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Jeremy Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist and columnist who has written about Oxford for more than 10 years. He lives in - and loves – Kidlington.

Man About County

Jeremy Smith


I really dread the summer. Not because I’m fair skinned; not because I hate seeing shirtless youths swaggering around Cornmarket; and not because shop and public toilets always smell worse as the temperature rises.

It’s not even because most people go lobster red; or catch the bus (practically) naked; or that dreadful ‘smog’ of McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC aromas wafting round the city centre.

No, I hate summer because I can’t sleep at night.

And that isn’t because the sheets stick like cling film; the neighbours barbecues don’t end until two in the morning; or because the open windows welcome unseen flutterers during the night.

No...it’s because I can’t read.

This I should point out is not the consequence of a physical malaise but rather a deep-rooted psychological ‘tic’ as vexing as a hangnail.

You see, for as long as the moon has been old – shamelessly dramatising for instant gravitas – I have always had to read before I sleep. And while, by itself, the warm weather and longer, brighter evenings do nothing to physically stop that, aesthetically they do.

Yes, the flowering of summer disturbs me despite the fact I worship all things tanned (legs, especially), charred (steaks outdoors) and bubbling (Prosecco by the river).

And at its core is a fear of ghosts. Or lack of ghosts to be precise.

Ever since I was seven and first read about Trick or Treating with Huey, Dewey and Louie in a Disney colouring book, I’ve always loved ghost stories. Not horror, so no axes or chainsaws or zombie lobotomies, but rather creaking staircases, faint-heard laughter and sudden ice-cold draughts.

Enid Blyton got me started, followed by Franklin W Dixon (‘The Hardy Boys’) and then the Mystery Machine (driven by Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne in ‘Scooby-Doo’). And ever since, before falling to sleep, I’ve always had to read a ghost story or mystery of some kind. And during July and August you can’t do that. Meteorologically the wind rarely howls, the rain rarely splatters and any chill there is comes courtesy of the fridge door as you open it for drinks.

During this month of course, it doesn’t help I watch Wimbledon highlights with Sue Barker, and damn if I don’t catch a snatch of a cheerful weather forecaster before bed.

All said and done then, warm, comfortable evenings don’t auger well for skin-crawling thrills. Lying there, sheet off, in just your boxers, while the smack of willow and whack of racquets murmur sweetly outside, can instantly trivialise Danny Torrance’s encounter in Room 237 of Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel.

Or the knocking on the door in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’. Or the blood-chilling fear of the thing in the bed in ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to Thee’.

Thank god I’m not so anal about my beach reads.

 - Jeremy Smith