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11 July 2018

This hot summer has transported me back to the drought of 1976 – and my teenage diary

This current spell of weather has locked me into a full-on revival of that glorious year of pop.

By Tracey Thorn

I’m lying in the garden on a tartan blanket, wearing a bikini and basking in the heatwave. The only thing that’s sad about this is that it’s not 1976, although it might as well be, and I’m not 13, but 55, although right at this moment I don’t feel it. Pressed up close to my ear is the tiniest of speakers, my iPhone trying its best to sound like a transistor radio. Blaring out in all its tinny glory is “S-S-S-Single Bed” by Fox.

Two friends of mine have recently made 1976 playlists, and so I’ve amalgamated them to make my own, though really all our choices are more or less the same, and this current spell of weather has locked me into a full-on revival of that glorious year of pop.

Lying in the sun, nothing can make my heart soar like an afternoon of “More, More, More”, “Play That Funky Music”, “Young Hearts Run Free”, “The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)” and “This Is It”. As the sun starts to dip, we slip into “Lowdown” and “TVC15”, “Low Rider” and “Amoureuse”, “Haitian Divorce” and “Free”, “Fool to Cry” and “Wake Up Everybody”. Same age as me? You know what I mean.

That memorable summer I was 13, and unbeknown to my parents I was snogging older boys at the local disco, and writing it all down. I recorded the heatwave in full in my diary, with a hand-drawn full sun emoji running for weeks on end. The first was on 8 June, with the words HOT WEATHER underlined. Little did I know what joy was to come. Next day was “Hot, but windy. Saw Survivors.”

The start of Wimbledon was 21 June, and every single day basked in full sunshine. “WEATHER GORGEOUS,” I wrote, “The Real Thing are number 1!” Saturday 26 June, “Weather boiling! Got a bikini.” I’d cool off under the sprinkler, oblivious to any hosepipe ban, though perhaps it wasn’t in force yet, and after a while I ran out of words to describe what was becoming a phenomenon. “Boiling!” I wrote, then, “still boiling!!” and “boiling again!!”.

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Woven through it all, those songs, illuminating the days like a Scorsese film soundtrack, bathing everything in the glow of a sun setting over a browned suburban lawn. Is it that pop music sounds better in the sun, or just that it sounds better when you’re young? I continue to keep up with new releases, but I don’t think you ever love again the way you do when you fall at 13. I gave my heart so completely to those records, nothing else comes close.

The weeks of the summer stretched out, the ground became parched, all of us sizzled. I watched Chris Evert win Wimbledon, not recording who won the men’s, and while early July brought the odd thunderstorm, there was not much change – “It RAINED!!! Only about 2 drops though”. In August, I went up to the local park and “walked ACROSS the lake (it’s dry)”. On 10 August the weather was so hot the dog refused to go for a walk.

Sunbathing every day I must have been tanned to a crisp, no thought of SPF numbers or skin damage troubling us back then. We used Johnson’s Baby Oil, aiming for as dark a tan as possible, loving our strap marks, the skin-toned bikinis which remained even when we stripped off, and how our white teeth glowed under the UV disco lights. Finally the weather began to break – “IT RAINED!!! Amazing. Not a lot though so there’s still a water shortage”. We drifted back to school; I turned 14, and for my birthday got Can’s “I Want More”, a song that features now on all our 1976 playlists, and which had actually been a hit single, reaching number 26 in the charts that August. 

Now, in this hot summer of 2018, I walk every morning on the heath, as early as possible  before the temperature rises too high. The grass is dry, and the view down over the city is hazy with smog, but I’m in my own world with my headphones, and when a song comes on from that year, there’s an extra spring in my step. If you look closely, you can see I’m dancing a little bit, not just walking, and I want more and more and more and more. 

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This article appears in the 11 Jul 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit farce