention it again. Hopefully that should please it and it may be impelled to stick around long enough for us to have a summer worth remembering.

If you are around my age you may well remember the hazy days of 1976 and like me you must contend with a little wave of disappointment every year when summer fails to measure up to that 20th century meteorological phenomenon.

What a summer; and what a milestone in my history. After five miserable years as a Priorian the day was approaching that I could say goodbye to it forever. There was an old myth claiming that as a departing Priory Boy, one threw one’s cap into the Severn, how on earth they still had caps after years of such gruellin’ schoolin’ I will never know, ours were lost on about day four of the first year.

It was such a challenge in the mornings, as a terrible bus passenger, to take the 434 or 956 from Church Stretton. Every journey I would feel sicker and sicker and that was just the start of the day, I had to do it all again in reverse at quarter to four;  Ha, happy days I say with irony.

But not to dwell on the grim, the good was that in June of 1976, I was free. How the sun shone. Blistering tarmac made walking all too great a challenge. No one ran anywhere, even if jogging had arrived in the UK by then there would have been none of that either.

Initially the East side of the Long Mynd smiled down onto a sunny Church Stretton. The verdant bracken and purple gorse vied for attention and the brooks in the Valleys Townsbrook, Carding Mill, Batch and Ashes went bubbling unchallenged on their way. Sandford Avenue was host to a thousand holiday makers searching for that perfect gift to take home or the post card that would say it all. The park was full and people lazed or played slow tennis, some even tried their skills on the mini links that the park once kept proudly manicured; now a skate park. (Sorry am I missing something? I don’t get that one!) But it was 1976 and it was hot.

We used to measure temperature in a way that we had learned and were used to; it was around 80° Fahrenheit most days. We liked that for week one, week two and three maybe even four but after that it became just too much. Such oppressive heat. Only mad dogs and 16 year olds went out in that midday sun. But out we would go to catch bullheads in the stream or maybe catch a couple of trout off the pier in the reservoir. That was naughty but hey, Elton John and Ki-Ki Dee were battling for the top slot with Demis Roussos, it was sunny, we were 16 nothing more to be said.

It was probably about week six when we all realised that, whilst the summer was record breaking we had slipped into drought. All the reservoirs had fallen well beyond dangerous levels and we saw the unthinkable hose pipe ban come into force. I believe it was the Duke of Edinburgh that suggested a couple of bricks in your toilet cistern would lessen the water you used to flush with. Ingenious? Maybe.  Effective? I haven’t got a clue. I had other things to think about than toilets. I was too busy getting in the way, unintentionally I hasten to add, of landing gliders on the Mynd or racing my blue Raleigh Chopper up and down Carding Mill Valley or getting in trouble with the park keeper for racing the aforementioned Chopper around his immaculate park.

Friends with cars were cool, and if they came out to see us we would go roaring off up the Burway like hoodlums. Or maybe into the country for a sneaky pint in a pub that would serve us. There wasn’t any really and we would end up with lemon and lime whilst the ones who looked more eighteen than I, would buy the beer and we would vanish into the pool room or the garden where it was easy to gulp a couple of mouthfuls.

Like a hundred generations before us and all that came after, we were trying it on. That’s what you do when you can’t wait to dispel the shackles of childhood and embrace adulthood and all it vices. That happens at around about sixteen for most boys it always has and always will. Amazing that when we reach adulthood, we have to act like big kids, but I digress.

Yes 1976 brought a brown hue to the Mynd, to Caradoc, Ragleth, Lawley, Chelmick and Helmeth Woods, it dried all the streams and left the open rocks gaping with thirst for fresh waters. It bothered the dogs, the sheep struggled to find day time shelter, roads melted and people fainted. What a time.

Will we ever see temperatures like that again? Thirty Seven summers have followed those days. We have got older, the Long Mynd is green again and all the streams run full. I still enjoy the freedom that I grabbed in those halcyon days but I now watch the modern day sixteens and hope that they are able to still get their pleasure in such simple and innocent ways. I find myself doubting it and I realise that something was lost that defining year.

I optimistically look forward to the Flower Show,  and compering at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. And whilst I can’t ever say that I want temperatures like 1976 what I can hope for is the kind of warmth that makes us all happy, that will make the perfect summer. Use it wisely.
Owen Lewis

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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