Summer of ’69

Many of you will instantly recognise the title for this piece as being a song by Bryan Adams, from his album Reckless (1984). Adams has been a little vague about the meaning of the song, having at different times suggested that it was about sexual exploration (but the use of the apostrophe would seem to disprove that!) or, more probably, that it is a song about nostalgia in general, and not the actual year 1969. I, however, am taking it literally, as that summer was a momentous time for me and I can never hear the song without thinking back.

I was 15 through that summer, and had my 16th birthday in September 1969. I was at the age of teenage awakenings – realising that there was more to life than school, my mates and football, cricket, tennis etc: I was madly in love with a beautiful girl who lived in our village, but she was just an unattainable dream. She was a whole year older than me, and that made such a huge difference back then! She had already left school and got herself a job, and she was far too sophisticated for me! I did manage to go out with her a couple of times but even then I could see that I stood no chance. It would take an incredible coincidence for her to read this so I think I’m safe in telling you that she was called Sue. Actually, now I come to think of it, there were two beautiful girls called Sue in our village, so that may keep them guessing. Except for the one I didn’t go out with, that is….

The law on working ages was more relaxed in those days, and since January that year I had been working on Sundays in a coffee bar in the nearby town, Dover. Winters back then are set in my mind as being colder and snowier than today, and as Sunday shopping hadn’t yet been legislated there was hardly a soul around in town on a cold, snowy winter’s day. The coffee bar’s owners were well aware of this but preferred to stay open for any passing trade on every day that they could – they were relaxed about how I spent my time as long as I opened the place up, served all of the customers, did the washing up and closed up at the end of the day. This gave me plenty of time to myself, and meant that I could actually get paid while doing my school homework – a real result! So I spent my Sundays with an occasional passer by, a Russian sailor who came in whenever his ship was in port (I always imagined that he must have been a spy to be allowed ashore!) and at some point in the afternoon a group of four lads from the local public school, when they were allowed time out for good behaviour. I like to think that my sitting there translating Caesar’s Gallic Wars into English helped redress the intellectual balance between public and grammar school, and perhaps made them look slightly more favourably on us poor oiks who weren’t amongst the privileged! (In the UK education system, ‘public’ schools are actually the opposite: they are fee paying schools for those who can afford them).

Fast forward several months and this became my first ever summer holiday job. For the whole school holiday I was going to be working six days a week earning my own money – every day except Sunday, ironically. This date has been forever set in my mind, as the US rather kindly arranged a special celebration for me:

Yes, I started my summer job on 21 July 1969, having been up most of the night watching TV! Summer days on which people were at work or out shopping were much busier than winter Sundays, and there were three of us working there. We were busy, we had a lot of laughs, and the time flew by – and I fell in love again, with my co-worker this time: sadly, Claire had a boyfriend and was moving away, so that was another potential relationship doomed before it had begun! By the end of the summer I had earned enough to buy a secondhand Lambretta and as soon as I became 16 I got a provisional licence and opened up my whole horizon. Life was good, and with that scooter the summer of ’70 was even better (another time, maybe…).

But life always has a surprise waiting for you, doesn’t it? All summer long I had been working towards my dream of buying that motor scooter and of being legally allowed to ride it. It was going to be the absolute best week of my young life so far. As I look back on that week I realise that it was one of the most important in my life, and still is even to this day. I was 16 on the Tuesday, paid over my money and bought the scooter on the Thursday, and then on the Saturday my Dad left home to be with the woman he had fallen for. He and my stepmother, as she became, are still blissfully happy some 47 years on, so it was clearly the right thing for him to do. But for me life changed. I stopped being the self-centred teenager and in an instant became the man of the house. I had seen this coming but my poor Mum didn’t have a clue and took it really badly. I had a lot of help from my sister, but she was 13 and being very much Daddy’s little girl took it badly too. So I grew up rather more rapidly than I would ever have expected. Whilst I still enjoyed the same lifestyle in general there was a new dimension to it. I was now the one doing some of the business of the house, helping with the shopping, making the occasional phone call etc. With 20/20 hindsight (always a wonderful thing) I was probably helped enormously in my development by this, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. It’s not as though I’ve ever resented my Dad for what he did – feeling as he did it would have been wrong to stay with Mum any longer than he had already done ‘for the sake of the children’  – but my new found freedom of being a teenager with his own wheels didn’t happen quite as I had expected! But at least I had a good relationship with both parents, and even managed to achieve the first rapprochement between them at the Christening of my first daughter. It only took 18 years!

And all of that comes back to me every time I hear this:

It’s strange, really, how much someone else’s song can matter to you.

40 thoughts on “Summer of ’69

  1. tidalscribe February 22, 2019 / 4:32 pm

    It’s good to hear from the boy’s point of view. I was exactly the same age, but being in Australia, we were already at school in the morning, classes crammed in to the few rooms with television to watch the moon landing.I laughed at your unrequited love because my friend’s younger brother liked me, but i didn’t take much notice as he was only fifteen and I was more interested in his older brother, who of course was Not interested in me…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 22, 2019 / 4:47 pm

      You were lucky that the time difference worked for you: I have a vague recollection of going to bed early, failing to sleep, and then being awoken by my Dad from a doze around 3am! It was worth it, though, to see history in the making. Unrequited love is very painful at that age, isn’t it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. gizzylaw February 20, 2019 / 10:03 pm

    You brought back a lot of memories. I graduated that summer and headed for college. Lots of changes, lots of growing up. An amazing time. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 20, 2019 / 10:34 pm

      I’m glad it was a great time for you too. And you also have Bryan Adams to remind you of it 😊


  3. Debbie Harris February 19, 2019 / 4:48 am

    Sometimes all it takes is a song and we’re right back there aren’t we Clive? Great memories although at the time it must have been very hard for you thrown in at the deep end like that. #seniorsalon

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 19, 2019 / 8:50 am

      Thanks Debbie. Songs certainly have that effect for me and I do still remember that as a happy time despite the massive changes we went through.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. robertawrites235681907 February 18, 2019 / 8:21 am

    I enjoyed this article, Clive. We all get our cards to play in life, unfortunately, and have to do our best with them. It sounds like you did pretty well with yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 18, 2019 / 9:20 am

      I guess we all try to do our best, it would be wrong not to!


  5. ellenbest24 February 16, 2019 / 11:05 am

    Oh Clive this was wonderful a patchwork, an idling or ticking over of your teens; rather like that long worked for scooter, when you turn the key and listen. I was twelve on the 24th of that month and year. That particular song, brings back memories much later in my life, because I was reintroguced to it at forty nine years old and it takes me directly to the person and placwe danced to it. Ahh what a rout of snails hid under that litchen coated log.I am smiling at the memories you let us peek at and those you poked of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 16, 2019 / 11:14 am

      I’m glad it brought back happy memories for you, too! It’s funny how music has the knack of getting deep inside us and triggering such thoughts.


      • ellenbest24 February 16, 2019 / 11:54 am

        A scent can do it too, reminding me of an Aunt or a moment. Loved it Clive.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Stevie Turner February 16, 2019 / 10:47 am

    In July 1969 I had just left my primary school and was faced with 6 blissful weeks of school holidays before I started in the first year at a small, traditional grammar school. I remember sitting on a swing in our local park and wanting the summer to never end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 16, 2019 / 11:11 am

      A memorable time for you too, then. I was awaiting O level results before going into the sixth form. Despite the big change I recall those as happy times.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stevie Turner February 16, 2019 / 11:20 am

        Yes. Sometimes I wish I could go back just for one day. I didn’t realise how idyllic my life was back then.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Clive February 16, 2019 / 11:22 am

        It’s that Joni Mitchell lyric, isn’t it: you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Clive February 16, 2019 / 10:39 am

    Reblogged this on Take It Easy and commented:

    I wasn’t planning on posting again just yet, as I have another on mental health in the production stage, but the ever reliable Timehop reminded me of this one, from three years ago today. Reading it again I’ve realised that I was describing a seminal week in my life, though at that young age I had no idea how life-changing it would be. I suppose the ‘wisdom’ that comes with age and experience helps us put things into context. I received a telephone call this week which is going to bring about a big change in my life nowadays, and I’m thinking about further interrupting my planned series of mental health posts to share that story too. But, for now, here’s a look back at how I was in my teenage years and how, as I’ve often said, music – and the feelings and memories it evokes – is a very important part of my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. joanneeddy February 19, 2016 / 12:31 am

    Music in our teen age years had an amazing ability to enter the conscious and wrap our memories in a nostalgia of notes and heartbreaks. My father left our family in 1964 the year of so many Beatles songs, and You Don’t Own Me, (Leslie Gore), Walk on By and Anyone Who Had a Heart (Dionne Warwick). We would come home from high school, turn on the Dick Clark show and sing and dance….and feel sad at the same time. I think having a Dad leave a family is different for boys and girls and different by age as well. But my Dad left and moved to Oklahoma, so he not only left home but dropped out of lives for the most part. For my sister and me his leaving brought peace in that our parents stopped fighting, but a strange empty place at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 19, 2016 / 1:04 am

      A sad time for you, and I think you’re right about it being different for boys and girls. It is probably also affected by the number of children too. Our teenage years are when we do a lot of growing up and are, I believe, most receptive to new ideas, and new music. It stays with us for life. What I find interesting is that it is a song from 15 years later that, by its title reference, is the one to take me back to that summer. The song actually from 1969 that has really stayed with me is Man of the World, by Fleetwood Mac. It’s heartbreaking and really went well with my teenage emotions.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. mariaholm February 17, 2016 / 6:49 pm

    Lovely story from our youth. Having to study latin for some years also had an impact on me by the way. It was not easy and prepared us for studying later on

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 17, 2016 / 7:06 pm

      Thank you! Latin was at first sight a strange thing to teach us but was such a good grounding for learning other languages. I’d recommend it to anyone.


      • mariaholm February 17, 2016 / 7:08 pm

        Exactly what I have experienced. It has helped us to spell words and to know the origin

        Liked by 1 person

      • Clive February 17, 2016 / 7:34 pm

        Spot on! I learned French and German at school, Latin linked them both with English and each other.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mariaholm February 17, 2016 / 7:38 pm

        I have hardly ever “met” a person who understands to treasure Latin. O yes my Latin teacher did. He got a certain look in his eyes when he was going to drill us in the discipline of grammar. Sometimes tears dropped in my book

        Liked by 1 person

      • Clive February 17, 2016 / 7:40 pm

        Our Latin teacher was an old style English gentleman, bow tie and all. He once saw the rhyme we used to use:

        Latin is a language, as dead as dead can be,
        It killed the Ancient Romans and now it’s killing me

        I thought he was going to cry!


      • mariaholm February 17, 2016 / 7:45 pm

        how cruel of you, his whole life’s work !
        (Ha Ha)

        Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 16, 2016 / 2:41 pm

      It’s almost as though he wrote that about my life! I love the song, but it means much more to me than just that. I can still remember watching the moon walk with my Dad, a real piece of history.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Still the Lucky Few February 16, 2016 / 1:50 pm

    So many of the incidents you mention hit a familiar note. It seems that all of the western cultures were being affected by some common social changes. Notably, divorce statistics swelled during those years, as women left marriages because suddenly they could. Many spouses and children were left stranded in the wake of that movement. There is always a balance in change —between ecstasy and pain!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 16, 2016 / 2:18 pm

      They were exciting times though, especially for teenagers like me to grow up in. And the best decade of my life for music, too 😊


  11. Bernadette February 16, 2016 / 12:57 pm

    What a richly written post, Clive and what complicated and wistful memories that song evokes for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 16, 2016 / 1:01 pm

      Thanks Bernadette. As Dickens said: they were the best of times, they were the worst of times 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Stevie Turner February 16, 2016 / 12:22 pm

    Great post. Thanks for sharing, Clive. I too look back on my teenage years with fondness, but for me the song is Tina Turner’s ‘Nutbush City Limits’. It reminds me of when I was the disco queen of Sidcup!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive February 16, 2016 / 12:27 pm

      Thanks Stevie. Music has always been a major part of my life – from that summer of 69 Fleetwood Mac’s Man of the World is pretty special for me. Has Sidcup ever recovered from losing you? 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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