Summer Notes, 1.

On the morning of our southern Solstice I step out into the summer and the heat burns my eyeballs. December 21 in the Pilbara, a vast desert area in Western Australia, is a little hotter than the local average of 39 degrees Celsius. The temperature rises day by day, astonishment by astonishment. Tomorrow it will reach 45. A patient agrees: “Yeah it’s pretty warm up here in Newman. Not as hot as Telfer, but. When I worked out there it’d get up to sixty.”

My patient is a blaster. His job is to place explosive charges inside great rocks and blast those rocks into manageable lumps for the dump trucks. (The trucks are bigger than my two-storey house). My patient continues: “You can’t do that work inside a cabin with aircon. You have to get out into the sun and do it. It can be pretty warm work.”

At lunchtime I drive my vehicle – yes, it has aircon, but the black steering wheel doesn’t know that: it’s too hot to touch. I steer with shirtsleeved elbows – and I park in the shade. Bracing myself for the heat outside I look up and watch an Aboriginal group as it files quickly across the sunburned concrete. Number One wears boots, Number Two wears thongs, Number Three wears nothing on his feet. He moves fast, his footfalls are brief, his gait a skipping as he literally hotfoots it to the supermarket.

While working a few years back in another mining town, this one in the Flinders Ranges, they told me of a young man who drove up into the Arkaroola hills and went hiking in the heat of the day. He carried insufficient water. When they found his body a day later it had been cooked.

But What is the Middle?

While watching Seven’s Summer of Ads on TV it was easy, from time to time, to let the tennis distract you from the advertisements. One important headline announced: Bunnings Warehouse: Lowest Prices are just the Beginning. Over this summer and many before it, I heard these words so often I managed to commit them to memory.

 

 

In the Bunnings ads one ordinary, unglamorous Australian after another advises the viewer about this lawn trimmer, that bathroom spotlight, this house paint, all at bargain prices. After delivering this helpful information my aproned fellow Australian assures the nation Lowest Prices are just the Beginning.

 

 

I enjoy these ads. They suggest ordinary people (with the exception of the writer) can do it themselves. An empowering message, edifying. But, after decades of just the beginning an uneasy feeling has grown. I want to know: What is the middle? Why haven’t Bunnings told us? Surely they must know. Unless… unless  there isn’t a middle; unless (terrifying thought) Bunnings knows but isn’t saying. What if there is no middle? Can it be that Lowest Prices are just the Beginning and the End is Nigh?

Spring is Here – Get Ready for Summer

Great Britain, April, 2013.

There is news of a sighting. More precisely, there’s a report that someone in Bristol claims a sighting. It might even be true – perhaps the someone did sight the sun in Bristol, briefly, the day before yesterday. The day before I arrived.

In Whiteladies Road, Bristol, a sandwich board is full of sunny optimism: SPRING IS HERE, it sings, GET READY FOR SUMMER. The advice that follows makes alarming reading:

FULL LEG 10 pounds

BIKINI 15 pounds

BRAZILIAN 18 pounds

No-one in Bristol should shed nature’s protective fur. For that matter, no-one anywhere in Britain ought to follow that advice.

***

Gippsland Lakes, Victoria, Australia, March, 1990.

A lady, middle-aged, bellows across the water from the deck of her rented yacht. She projects her fruity English accents in the direction of Dad’s boat. My aged uncle sits on Dad’s deck, enjoying the day’s end.

The early evening has turned decidedly cool. Dad and his crew shelter below decks, while Uncle sits above, nodding pleasantly from time to time in the English lady’s direction. As dusk descends, Uncle, who is deaf, drinks in the peace.

The English lady and Uncle have not been introduced. The lady is pleased to share her life story with Uncle. She tells him about her travels and her maritime experiences.

Visiting the daughter, actually. Lives here in Orstraliah. Married here, what?

Uncle nods, smiles.

Always enjoyed boating, all of us. Cowes Regatta, what not. Husband’s vice commodore there.

Another nod.

Cool evening. Reminds one of a coolish time at Cowes. Husband and I went for a quiet evening sail. Left the club, tooled around till dark, turned for home. Monster squall blew up. Caught us unawares – below decks taking cocktails. As one might – moon above the yardarm, what?

Uncle – watching a pelican gracefully spilling air, gliding, teasing his sight in slow, elegant inevitability – misses his cue, fails to nod.

His locutor raises her voice helpfully.

Nasty Squall. Tipped the bally boat over. Husband and I took to the dinghy. Squall passed. Squalls do. Boat out of sight, had to row to land.

Uncle, enjoying the first stars behind the lady, looks attentive. From time to time, as her jaws come to rest, Uncle obliges with another nod.

Rowed all night. Dashed cool by morning. Rowed right up to the jetty at the Club, there’s Reginald, Club Commodore, strolling along the pier. Calls out to us: “Lovely morning for an early row.”

One had to explain: ”Not rowing for fun, Reggie. Bally shipwrecked. Learned something from the experience, though: never knew the purpose of hairs on one’s pussy, Reggie – keep one warm in a shipwreck.”

Copyright, Howard Goldenberg, 7 April, 2013