Summer of 76

Yesterday I wrote a Book Blog post for 300 Bridesmaids by Jenny Worstall. This delightful romantic novel is set in 1976 the same year I was married to my dear husband, Michael.

Before the wedding, my dad and I were alone and waiting for the ancient, hired Bentley to come and take us to the church. In our nervousness we ran out of things to talk about, so, he in his wedding suit and me in my frilly frock, sat and played our favourite piano duets until the car turned up.

The summer of 1976 was hot. Very hot. And dry. Extremely dry.

The hot weather started in mid-June and lasted until the end of August. It included 15 consecutive days where a maximum temperature of 32C or more was recorded somewhere in the UK. It was one of the most prolonged heat waves within living memory and it lead to a severe drought.

Below average rainfall was recorded from May 1975 to August 1976 making summer 1976 (June, July, August) the 2nd driest summer on record (dating back to 1910) behind 1995.

Parts of the south west went 45 days without any rain in July and August. The hot, dry weather affected domestic water supplies leading to widespread water rationing and queuing for water at standpipes in the street.

The National Water Council (water hadn’t been privatised then) took out full page ads in newspapers on how to ‘beat the drought’ advising steps such as only taking a bath if absolutely necessary and using no more than five inches of water.

As crops failed and food prices subsequently increased, a Drought Act was passed by the government and plans to tanker water in from abroad were discussed. Heath and forest fires broke out in parts of southern England, with 50,000 trees being destroyed in Dorset alone. Massive swarms of seven-spotted ladybirds occurred across the country, with the British Entomological and Natural History Society estimating that by late July 23.65 billion of them were swarming across the southern and eastern coasts of England. The population explosion occurred because a warm spring had meant there were many aphids, the ladybirds’ food prey; as the hot weather dried out the plants on which the aphids fed, the aphid populations collapsed, causing the ladybirds to swarm to try to find food elsewhere.

The drought broke in the last week of August shortly after the appointment of Dennis Howells as the government Minister for Drought. Severe thunderstorms brought rain to some places for the first time in weeks. September and October 1976 were both very wet months.

After our wedding ceremony Michael and I returned to our flat in East London and a couple of days later set off on our honeymoon to the Isle of Wight where we stayed in a nice hotel and thought we were really living it up by drinking bottles of Corida white wine. (Yes, if you’re of a certain age you’ll shudder too.)

At the time we didn’t own a car. In fact, neither of us could drive although Michael had taken a driving test a couple of times.

So we booked a Golden Rail holiday.

This was an inclusive travel and accommodation package provided by British Rail, the nationalised railway we had at the time. (And very good it was too, contrary to the mythology that has sprung up since privatisation!)

We travelled by train from Waterloo station to Portsmouth and then caught the ferry to Ryde. A short rail journey to Shanklin got us to our hotel, The Shanklin Hotel.

We haven’t been back to the Isle of Wight since our honeymoon holiday in 1976 but this little walk down Memory Lane has churned up an old joke.

Benny Hill was in Customs and the Customs Officer says,

“Are you going overseas?”

“Yes,” says Benny. “To the Isle of Wight.”

“That’s not overseas,” replies the Customs Officer.

“You try walking there!”

Our trip to the Isle of Wight in 1976 wasn’t our first British Rail holiday. The previous year we booked a Golden Rail to St Ives in Cornwall.

The deal was the same: second class rail fare (with a seat guaranteed because you always got a seat in those days on our nationalised railway) and seven days B,B&D in a nice hotel.

The journey was from Paddington to Penzance and transfer onto a local train to St Ives.

We had a lovely holiday most of which is lost in the mists of time apart from two pictures we bought while we were there.

Both pictures are by local artist Bob Devereaux and they hang in our dining room to this day.

A bit of googling has found that Bob Devereaux is still a stalwart of the art and literature scene in St Ives.

When we bought the pictures we hadn’t even decided to get married and certainly wouldn’t have imagined we’d still be liking them forty plus years later.

We returned to St Ives after almost three decades to celebrate my 60th birthday.

The town itself was more or less the same but with a massive increase in visitor numbers. And, of course, Tate St Ives was a new and very enjoyable addition.

The other innovation we enjoyed was Cornish wine.

We didn’t buy any more pictures but we sampled several bottles of Cornish white wine!

Successfully googling Bob Devereaux prompted me to look for another artist: Roger Murray in Robin Hood’s Bay.

When my sister and I were teenagers we joined the Youth Hostels Association and one of our expeditions was to the North Yorkshire Moors. We caught a train to Malton and stayed overnight at the youth hostel there. A bus took us to Whitby with a short walk to the hostel; then a longer walk to Robin Hood’s Bay and the hostel at Boggle Hole.

While in Robin Hood’s Bay we decided to buy a present for our parents and purchased a framed print of a local scene by local artist, Roger Murray (no relation!). The picture was wrapped in brown paper and string and we took turns to carry it on the next stage of our journey: the bus to Goathland and a hike across moorland to the youth hostel at Wheeldale.

We each carried large rucksacks for our clothes, sheet sleeping bags, towel and toiletries. In addition we were doing our own cooking rather than eat hostel meals so were laden down with bread, Primula cheese spread, tins of beans and Kendal mint cake.

As the hours passed, the picture became rather a burden especially as we were conscious that if the glass smashed it would be a bother to deal with. Anyway, we got it home and our parents were delighted with their present.

The picture is rather faded now but it hangs in our spare bedroom. But, apart from a couple of references to paintings by Roger Murray for sale at auction, I can’t track him down on the Internet.

Thanks for reading my blog today. Hope your day is going well. If you’re stocking up your Kindle for the holiday season visit our website for details of some books you might have missed.

This post was originally published on a Blog I wrote a few years ago called “Cabbage and Semolina” (same title as my book). When I closed the blog I retained some of the posts for re-cycling at a future date. So if you’ve had a sense of deja vu while reading this, no, you’re not imagining it. You belong to an exclusive group of readers who’ve visited my blog previously and I thank you for your support!

Image credit: Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay