The trouble with having the time of your life is that you need someone to come along and tell you that that’s what you’re having. Otherwise you won’t know till years later. At the time you’re too busy having it.
But the arrival of the cricket season coinciding with an unseasonally hot and sunny weekend a week ago alerted me to the fact that summer’s not so far away and one thing I am certain of is that when I do have the time of my life it will be during British Summer Time (BST) which is the same as Shirts-Off Time (SOT), this being a time of year where, in certain parts of our city, the first rays of warm sunshine are like a klaxon alerting male citizens that their previously comfortable upper garments are in fact made of prickly thorns and crawling with insects and need to be removed as soon as possible to allow air to circulate around the torso and arms and let our tattoos breathe. The most serious case of this I’ve ever seen was in Armley, where I once found myself on a particularly hot day and during the course of a little over an hour sitting in my friend’s yard I did not see a single man who wasn’t stripped to the waist. It was only returning there on a rainy day and seeing people fully-clothed which prevented me from immediately pledging to run 50 marathons in 50 days to help the plight of the Unclothed Armleyites.
British Summer Time is obviously marked by longer days. Most of us notice the longer evenings and in my mind, during the depths of winter, I conjure up bucolic pictures of summer evenings which involve punting on a river while sipping a flute of champagne and wearing a straw boater when it will actually be spent shaking my fist at a bare-chested quad-biker who is intent on bringing cacophonous discord to the streets of LS11.
And here lies my problem. The idea of summer is infinitely better than the reality. On cold, dark February days, with the frozen rain coming at me horizontally, I will feel my mind drift to visions of golden light spilling across fields where I am having a picnic with my friends. We are happy, eating, drinking wine perhaps, while a couple of our number play guitars. A calf comes up and nuzzles my neck and we all laugh before bursting into spontaneous song. Obviously, if I ever found myself in a field in summertime I would be plagued by biting insects and a thunder storm would be brewing. And when I eventually got back home that night it would be too humid to sleep.
But before summer commences we have just passed through Easter – the poor man’s Christmas. While I respect any holiday which builds itself around the consumption of chocolate, I have to say that it needs to develop its franchise. Christmas has a massive build-up: weeks of parties, a huge number of dedicated pop songs, specific decorations, gifts, shopping for gifts (and the resulting boost to the country’s economy), a genuine culture of boozy overindulgence, Bing Crosby, Santa and fake snow. Easter has chocolate eggs and the occasional rabbit. It’s as if it isn’t trying. Still, I happily partook of chocolate, even if I did so with a slightly critical air at Easter’s slacker approach. And of course now we are past Easter it is straight into the two Bank Holidays of May, by which point it is more or less compulsory to be involved in barbecues, excessive drinking and watching the Britain’s Got Talent finals, the last among these being the official state-recognised beginning of summer’s dog days.
Of course I accept that summer will be a disappointment. It will rain too much. It will be humid too often. I will get bitten by insects. It will probably flood in one of the more expensive areas of the country. The newspapers will moan that it’s either too wet or too hot. If it doesn’t rain for three days in a row there will be a water shortage. There will be an increase in stories about skin cancer, the danger of barbecued food, the spread of killer mosquitos, the risk of forest fires and so on and so on. And we will all moan constantly. But secretly we will love every minute of it and store up all the heat in our memories to see us through the next winter with only the joys of Christmas to break up the misery.
And the long days will make me think of when I used to start work at 6am, doing the favourite of all the many terrible jobs I’ve had. Not the one where I spent a month hidden in a computer room making a Euro’96 advent calendar but the one where I spent the vast majority of my time doing newspaper quizzes and writing joky letters to celebrities like Chas’n’Dave or hiding around corners to ambush the people who started at 6.45am or laughing at my colleague’s impersonation of Chewbacca. That being the job where another of my colleagues produced a list that they had secretly compiled over a period of several years itemising all the different ways that I had taken the mickey out of them. Because they haven’t invented the job that I won’t start messing about at as soon as the nice weather comes. It’s very nearly time to have the time of our lives and I can’t wait..
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