Childhood summers: magic moments with Cat Stevens and Perry Como

Some summer sounds are now tinged with sadness since my Granny died last year

 British singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens. His   gentle guitar plucking transported me to another time.  Photograph: Getty Images

British singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens. His gentle guitar plucking transported me to another time. Photograph: Getty Images

 

It is amazing how certain sounds or songs can flood your brain with memories so specific and detailed that you almost feel you are reliving them.

My brain seems to be trained to associate summer with sounds from my childhood.

The roar of a crowd at GAA matches in the sunshine, the sound of the cuckoo and the crackling of campfire in a neighbour’s field.

The suckling sound of grass laden with dew when your mother opens the bedroom window in the morning before school. The chirping of the swallows who nested under that same bedroom window for most of my teenage years.

The hum of the ride-on lawnmower that my Dad drove around our field-like garden.

Music also plays a big part in triggering flashbacks of summers gone by.

I was walking through Phoenix Park last week when a cunning Spotify algorithm brought me right back to the summer of 2002. I was listening to one of those daily mix playlists which takes a selection of music related to the same genre to that which you normally listen to. At least that’s how I think it works.

Either way, it seemed like pure magic to me when Father and Son by Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam) came on as I walked through the park on one of the hottest days of the year.

I had already felt a little homesick in the heat, pining for my Roscommon home and its feeling of freedom. And then the gentle plucking of Cat Stevens transported me to another time altogether.

“It’s not time to make a change,

Just relax, take it easy

You’re still young, that’s your fault,

There’s so much you have to know.”

Suddenly, I was back in the gold Toyota Starlet that my Mum used to drive my sibling and I around in as children, on the way to the swimming pool in Kilmovee, Co Mayo.

The car had a CD player, which seemed so high-tech at the time, and anytime an album went in it generally stayed there, on repeat, for at least two months or until such a time as we bought another one.

Tea for the Tillerman found its way into the Starlet at the start of that summer in 2002, and by the end of it my mother had three little Cat Stevens fans who knew all the words to Wild World.

It’s funny how some albums can stay with you, and transport you back to a buried memory.

Country music

My auntie Kay loved to play American country music on long journeys in her car. When I was little, maybe 9 or 10 years old, she would bring me up from Roscommon to stay at her house in Dublin during the school holidays.

It was a highlight of my childhood summers; escaping from the countryside for a week of swimming camps and Clara Lara with my older cousins.

Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash all remind me of being in the back of her Toyota Picnic with a backpack full of swimming suits and stuffed animals.

Some summer sounds are tinged with sadness now since my Granny died last year. She was such a huge part of our childhood, and she revelled in summer sunshine. The heatwave of 2018 would have made her so happy, and I wonder sometimes if it was her parting gift to us.

I was listening to Ronan Collins on Radio 1 earlier in the year, out of habit, because my mother would always turn on his show at home.

It was just a couple of months after my Granny’s death when he played Perry Como’s Magic Moments, and I couldn’t help but feel a little empty.

One of his greatest hits albums had made its way into the CD player in my Granny’s bedroom in the early 2000s, and, similar to Tea for the Tillerman, it took a long time for it to be replaced.

She loved dancing, and would twirl around the room with one of her baby grandchildren on her hip, as graceful as ever, singing along to her favourite track.

‘Magic moments, when two hearts are caring

Magic moments, memories we’ve been sharing’

It seemed so inconsequential at the time, so mundane; but those really were magic moments.

Sunshine

I can see her now, with the windows open and the sunshine flooding in the front of the house, as we scampered around with drawing pads and colouring pens that she had bought us in the pound shop.

Weekends spent with cousins down from Dublin, evenings of laughter and singing and dancing.

The sound of birdsong at sunset, and the echo of evening football games in town.

The mechanical churning of a mower in the fields, and the flapping of bedsheets in the wind.

Cat Stevens, Perry Como and Patsy Cline on various adventures with the Towey women in my life.

That is the sound of summer for me. Magic moments.

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