The changes to our weather patterns over the last few years have been gradual, but they really don’t seem that subtle any more. More than anything, there’s a certainty about our summers now which belies all those clichés about the weather in this country.
You only have to look at those once green lawns and fields, all uniformly browned and bleached for weeks now, to realise that southern England has become just another segment of the Mediterranean for a month or two every year.
The way we live has changed, too. Doors and windows open all day long, for weeks on end, trying vainly to catch the merest hint of a breeze. Pasta, red wine and Italian coffee in the garden each evening, with long warm evenings and al fresco dining passing into sleeplessly restive summer nights.
It hasn’t been good for running. Dawn outings might be the best, in theory, but with the July sun coming up through a cloudless sky at 4am in these latitudes, that’s never seemed even a remotely good idea to me. Even in the evenings, it’s been much too hot to head out much before the sun goes down at 9pm, when it’s really too late to go running at all. Especially after eating. And drinking.
The Guilfest 2006 weekend was as long and hot as all the others we’ve enjoyed recently. We spent Saturday afternoon baking in the dustbowl of Stoke Park, having arrived just in time to hear Hugh Cornwell leading off with ‘Always the Sun’. And whilst I’m sure that no self-respecting music fan would ever admit to liking A-ha, even now, it was clear by dusk that everyone in the crowd could still blast out all the lyrics from ‘Take on Me’, all the same. Norway, douze points.
The street-cred readings were happily restored to acceptable levels by the Stranglers on Sunday afternoon. The wafted tones of ‘Peaches’ and ‘No more heroes’ drifting up the hill told me that they were (perhaps inevitably) rolling with just about the same set as their former lead singer had played the day before. I wasn’t missing much as I listened to the concert from our garden.
The oven-like afternoon was dragging into a sultry and lazy evening. But I’d done nothing, all weekend, and something had to give. And so as soon as the guitar rhythm changed, I found myself back inside, seeking out my running shoes.
Fifteen minutes of easy downhill running later, I was standing back at the festival gate. I couldn’t blag my way in, after all, but just outside there was a spot of quiet parched grass which proved ideal for listening to, if not quite seeing, the main event.
I sat there happily whilst Billy Idol went through his entire ‘Greatest Hits’ album just for me. ‘Hot in Guildford tonight’ may have brought the warmest cheers, but it was ‘Rebel Yell’ which topped the set.
Darkness was beginning to fall by the time I trotted contentedly out of the festival grounds an hour or so later. The night was still warm, and I felt young, fit, and full of energy. And I caught myself wondering – maybe the years hadn’t gone by, after all ? Just for a moment, that is – until I saw all those Motörhead and Generation-X tee-shirts around me climbing stiffly into their shiny silver BMWs.
It was far too late, but what the hell – the temperature was perfect for running now, and the opportunity too good to miss, so I broke away from the homeward-ambling hordes to find that dark track heading deep into the woods and down onto the riverbank.
It was quiet there, the cool, damp air and stillness only interrupted by the sounds of the PA system fading into the distance. I loped northwards, dodging tree roots as I ran into the summer nightfall as far as Stoke Lock, before turning back south along the opposite bank. The sky was fully black now, with the cathedral floodlit on the skyline, floating high above the reeds.
Eleven o’clock had long since struck by the time I reached the edge of Guildford again, and the rough and rutted towpath was making for increasingly tricky running – dark, uneven, with the danger of a twisted ankle, or an unplanned midnight splosh into the river – it might not have seemed the most sensible route or hour to be running.
And yet, for all those reasons, it was just the perfect time and place to run. Because on a hot summer night in Guildford – sometimes the summer simply has to be served.
92. Live from London – Live8
123. Bridge on the River Wey
130. Tenerife – 2: the world at the end of the light
119. Schönbrunn, Vienna
128. October is a summer month
126. A new England