The meteorologists have been promising us a really old-fashioned heat-wave, and the rising temperatures of recent days would seem to indicate that the promise (or the threat) is about to be fulfilled.
"All the same," say the old stagers, "we don't get the fierce summers we used to get. The summers are changing."
At first one is inclined to agree, casting back to the nineties or earlier, and recalling those torrid days and weeks of other years in other climes. Then a succession of sizzling days reminds us one that men may change and manners, but the weather and the march of seasons are as old as Father Adam.
So, harking back to those far days, surrounded now by a false glamor of time-induced romance -– those so-called "good old days," one remembers vaguely one's first conscious reaction to a fiercely ardent sun. In the early eighties was it? Surely not. Yet it must have been.
I was four at the time, perhaps nearer five, and the one small world that had hitherto been mine was shaken by a sudden and puzzling upheaval. My father had sold his business in a pleasant land of vineyards and fruit, and great, spreading trees, whose black shadows covered half the landscape, affording grateful shade for man and beast. Fortune had beckoned him farther north.
The rest of the household had gone on ahead, leaving this Eden behind for ever. Now, alone with my father and one faithful retainer, I was being borne in a covered "buckboard" though a burning, treeless land whose paddocks were ploughed to the very doors of the hot stone farmhouses. For here man's god was Wheat, and to that deity had been sacrificed every shade tree, every vestige of heartening green.
The desultory talk along the way had been mainly of the heat: a strange circumstance to me, who, in huge hat and white "pinny," found it merely pleasantly warm.
Then the thing that engraved that ancient scene on a memory, long since wiped clean of many an intervening crisis, loomed into view. At least one vaguely aesthetic soul had sought for some shred of self-expression in this land given over to stark utility. Close by the road, surrounded by the dusty stubble, stood a little farm-house whose owner had painted the front door a glaring, vivid pink.
"Look at it!" roared my father, laughing through a vast brown beard that must have raised his body temperature at least three degrees. "Look at it. Even the houses feel it. That one's getting a rush of blood to the head."
And we drove on in our attendant dust-cloud while I wondered greatly if, in this strange, shadeless land, the houses had blood. And, if one scratched them, would they bleed?
The middle nineties now, and one has almost grown to man's estate, and is the sophisticated possessor of white flannels and a coveted place in the town's cricket team.
It is the annual Boxing Day match against our hated rival from a neighbouring town. They have won the toss, and for most of that glaring afternoon I rushed about the out-field trying, with varying success, to save fourers.
In the shade near the boundary a solitary and sardonic elder, girded in a thick county accent against 'Them fool Colonials! Crickettin' an' careerin' on the 'obs of 'ell!" And he chuckled in toothless scorn. "By goom, yes! Dang daft Colonials!"
We got them out at last, and sought the bush-bough shelter and liquid relief. Here the local chemist, who was also the local weather recorder, told us the day had been a record. "A hundred and twenty-three in the shade," he said. "Parrots are dropping dead from trees along the creek, and five of my hens have gone out to it."
We were hot, but happy. And shortly after went in to bat. I forget who won that year.
Those were the days when heat waves were heat waves; and yet – I doubt if I have ever felt so uncomfortably hot as I do today. Memory is a notorious prevaricator, and thermometers do not lie.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2005-07|