The Summer That Changed My Life: 3 STELLAR Writers Look Back
Is there anything as nostalgic as memories of summer gone by?
When I was younger, I never really got the whole summer thing. I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys winter and darkness, and I was hygge-ing long before it was a thing. Summer to me always meant allergies, disappointing weather and pressure to be outside and active when I’d rather be indoors and horizontal. Sunburn, annoying little flies, shitty seasonal jobs, the pressure to be tanned and hairless at a moment’s notice… the magic just never fully struck me as a city gal in suburbia.
That all changed in 2013, when I was 27. I know, it’s a tad old for a coming-of-age epiphany, but it just goes to show it’s never too late.
At the start of the season, I felt a freedom I’d never experienced before. I had ended a long-dead, long-term relationship and I was living alone for the first time in my life. I’d decided to only surround myself with people whose company I actually enjoyed, and had seen my circle of friends widen by simply accepting invitations.
I’d been working out properly for the first time ever so I felt great. I had a job I loved in a national newspaper, and I’d just been asked to cover festival season alongside one of my best friends, Caitlin – dream assignment or wha’?! Plus, a very cute colleague had asked me to join a work tag rugby league, and with suddenly quiet midweek evenings to fill, I said yes. It would turn out to be one of the best decisions ever – but more on that later.
I’ll never forget rocking up to my first festival assignment, which was the first in a series of gigs
in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. 2013 was the summer of seemingly endless sun; it was warm at 9pm and freckles from that day’s al fresco lunch were appearing on my nose. I remember standing in a field watching Justin Timberlake do his thing and feeling so happy, free and calm. I had finally realised that my life was my own, and that I could do with it what I wished. Seems simple, but I had spent so many years worrying about other people and what they thought. All of a sudden, I only had to think about myself.
It was unbelievable fun. By the inaugural Longitude festival in July, I realised my crush on that handsome colleague and tag rugby captain was turning in to something a lot more serious and by Indiependence in August we were in love. You might think that this somehow hampered my freedom (I certainly worried it would), but the opposite happened. I realised that you could be in a relationship and still be an individual! How queer! But so true. Summer was a blur of nights out, beach visits, lunches outside and drinks on the terrace with my friends and my new boyfriend, and I finally understood its appeal.
The season ended with Electric Picnic. It was the festival’s tenth anniversary, and I remember clear as day standing in the main arena as fireworks exploded overheard while Fatboy Slim played, thinking yes, this is what summer is meant to be, this is exactly where I’m meant to be, this is who I’m meant to be.
Four years on, the festivals bug hasn’t left me. I don’t camp, mind, because 2013 also taught me that tents aren’t my friend – staying in an Airbnb is a far better shout, believe me.
I’m also newly married to that very tag rugby captain, and the friendships cemented that summer are going strong. The smells of suncream on skin, barbecue charcoal in the air, cider in the beer garden and sea-salty hair still thrill me no end. Sunburn, body hair, little flies and allergies are taken care of pharmaceutically, shit summer jobs are a thing of the past and hygge? That can wait until autumn.
When I was asked to write about a life-changing summer, my brain stumped. Since the end of college, and the dawn of my 9-to-5:30 existence, my summers have blended like corned beef, something not worth asking too many questions about. I don’t tan. I can’t swim. Ice cream isn’t my dessert of choice. I wear sunglasses all year because I say I’m sensitive to light, when I’m actually terrified of ageing. I have taken zero risks. The only time I walk on the edge is when my phone is off.
But I used to be FUN. And this summer, I’ve decided I’m going to channel the girl of my past and, I don’t know, do something. Care less, but actually care more.
The summer I turned 20 I, alongside six of my friends, decided to be a stereotype and interrail. Studded Topshop shorts, Penneys dresses, cheap knickers, Sudocrem and one pair of heels were packed and we set off.
I’m one of those sad people who remember my time on the rails in technicolour. I kissed
a very good looking Scot in a Berlin bar and drunkenly told him I’d had better, when I’d actually had very little. A part of me thrilled at how annoyed him and his stag friends became at my cocktail-sipping DGAF attitude.
We survived on less than €30 a day, skipping most exhibitions with entry fees. I had the worst martini of my life at the top of the TV tower in Berlin. Private school boys in Krakow made a sliver of my soul communist as they mocked social mobility. I walked among the sheds of Auschwitz before selfie sticks were invented, but there was still a weird check off the to-do list element to the place. It’s an odd sensation, being pushed by swarms of bodies out of a room where socks made from human hair lying behind glass can only earn a passing glance.
In Prague we were told to f*ck off when asking for directions. In Vienna we saw Klimt. In Budapest we were so terrified by the hostel owner, we stayed one night and each shared a bed with our male friends as we slept with valuables under our pillows. We ran into a rubber looking Mickey Rourke at the Sarajevo Film festival. He wore a gold waistcoat and white t-shirt. On the way to Croatia we argued on a bus outside Mostar over losing tickets and our minds. In Hvar we slept on the streets the last night because we didn’t want to pay for accommodation. (We did the same in Pisa airport before our Ryanair flight home. Being woken at 3am by lawn sprinklers is not romantic.) Then we took a ferry to Ancona in Italy but the wind wasn’t picking up, so we were stuck at sea for 12 hours, no option but to buy Milka bars and wonder if you can turn diabetic in a day.
I arrived in Rome the day of my birthday and bought a ridey dress in Sisley, but fell asleep on the hostel bunk as soon as I looked presentable. I took an overnight trip to Venice, solo, with no phone. It had melted on the way to Serbia. I told my gal pals I’d meet them in a McDonalds near the main train station in Florence the evening after the next. And I did. I had faith in myself. So, here’s to youth, and reclaiming it this year. This time without the studded shorts, though.
Summer 2014 is when I became a grown-up. I moved to New York, leaving my family and friends behind, and was forced to do all of the adulty things that I would usually have relied on my mother for. Something about moving into a small Brooklyn apartment with a group of strangers teaches you to grow up quickly. I’d gone to the States on a J1 Visa. The people I was living with, I’d met online. Risky, I know, but it worked out surprisingly well. Our personalities clicked, and nobody hogged the bathroom for too long. When people didn’t clean their hair from the drain, we maturely held a ‘family meeting’ to ensure it didn’t happen again. And (almost) everyone respected the name labels on the food.
That summer, I learned what it was like to pay rent. I’d lived at home with my parents through college, so handing over wads of cash to keep a roof over my head was new.
Soon it became apparent that I couldn’t fork out $18 for a portion of goujons and chips, because that would mean I’d be too poor to take the subway the next morning. Budgeting was something I’d never done before, and it was such a foreign concept that I ended up eating cereal and/or peanut butter sandwiches for every single meal for numerous weeks on end…
New York is far more expensive than Dublin, and so I needed to find a job. My first stop? The Social Security Office to get my SSN. It’s their version of a PPS number. Next stop? Every shop, bar and café in Manhattan with a folder of CVs. And voila! Dunkin’ Donuts wanted me. I’m not gonna lie, it was the worst job I’ve ever had. I’m not cut out to be a barista. What even is an ‘iced latte with a mocha swirl and two equals’ anyway? But working a job that’s not meant for you is a rite of passage, and it cemented my career goals more firmly than ever.
Lastly, I learned to enjoy my own company. I spent my final ten days alone, taking a bus for 28 hours (including a six-hour rest stop) from Washington D.C. to Orlando, Florida. My phone had broken, and the only conversation I had was with a hotel concierge. Going solo helped me find myself – my confident, independent, and budget-able self, and legit changed my life for the better.
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