Works in the Herald 1934

When I was a small boy living in a part of Australia that was subject to sudden and intense heat-waves almost every summer, it used to rather puzzle me to hear my elders sighing and puffing and complaining of the hot weather, and declaring that, if it did not change very soon, it would be the death of them.

I, who failed to perceive very much difference between the day before yesterday's eighty-nine in the shade and today's one hundred and ten in the water-bag, was rather impatient of these elderly complaints. And I had wit enough to notice that those who had access to thermometers complained a little more bitterly then those who had no opportunity of consulting one; but I had not patience enough to follow this thought out to its natural conclusion.

I, myself, despite admonitions, had probably devoted the whole blazing forenoon to a very interesting game of cricket in a shadeless paddock. Or, perhaps, I had just raced a mate all the way home from school along glaring white treeless streets that flung back the sun's heat with an intensity that seemed particularly annoying to my effete elders. And it used to annoy and amze me to hear one of these irritating beings, who had not put the tip of a nose out in the sun all day, exclaim, "Why! Goodness, boy! Look at your purple face! You'll burst a blood-vessel if you don't take things more quietly in this heat."

Finally, I decided privately that such remarks and admonitions were part of the old people's absurd practice of substituting conversation for action and censure for admiration of my superior physique. If I did not feel hot enough to be distressed, then obviously it was not hot enough to distress anybody. And I let it go at that.

Some time later in my life, when extremes of heat and cold began to have their effect on ageing arteries, I altered that opinion, and changed all my earlier impatience to the arrogance of youth and its insensibility, physically, to outer discomforts and mentally, to the weakening resistance of age.

But, yesterday, I had to review the whole matter again, and readjust these hasty judgments. For, in a much cooler part of Australia, as I sat in my verandah, where the thermometer registered a mere ninety-five, there came to me one Jerry, who, when he feels like it, does occasional odd jobs about my domain.

It was approaching noon; and I had already cast aside every garment whose abandonment was consistent with decency, and was making sporadic attempts to begin this article, deeming myself the while a resolute martyr to the cause of journalism.

"The pump down the back," said Jerry, his red face contrasting vividly with white hair, "has got stringhalt or something. I been fiddling with it, but it's got me beat. Have you got a minute to spare?"

Immediately I had a mental picture of "the pump down the back," in an open paddock, where even the surrounding forest trees failed to cast a shade at this hour.

"Leave it till tomorrow, Jerry," I murmured weakly.

"Well," said Jerry, standing full in the sun. "If you don't want no baths or no water for the garden, perhaps we might."

"Oh, all right," said I. "Wait till I get my big hat."

Still clad sketchily, I followed Jerry down the sun-baked paddock, and, while I directed from a scrap of shade, he made the necessary repairs. It took about an hour.

"Could you do with a beer, Jerry?" I asked, full of sympathy when the job was done.

"No, thanks," said he. "Beer seems to hot me up a bit in the weather. I like to keep cool."

"Keep cool?" I said in amazement. "But surely you must feel this heat at your age?"

"At my age!" cried Jerry resentfully. "Why, I'm only rising seventy-four; and I've known it a lot hotter in these parts. You wait till the bush fires start. They'll keep you goin', and you won't have time to feel hot. I'll be toddlin' home now to cut a bit of wood for the missis. Main thing is to keep going."

So I bade the patriarch good luck, and returned to my verandah, filled with humiliation, resolved to "keep going," to reform my opinions of heat resistance, and to wait, somewhat apprehensively, for the bush fires.

Herald, 18 January 1934, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-04