having a summer; I recommend it

By Caroline Crampton,

Published on Sep 22, 2022   —   4 min read


It wasn’t until midway through August that I realised what was happening: unlike the past fifteen years, I was having a summer. The days were long, the sea was warm, and I had unconsciously moulded myself around it all, making the most of it because it wouldn’t last forever. Work was still getting done, of course — perhaps one day I will be able to “summer” in the rich person sense, I certainly can’t now — but it had to fit around everything else. Like swimming or gardening or eating cake under the linden tree with old friends.

This state of affairs was partly created by two lengthy relocations. Taking advantage of the fact that my academic husband gets a long vacation away from his campus and that I can write anywhere, we agreed to do two stints of housesitting many hours’ drive away from where we live. The process of packing up two humans, their books, a dog and all of his accessories for a month or more felt momentous, as if when we eventually returned nothing would be quite the same again. I kept thinking about the various staff magazine jobs I have had over the past decade. As a person without children, taking leave during the school summer break was nigh-on impossible. Now, I am grateful that I no longer have to jostle for space on the leave calendar and limit myself to time away in May and November only.

There are disadvantages to working the way I do, to be sure. When friends in conventional salaried employment suggest doing something fun on a public holiday, my initial reaction is not pleasure but a stab of guilt that if I don’t work, I won’t be paid. Or when I try to work through a migraine because for the self-employed, there is no such thing as sick leave. Covid and a general terror of being destitute have prevented me from appreciating the other side of this coin, though. The one where I can work only early in the morning and late at night if I so choose, leaving a great stretch of the day free for whatever activity best suits weather and mood.

I didn’t spend two and a half months lying on a sun lounger; far from it. I’m not sure I could. Part of the reason for the housesitting was to be close to the various archives I need to consult for the book I’m working on, and I spent long afternoons in non-air conditioned libraries poring over some tedious texts. I found the various heat waves stressful and frightening, in part because trying to keep my dog’s sleeping-towel at the correct level of cool dampness required constant monitoring. A family member needed emergency surgery. Our car’s handbrake stopped working, and we had to walk several miles across Cornish fields to get it mended. I fell off a wall along the way, hit some barbed wire on the way down and bled all over my shoes.

Life continued to be as it is, in other words, but it also had space for glorious things that are only possible when it stays light past 9pm. Quite by accident, I stopped using social media completely. I was too busy doing to be documenting. (“Holidays, if you enjoy them, have no history,” Rosamond Lehmann once wrote.)

It was that line from Lorde’s “Writer in the Dark” that helped me untangle these feelings about my summer. “I let the seasons change my mind,” she sings, and I realised that that’s what I had done too. The pandemic held us in a never-changing state of anxiety and inactivity, unable to adjust to the world outside because of our fear of sickness and our fear of having our hopes dashed. Planning to be different during an upcoming season felt too much like tempting fate. Even before 2020, I largely ignored the year’s shifts, scared of losing my job, of trying something else, of what might happen if I altered the rhythm for a while.

The autumn equinox takes place tomorrow in the northern hemisphere. The sun crosses the equator, heading south, marking the end of summer and anticipating the colder days ahead. We sat down with our diaries the other night, checking our various upcoming commitments and making logistical plans for the autumn. It felt like a different season of life was taking over, which would have its pleasures and pitfalls too, the contrast only possible and indeed noticeable because of what had gone before.

Having a summer; I recommend it.

What I’ve been up to since I last wrote to you

— The American publisher for my next book was announced— I’m working with Ecco Books at Harpercollins US

— Two editions of my quarterly column in the New Humanist magazine were published, one about apocalyptic TV dramas and the other assessing recent attempts to parse the MeToo movement on screen

— I was on the Media Podcastthe Standard Issue podcast and the All About Agatha podcast (and my own podcast, Shedunnit, which is also now available through the BBC Sounds app in the UK)

— Five Books interviewed me about my favourite summer mysteries

What I’ve been reading

Too many books to list here, but a lot of Cadfael and Pride and Prejudice sequels for holiday enjoyment. Non-holiday highlights have included Emilie Pine’s Note to Self and Katherine Rundell’s Super-Infinite.

I’ve been slowly catching up on everything I’ve read on my Instagram. Visit the “What I’m Reading” highlight on my profile to page through it all and see my thoughts on each title.

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