Sun-bathing mum in spot of bother

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It was always the same in a heatwave.

I’d arrive home from junior school, the kitchen door would be wide open and a strippy-strappy, sun-yellowed blue door fringe flailing in any bit of a breeze.

I’d already know, without a shadow of a doubt, mum wouldn’t be there; that all there would be to greet me would be a Tupperware tumbler and a jug of home-made lemon cordial, draped with a clean tea towel, on the enamel draining board.

Kids these days probably long for their mothers to make home-made lemonade like the chefs do on the telly. But I’d sigh as I poured myself a glass of mother’s vitamin C-rich home brew; why couldn’t we have Robinson’s Barley Water like everyone else?

I was convinced it was because there were three of us kids and we were too poor (for the same reason, we had to put up with the discomfort and indignity of flat-pack shiny Izal while Tracy Thackery down the road got to wipe her pampered, only-child bottom on nice, soft Andrex).

Then I’d trot round the house to the back garden - and my sun-worshipping mum.

She adored sweltering heat; she would soak up every ultra-violet radiation ray she possibly could. Turning herself the colour of our teak coffee table seemed her main aim.

Early on summer mornings, she had me and my brother gazing out at the sky. We were her little weather vanes on blue alert. Thinking it was a game, we’d come back in to report whether there was enough blue to make a sailor’s cap or trousers that day.

She liked entire sailor’s suit days best of all. On such mornings, we’d be hurriedly packed off to school then she’d flash through the housework in double-quick time so she could get out on her sunlounger before lunch.

It was blue, that lounger, stained to deepest navy in patches where she’d split a bit of sun oil. By the time we got back home, she’d have moved it several times around the daisy-strewn lawn; chasing the sun.

Gleaming in a sheen of oil and perspiration, she’d clutch the precariously poised top of her bikini with one forearm and me with the other. And there it was, the smell of summer.

Marinating in nil-factor sun oil, sometimes even olive oil, or rather more prophetically for those unwitting Sixties sun goddesses, a slick of Spry Crisp & Dry, was all the rage.

The idea was to tan yourself as rapidly as possible. If you were an adult, that is. We kids had floppy cotton sunhats rammed onto our head and undignified streaks of zinc-laden creams slathered over noses, foreheads, shoulders...

Though just as no one realised the dangers of that sunray-eating slick of oil, no one thought about regularly re-applying that gloopy sun protection lotion on the kids.

I can remember being brown as a berry as a child. And the pain of sunburnt limbs, even doses of sunstroke, on both Cornish and Spanish camping holidays.

Once, my shoulders burned to blisters. When scabs formed, I’d sit and pick off the itchy bits to reveal fascinatingly bright pink patches of shocked new skin.

Not like nowadays. This weekend in the wonderful, so very welcome heat wave, back gardens and parks were clad with lily-white kids clad in sunhats, sunglasses, even special sun-deflecting clothes.

Adults were either bottle-bronzed or working the pale and interesting look.

Mostly, save for the odd beetroot-faced idiot, we’ve finally cottoned onto the fact that a suntan isn’t the be-all of summer; that it could actually be your end-all.

And what of my mother, the Spry Crisp & Dry goddess? Well, she’s still going strong at 81. But the huge brown freckles and sun-spots on her face, arms and hands are slowly but surely melting into each other.

Ironically, they are turning her into the colour she once worked so hard on that sunbed for. And she hates them with a passion.