Nightswimming

Reflecting on the simplicity of youthful summers fishing, swimming and hanging out with friends, Mindfood Magpie laments the day recklessness was replaced with responsibility… But there is a silver lining…

 

candle-beach

Summers were better in my youth. I remember them as endless, charred and sweltering landscapes wavering in lines of steamy heat. Long, hot, sun-drenched days spent sucking jumbo ice poles and mini-milks (remember mini milks?!) and hanging out at municipal baths trying to impress boys with dives and them impress us with bombs; sunbathing, chest, thighs and cheeks pressed against the hot gritty concrete, surrounded by mates talking for hours about nonsense and daydreaming. 

Summers where everything turned to beautiful colour, and then to dust and the earth opened up in huge cracks that vibrated from deep with the hum of a million crickets nesting; sunburned bodies, noses in particular, and lots of tired hot days that went on and on. Days that I spent walking to and fro the local shops along the most beautiful daffodil lined path. I will always love daffodils because they transport me back to those Scottish summer days. We would go to the highlands often and there I would see flowers that held more novelty value for me then, like swathes of beautiful bluebells or thistles. 

Global warming might be a scientific fact but what has happened to those summers, where have they gone? Is it just that we are stuck inside working now that I don’t get to see them? Nope, I can do a quick scan of the met-office weather report to see that we are merely sheltering from wind and rain during working hours. Did they ever really exist at all, or is my memory constructing some form of mental mirage, inventing times that never really happened?

Nah, these happened. I remember many good summers of my youth. The summer holidays were a seven week stretch of days spent outdoors having water fights. I wish fighting the water from rainfall was as fun. 

I have a memory of practicing rounders at the local pitch with a group of friends one day early in the summer season. Afterwards, we sat on the grass and drank the drinks our mums had sent us out with, to refresh ourselves. I remember lying back and looking at the sky, doing that cheesy thing of making shapes with the clouds. I remember not talking and just soaking in the sunshine, vitamin D mainlining my veins. I was not stoned, I know that much, but the feeling, I imagine, was the same, like being truly present and connected to the sun and it’s warmth, engaged with the universe, part of the earth, floating and grounded simultaneously. With others who were also truly present and in the moment, appreciating the clouds and each other. Kids are so good at that. I think I’m okay at it now, I adore nature, but I couldn’t spend hours staring at clouds any more.

These summers days were just beautiful. What seemed like hundreds of kids enjoying being alive and hanging out for the day. You’d meet big gangs everywhere. I miss those walkabouts now that I write about them, miss the simplicity of those times. When you met up without any sort of plan and were together from sunrise to sunset. 

The party I ever went to was at Glin Gully, a little known beach camp only frequented by locals up north. There are only a handful of houses and they all hang precariously from the cliffs or nestle neatly among sand dunes. I must have been about fourteen. I remember being excited to see some friends from school and in particular, a boy, I fancied. All of us climbed high into the dunes and hung out while the oldies partied away down beneath us. The sun set late, an awesome west coast sunset, and I remember the blissful sensation of a warm summer breeze blowing through my hair, that teenage feeling of hanging out with friends, not doing much, just talking and being away from our parents, hormones running wild. Life was coming alive in those cliffs, this was what freedom tasted like and suddenly the possibilities seemed endless. 

It’s a weird memory, but just recalling it brings that same mild feeling of euphoria, that same sense of possibility that something exciting could happen. 

My neighbours growing up were mostly into playing sports, swimming, dancing, and going to the local chippy, Danny’s Diner. There was not much else to do in my small town. In later years we would ride a bus on an all-day-ticket for hours and hours, just people watching and enjoying a ride to nowhere in particular. I can’t imagine taking a bus without a destination in my head, and time constraints to adhere to now. It doesn’t sound like my ideal day any more. I still love thinking about those times though, picking flowers, making perfume, putting on shows, and then heading off for chips with brown sauce followed by empire biscuits at Danny’s Diner. Danny is dead now. I remember when he died, everyone at my high school seemed to be talking about it. I suppose we had all shared our childhoods with that place. I wonder if kids today have connections like that to similar places, or do they have so much more to occupy their days?

Summers remind me of that R.E.M. Song Nightswimming. A song of gentler times – a song from our experiences of youth, “The fear of getting caught – the recklessness of water” – “These things they go away – replaced by everyday”. 

I’m pretty sure that song has crickets chirping in it. I didn’t like R.E.M. until my first time away from home and my hometown. Learning their genius when I took a trip to a Cornwall picnic spot with some new friends. We jumped off a bridge and swam in a crystal clear lake. We walked in glorious green fields and surfed in tepid water. Maybe that was just a flashback. I cannot imagine jumping off a bridge now. I wouldn’t do it. Regardless of how many others went before me and lived happily to tell the tale. I probably wouldn’t swim in British sea either – the last time I dipped my toe in it practically turned to ice. 

We definitely went fishing, and had massive success. We have photographic evidence of cooking our own dinner. We spent a week swimming and hung out on blankets on grass a lot or watching 500 days of summer. I remember the bright summer colours, the sun on my face, warmth, meeting new people from all over the world and laughter. It was fun. I’m glad we did it, glad we went on that run, and many more. Why did summers then seem to have 500 days and now barely 5?

Summer wasn’t the only fun though; in the years before the first summer I spent in England, I was in Scotland for my favourite season. Sledging, snow ball fights and inescapable winter storms were just as wonderful and dreamy, beachy lazy days. Winter walks, cosy houses, social ceilidh dancing (a winter subject for some reason) at school by day and then Christmas movies by night. Magical winters set to the most beautiful backdrop of nostalgic, classic Christmas songs. 

And then the weekend would come and we would greet it with a party – the heady mix of older kids and young adults, people previously out of reach, all of a sudden in your face at close proximity. Something about the festive season making everyone more connected. Then the biggest party of all in Scotland; Hogmanay. I remember the excitement on the morning of the 31st December being similar to that on old firm day morning, knowing there were massive parties and dramas ahead and not having a clue exactly where you’d end up but knowing you wouldn’t be home until the 2nd January. 

Yes, in later years, summers were always incredible fun, the exams were done and freedom was on the horizon, a job somewhere to earn cash, a hitch-hike home. But winters are unsung heroes. 

Yes, it rained and we got wet to the bone. Yes, we had to sometimes hold onto lampposts because the wind was so strong it threatened to topple you over. But I loved the ferociousness of the storms, the beauty of freshly fallen snow, the joy of making snow men and snow angels. I can’t remember the last time I rushed out to make a snow angel. Why do we stop? 

Then summers and winters changed, for me anyway, but I think it was sort of the same for everyone: even ten years ago when I became friends with my small group, none of us knew or particularly cared about a five year plan. We were dragging out the summers and the winters and celebrating any small win with vigour. Spending days in parks and trying to manifest pretty futures. Then along came jobs of one kind or another and along with them came that word – responsibility. Did we have any idea what we were trading for? So many of us were only too willing to give it all away. We craved the next stage, the new adventure, the next phase. I know I was ready to run my race. Little did I know we would not be back around that way again, life moves on, it’s such a shame. 

That’s not to say, I don’t still love every moment with my friends. I do. We have evolved and our love for each other and the world has grown, for sure. 

So what’s the moral? 

Well, summer, my pledge to you this year; I’m going to enjoy you like I’m super young again. Going to look at the clouds and make shapes, going to chase countryside sunsets, slide down dunes, dip in the (too icy, British) water. I hope I get some sun, nothing too bad, just enough to know I should have worn a hat one day. I am going to think of and chat about the memories from the summers of my young adulthood, while I drink iced tea and enjoy the shade of a tree, cooking mussels with chilli and ginger, reading a book to relax, and chatting with those same girls I shared the R.E.M. (and Arctic Monkeys, Beyonce, the Holloways, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart) days with on Cornish beaches. But I’ll make room for the new memories too. 

I’ll appreciate that one day this will be ‘years ago’ and I’ll savour every moment I can. 

Then one day, we will do the same thing, while kids splash us with water and kick sand in our faces, while we look back at *now*, thinking of those child free, real responsibility free days of this present summer moment.

And now and then I will grab a moment to remember what I traded for all those summer days and reset my goals to create space for my kids to grow up and enjoy something that sounds the same. That way, they can one day recall that summers and winters were better when they were kids, that the fields went brighter, and the sun stayed out longer, that the water was warmer. That the snow was more powdering, Christmas lasted longer and magic was real. Because it was, wasn’t it?