After sweltering through America’s hottest July on record, three of us Displaced Nation writers have been imploring the fourth, Tony James Slater, for some cooling stories from his newly adopted home of Perth, Australia.
I noticed a Christmas tree in my gym a couple of weeks ago. I wondered what the hell it was doing there, until some kind staff member — presumably on hearing me curse in the middle of the foyer — decided to enlighten me.
Christmas in July, the Aussies call it — for no apparent reason other than that most countries celebrate Christmas when it’s freezing cold outside, with snow on the ground and cards covered in penguins and polar bears decorating the mantle piece.
July is as cold as it gets in Perth. The temperature — sometimes — dips into the single digits overnight, and we wake up to a sensation overly familiar to a Brit like me: not wanting to get up because it’s warmer in bed!
Once upon a time, when I made my first visit to Oz from Thailand, all those years ago, I arrived (in my infinite wisdom) in June. At 6:00 a.m.
I had no idea Australia had seasons. From the postcards and other literature, I’d assumed it was the Land of Eternal Summer.
It was achingly cold, pouring it down with rain — and I was wearing a pair of shorts and a vest [tank top], because that’s all the clothing I owned!
I’m now super careful when advising my friends who plan on visiting: “Don’t come November to February,” I tell them. “It’ll be way too hot. You won’t be able to breathe.
But don’t come June to August either — it’ll be too cold! And all sensible Australians will be holed up inside with our mitts wrapped around a hot cup of Milo.”
Mmmmmm…. Have you ever had Milo? It’s a hot chocolate malt drink. I must say, it really hits the spot this time of year.
We have our blistering hot summers, too, down in Oz. In fact, the whole country is geared around this inevitability. That may be why no one seems quite prepared for the winter.
It rains, of course — it has to, otherwise we’d be in an even worse state come summer. But no one here is quite ready for it when it does.
Take the Great Perth Storm of 2012, for example. Several weeks ago now, there was a severe weather warning issued. Businesses closed early. Employees scurried home, fearing what would happen if they were caught in traffic when The Big One hit. By the time it started raining, the streets were deserted – which was probably a good thing. Boy, did it rain! It rained, and rained, and the good folk of Perth cowered indoors, until…the rain stopped.
And that was it.
I honestly think half of them didn’t expect to survive it.
They were most upset when they had to drive to work the next morning, through rapidly drying puddles.
The four seasons in one day
But let’s not get carried away; to those of you fanning yourselves under an air-con unit, wishing you’d remembered to get it serviced before the heat-wave hit, I can sympathize — it’s not exactly cold here all the time.
Even in winter, the middle of each day is quite pleasant — probably what you’d call “beach weather” on most of the rest of the planet.
Charles Dickens’s description of an English springtime seems most appropriate:
It was one of those [March] days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
Have you ever worn a hat indoors?
Perhaps because of this, the houses here are built without insulation, and without any form of central heating. Most of them have a little wood-burning stove in a corner of the family room, but that’s it — and of course no double glazing!
Houses built like this in Europe would never pass the building code, but it seems that the housing industry here just doesn’t worry about it. Yeah, sure, they’re building houses that’ll be a bit cold in winter. But the owners can always wear a jumper! Or, as frequently happens when we visit my father-in-law in his house in the Perth hills, a scarf, gloves and a beanie…
In an unheated, un-insulated house at night, there are only two things to do — and one of them doesn’t really belong on a public forum like this. The other, of course, is to wear as many layers as you can — kind of like you’re going hiking in a blizzard — and try to keep exposed flesh to a bare (sorry!) minimum.
Of course, this being winter, you can find that blizzard. Just about. There’s nothing between the bottom of Australia and the top of Antarctica, so our southern seas get a little chilly around now. We have snow-capped mountains – okay, we have a snow-capped mountain. Sometimes…
But the scene over in neighboring New Zealand is a little frostier!
In fact, my sister is there right now, training to be a skiing instructor.
And because the architecture over there is mostly derived from what we have over here…her house also doesn’t have any heating either.
All things being equal…
I’m content to be cold once in a while. It reminds me of home — just a little, in a slightly-chilled-’till-the-sun-comes-up kind of way. Not like actually being back in England — where, even though it’s summer, I think it’s colder than here… I mean, did you see that beach volleyball tournament? Only in London could they import twenty tonnes of sand and play beach sports in torrential rain…in bikinis.
Now there’s a refreshing image!
So instead of feeling sorry for yourselves over there in sweltering America, please do feel pity for us over here. After the terrible inconvenience of our slightly chilly winter, we have plenty of other ordeals to face — like Christmas on the beach!
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So tell me: would you rather be here — or where you are right now? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter: @DisplacedNation +/or @TonyJamesSlater. Now back to my nice mug of Milo before it gets cold — cheers!
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Random Nomad, who, too, has some stories to help alleviate the effects of the heat…
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Main image: “Polaroids” are all from Tony James Slater’s collection: The Great Perth Storm of 2012; Tony’s wife, Roo, asleep in her dad’s house in the hills of Perth (2012); Tony & Roo celebrating Christmas on Cottesloe Beach, near Perth, Australia (December 2011).