A couple of days early, perhaps, but as we prepare to wave goodbye – in calendar terms anyway – to the summer, the last three months have certainly produced a season of contrasts compared with flimsy summers of recent years.
As it’s Britain, we have to start with the weather and in keeping with the bizarre climate patterns of 2013, this summer certainly did not disappoint. Following one of the coldest, and certainly the latest, spring on record, it took only a couple of days into June before the harsh, east wind of the previous four months was suddenly replaced by still, warm days of glorious sunshine. And, with the exception of a few downpours – coinciding, of course with my cycling days out – it pretty much stayed like this for the next three months. Consistent temperatures around the mid 30 degrees mark created an almost Mediterranean atmosphere at times, and sitting out in the garden on long, balmy evenings was a long-forgotten pleasure.
The eccentric weather has been accurately reflected in the idiosyncratic growing patterns of plants in the garden. As I write, on the penultimate day of August, the geraniums are blooming as if it were still high summer and the mountainous Buddleia has retained its pristine white floresence long after its traditionally short flowering season in mid July. Deep crimson impatiens, which arrived as feeble little plugs in the cold spring, now cascade out of their tubs and the blackberries have already produced enough fruit for daily use, as well as for the freezer.
But the real highlight of the garden has been the return of the butterflies; in particular, after a sad absence of several years, the small tortoiseshell. After pessimistic reports forecasting the demise of the entire Lepidoptera species, waves of dazzling peacock butterflies arrived appeared in July, followed by their pretty small tortoiseshell cousins in August. And today, two gorgeous red admirals have now been spotted on the Buddleia.
June saw the arrival of a new member of the bike family – and what an appropriate debutant! The pastel blue of Poppy the Pashley has been perfectly at home amongst the summer blooms and the warm early evenings have provided ideal conditions for a passeggiato on wheels round the village.
The high temperatures may have been a little uncomfortable for cycling at times, but it sure more than made up for the below zero temperatures and Siberian winds of the early part of the year. The agreeable conditions also tempted me to get back on the Cannondale (thanks Patrick for the servicing) and experience, again, the exhilaration of cruising along dry roads with only a gentle breeze as your headwind. It’s also really encouraging to see how popular road cycling has become and, especially, how it now attracts people of all ages and genders.
The standout has to be the late afternoon of Sunday July 7 when Andy Murray finally overcame Novak Djokovic to win Wimbledon. I’ve watched the tournament each year since I was five and I never thought I would ever see a British man win the singles title: it was suitably historic and emotional. And, maybe as a result of that, I finally re-joined the local tennis club, bought a new pair of shoes and signed up for some coaching – very necessary after 20 years away from the courts – and, so far, pleased to say, it’s going well.
Even amongst the regular horror stories dominating the news these last few months there have been some uplifting examples of human courage and integrity: the local and national protestors against fracking deserve mention, as do the majority of decent and humane people throughout the country who continue to vehemently oppose the shameful and barbaric badger cull, and even the sensible majority of MPs who voted against any further war mongering in the Middle East. These may be small chinks of light, but are significant, nevertheless.
So, finally freed from the constraints of school holidays, I can look forward to spending some of September in Scotland. The unspoilt, undiscovered delights of Galloway (including, hopefully, the Wigton Book Festival) await, as does a return to Glasgow and its wonderful cafe society, plus the Trossachs, with possibly another circuit of Loch Katrine in its russet autumnal glory, on the cards.
It’s been a summer to remember, but now I can’t wait for the autumn.