Not only did a signal failure cause what was usually an eight-minute journey to last for an hour and half but, as rather rotten luck would have it, it just happened to be one of the hottest times of the hottest summer for some three hundred years.
Others sought desperately to reevaluate their discomfort by stripping to their underwear. One man, shirtless and possessed of a physique that was the subject of much admiration and diversion amongst those with whom he had been trapped, took the unilateral decision to propel himself Tarzan-like in the windows of the carriage, holding onto two straps suspended from the ceiling as his feet pounded away at the glass, finally succeeding in providing some much appreciated ventilation for the benefit of his long-suffering fellow passengers.
In other areas of the United Kingdom that the heatwave had a similarly profound effect on those upon whom it had been seen, even if the answers weren’t always quite so drastic. Hundreds of people flocked into the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park and turned it into a veritable lido, whilst others sought similar solace in the fountain up the street in Trafalgar Square. Mothers queued with buckets at standpipes in the street as water supplies became ever more scarce, with reservoirs and even rivers running dry. The government officially appointed a minister for drought, a Member of Parliament called for an investigation to stingy ice-cream portions that were allegedly being served by exploitative vendors and a physician memorably advised that adults ought to hydrate themselves with a wonderful pint of cool beer.
As if all this were not surreal enough, vast swarms of seven-spotted ladybirds – coccinella septempuncta to the anoraks – created their hungry way inland, all 24 billion of these if official estimates were to be considered, sustaining themselves with the perspiration of humans and biting anyone who resisted.
The long, hot summer of 1976 has remained the stuff of legend ever since. We have had warmer days, but never have we experienced such a long and unrelenting heatwave as we did in that extraordinary year.
For those who are old enough to look back with fondness – whether it be the music, the large screen or some other part of popular culture to which we cling as we reminisce – it’s that great heatwave which invariably acts as a backdrop to all our memories.