Tuesday, 19 July 2022

How to keep cool in a heat wave

The heat wave is continuing in the northern hemisphere ...while we shiver here in Downunder. 

Yes, unbelievable though it may seem our forecast temperature is for 12'C today - and that is "rather chilly" for this part of the world. It was distinctly frigid overnight. 

When it is like this it is a little difficult to remember those summer days of high temperatures - days when the mercury reached 48'C and 49'C. I am trying to remember the days when the temperature did not dip below 39'C overnight. Ugh! We had no air conditioning and my mother cooked on a wood burning stove - the standard issue "Metters No5" (a sort of poor relation to the Aga - very poor.) That sent the temperature in the kitchen to well over 50'C.  Yes, my mother cooked meals because salad vegetables were simply no available. We lived on an almost constant diet of mutton, potatoes, pumpkin and packet peas. The latter had to be re-hydrated. If we had been to a nearby town there were carrots and perhaps beans. Frozen vegetables were unknown.

We did have a small kerosene refrigerator. That was used to keep the meat cool and the day's supply of milk made up from powder. If there had been any butter available at the general store that was put in there too.

The most important part of the refrigerator as far as we children were concerned was the ice tray. This was a tiny compartment where our mother froze water in small cubes using two metal trays. They fitted on top of one another and could just be fitted in. In the height of summer these were constantly being refilled. Being allowed to have one cube in our plastic mugs of water was a treat. 

There was also the hessian/jute water bag hanging on the back verandah. That also had to be filled at regular intervals.

In school the Senior Cat did his best to teach us something but there were afternoons when he would tell us to put our heads down on the desks and he would read to us. The temperature would have crept to 45'C or more.

Mum would put wet towels over the old wooden clothes horse which stood in the door way. If there was any chance at all of a breeze then it was hoped these might help to cool the house down a bit. The house itself being made of fibro-asbestos sheeting and not an ounce of insulation heated rapidly.

My two sisters spent hours playing in the bathtub. Mum would put a few inches of water in the bottom. When the water had cooled down enough for them to get in they would put all the toys that could get wet in there and attempt to stay cool. (Our water came in an "inch" pipe across the top of the ground. In summer it was too hot to put your hands under the cold water tap. You had to wait for it to cool down.)

My brother and I were considered to be too old to play in the bath tub. We were given old flannels and told not to waste water. That was permission to wet the flannel each time it dried out and wave it around until it was cool then we would wipe our faces and the back of our necks.

Our parents prepared lessons. The Senior Cat was studying for his degree. I wonder if he ever managed to find out what the Latin for "heat wave" is?

Back in the city where there was electricity at the flick of a switch my maternal grandparents had fans. Their electricity bills must have been high as they seemed to be on constantly. 

My paternal grandmother had a tiny black personal fan which she would turn on for a short time when she sat down for her after lunch "rest". She would read or, if the heat was not too unbearable, she would sew. My grandfather used nothing but would often "take a dip" at the nearby beach twice a day. 

There was just one good thing about heat waves as far as my brother and I were concerned...we were allowed to read. We would sit on the back verandah with our books and slowly turn the pages into some other world. Descriptions of winter, of snow, of ice, of wind and rain were a delight. We kept cool in our heads.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's lovely - you paint a vivid picture of a different time. Difficult, no doubt, but as kids who had known nothing else difficulties looked normal. There is a lot of love in this picture - thank you for sharing your memories. My childhood weather issues were the opposite - struggling through snow and freezing in classroom huts where we had to break the ice in our inkwells each morning.