Tuesday, 3 December 2013

memories of a heatwave

I like books which anchor themselves to a particular time or place, not to describe it but to set it as the background and then use it as a kind of metaphor for what happens in the story. One such was by Tim Lott, who is brilliant, and it was set in 1987 and called "Rumours of a Hurricane". I missed the hurricane in England because, er, I was in South Korea that autumn. Which is a story of its own, and one I will tell. I have some tales to tell about the hurricane though too. If you haven't read that book, do, it's worth it.

The book I have just finished reading is by Maggie O'Farrell (the first of hers I have read) and it is called "Instructions for a Heatwave". It is a good novel about a family in crisis, or rather a family with secrets, as all families are, and how the secrets come out when one or more members breaks the circle of silence. It is set in London, but also Ireland and New York City, in the summer of the Great Heatwave of 1976. The characters, an Irish family uprooted and transplanted and dislocated, all of them in their various ways in crisis, are unforgettable. I would not be at all surprised to find this become a TV mini-series of the kind that has people discussing the boxed set.

Maggie O'Farrell was four in 1976, and so cannot really remember that summer. I was 22, and can. It was a hot summer like no other, and there has not been one like it in England since, although 2003 came close. It was a summer before desk fans and air conditioning, when it was normal for women, especially those past their first youth, to wear polyester dresses on a daily basis. Men did not wear shorts in public then as they often do now.

I was pregnant that summer, with my first child, a Fire Dragon in the Chinese horoscope, born in October in a year of change. Prime Minister Harold Wilson resigned - no one at the time knew why - Mao Zedong died, and a great earthquake in China killed many thousands. Taking water without permission became a criminal offence in England under the Drought Act 1976. It didn't rain between Easter and August Bank Holiday - or that is how I remember it. We lived in Bath then, and the river was so low that some of us walked across the river on the lip of Pulteney Weir. I was wearing an orange and yellow cotton dress. This is what it was like.


Anonymous said...

What an admirable dress.

I remember summer 1976 - I sat Finals then and God was it hot. Fantastic.I had a great pair of crimson boots from SNOB and used to wear my jeans tucked into them, I teamed then with a black velvet jacket, a white shirt AND a green and yellow silk long scraf - sounds horrible but it was actually very good. Altogether a good look.

Maggie O F. HM. Read one by her 'My Lover's Lover' - not especially keen and picked up another about Soho in a charity bookshop. Not as yet read. She has been shortlisted for the Costa. The Soho one was shortlisted for that as well.

Anonymous said...

I remember buying one fairly large potato for 50p, a lot of money for just one even now, let alone 37 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Must have been a posh one.