Summer in Melbourne. The tennis is on, the cricket tours the country, bushfires erupt, the hot sun beats down. According to the forecast we’re part way through a stretch of four days around or over 40 degrees (43 right now), and five days over 30.
Summer heat generally comes two ways in Melbourne: with the wind, or without it. Sometimes it is just still and hot. Everything is baked in place. The heat is dry, crisp, the sun burns the exposed flesh, and the air itself is warm to touch. It sits on the city like a heavy hand, oppressive, and somewhat dumb. There is a prehistoric feel to the heat.
That’s without the wind. With the wind it is far worse.
The prevailing wind in the summer is the north wind. It comes in from the parched, red centre of the country. It blows hot and dry and ugly. Imagine all I described before and then add in the wind which brings no relief, just the opposite. The sun bears down on you, everything is hot, and on top of that a warm wind notches up the temperature still further. There is no relief from it, not in the summer sun or in the shade. This is the classic Melbourne summers day.
I asked my sister before the hottest she has experienced. She mentioned Africa, but finally settled on Black Saturday from a few years back, the north wind blowing in the classic way and the temperature near 46 degrees. Days like that it’s like the world has stopped, nothing moves, no-one ventures out, a day to be endured.
For me the hottest I’ve been was probably that day, and another in Hoi An, Vietnam, when the temperature must have topped 40 and the humidity must have been near 300%. Like a mad Englishman I was out in the midday sun, but zig-zagging down the street from one piece of shade to the next. It was sapping. My clothes were soaked with sweat. I’m sure I left a trail of everywhere I’d been.
That’s different to this. There is spice in weather like that. Not this though, not this dumb, unthinking heat. Days like these have a deadening effect I find. People, quite sensibly, choose not to go out into this unless they must. In air-conditioned comfort there is a strange relief. Here though, at my sisters, with air-con in some rooms but not all, there is little incentive to do much. Keep cool if you can, do little. I’m sure this is typical of most homes in Melbourne – what was it like before air-conditioning?
Weather like this is always a waste I think unless you have a pool or are at the beach. I pity the people at the tennis on a day like today sitting out in the sun, the heat refracted from the court and the shiny surfaces, the temperature climbing well beyond the forecast. What pleasure in that?