Summer 1979. Not just any summer but the hottest on record — or at least the hottest I had known in my eight short years. It was the summer we dared one another to run along the pavement in our bare feet, the summer that brought a shortage of ice poles at the local corner shop. I’m sure I remember someone frying an egg on the roof of their car.
Gala Day was fast approaching. It was the highlight of the year in our little village and the excitement was raw. Our bun bag tickets had taken pride of place on the mantelpiece and there was bunting draped over every lamppost within a three mile radius.
My mum had a brainwave to dress me up as a pea-pod for the fancy dress competition. It was a brilliant idea — me dressed in various shades of green with three plump, green balloons tied to my middle in a vertical line to represent the peas.
There was only one hitch. The outfit consisted of rolls and rolls of crepe paper wrapped around a thick, woolly jumper, a pair of 80 denier tights, and (the piece de resistance) a knitted tea-cosy hat, accessorised with sweet pea flowers fresh from the garden.
I can remember standing on the settee while my mum fiddled with the hem of my paper tunic so it sat neatly on the rim of my (fur-lined) wellie boots. ‘My Sharona’ by The Knack was playing on the wireless.
“I’m a bit hot mum,” I grumbled, fantasising about sticking my head in the freezer.
“Just another minute or two,” she replied through a mouthful of safety pins.
Layer upon layer of crepe paper was rolled around me until I was completely mummified. Then the hat went on and I stood for an eternity while mum carefully threaded the stems of the sweet peas through the wool. My face was thumping and beads of sweat were trickling down my back and as I watched mum blow up the first of the balloons, her face alight with pride at her handiwork, I started feeling desperately unwell.
“You look fantastic!” she squealed. “I think we’re onto a winner.”
But her voice was warbled and distant and funny little pinpricks had appeared before my eyes.
The last thing I remember before collapsing onto the floor in a sweaty heap was hoping the sheer volume of clothing would ease my fall from the settee onto the orange spiralled carpet.
Of course we had to abandon the entire thing. I don’t think mum ever forgave me.
Later that afternoon I stood sucking on a Zoom ice-lolly, watching the prizes being handed out for best costume. First prize went to a girl and her little sister who had dressed as ‘A pint and a half of milk’. The crowd laughed and cheered at the sheer wit of their idea but it wasn’t half as good as my pea pod.
I thought about the plump green balloons, lying redundant on the living room floor and the sweet peas withering in the heat on the draining board. It should have been me up there getting the prize.
Pipped at the post. Story of my life.