In the British summer of 2006 I was walking over an ancient hill fort somewhere between Birdlip and Winchcombe as part of a four-day stretch along the Cotswold Way. As a put-upon husband and father of six young children, I now undertake these punishing treks at least once a year to justify long weekends of binge-drinking alone in rural pubs with cheap accommodation and greasy breakfasts. It’s the only time I feel alive.
The meadow that day was unusually thick with fluttering butterflies and buzzing bees, and I suddenly had a knee-trembling flashback to childhood summers of the 1970s. In those far off days, the over-40s will tell you, the air was always alive with butterflies and bees, and a brief flash of admiral red or cabbage white was as unremarkable as the sight of a milkman making a home delivery.
Today, seeing a butterfly, essentially just a moth with delusions of grandeur, sends my children into the kind of spin kids of my generation flew into when we found some torn up pictures of Samantha Fox in a wood.
Then I realised I was walking through Prestbury Hill’s designated butterfly reserve, where appropriate wild flowers and grasses had been cultivated to encourage butterflies in quantities that, 30 years ago, were commonplace. That’s why it felt like a 1970s British summer. Summers then were very different, back before pesticides, pollution and the disappearance of the hedgerows began to kill everything.
Once, there was a hilarious Rowan Atkinson comedy song about lorry drivers running over hedgehogs for fun, and we’d see dozens of them splatted, never imagining the spiny critters were a finite resource. Newts swam in puddles in tractor tyre tracks, fat sparrows drank the cream off milk bottles each morning, and once my granddad and I chased a hare along a Birmingham road in a 1971 Morris Marina.
Now we are in the midst of climate collapse. British summers are baked or saturated. Everything from Tewkesbury pensioners to crested newts are burning, drowning or emigrating. No one notices. Older people have forgotten what the climate used to be like, consigning it to the same dustbin of memory as Crossroads . Young people barely look up from sexting each other long enough to realise anything is wrong.
When we were children we read about unicorns and dragons. Now I read my kids Beatrix Potter books, peopled by hedgehogs and frogs and toads and other mythical non-existent creatures.
But, I appreciate I am writing on a hotel group website, and the terrifying unpredictability and climatic violence of our summer is no reason not to make Britain your holiday destination of choice.
Come and visit us! We have literally no idea what it will be like. Pack swimming trunks, snow suits, flip-flops and sou’westers. Surrender yourself to the thrilling randomness of it. See historic West Country market towns before they are swept away by floods. Go to the Orkney islands and watch the puffins and sand eels head north to cooler climes, maybe for the last time. But perhaps bring your own food and water, just in case.
Stewart Lee’s live show, Carpet Remnant World, is available on DVD