It’s hot. Forty inAdelaidethis week. Mid-thirties inMelbourne. Canberra sweltering in November. All the talk of climate change and global warming.
It’s hot alright. But I reckon when I was a kid every Darling Downs summer was this hot. Easy.
All my summer memories are of heat. The local pool, our back yard, the veranda. We kids barefoot and as brown as pennies. If we ever had shoes on, it was to play some official game. Cricket daily. Golf occasionally. Tennis often.
Dunlop Volleys and socks coagulated together by a cocktail of sweat and ant-bed tennis court dust. Matches fought out in sweltering conditions, monumental struggles against the Leahy kid from the Commercial Hotel. If you had to play on the asphalt court your Volleys left their tread mark in the doughy surface. It was hot.
In my memory it’s always holidays. And it’s always the first day of a Test match. Waking up every morning with a body so rested and full of energy you were ready to go all day. The sky a perfect blue and the ABC newsreader full of information. GulpedMilo. Already too hot for toast and Vegemite. And as you pedalled out the front gate, all you could hear was your mum’s voice screaming: “Have you kids brushed your teeth?”
Down to the pool, where the supervisor was scooping out the Christmas beetles. He wore his weathered skin loosely, like a trendy sports jacket. Ours was dolphin-svelte. And we swam with effervescent joy. Like Flipper himself. A lot of time spent doing bombs off the big board. Movements of Olympian grace, choreographed to make the biggest splash possible. You were so skinny your technique had to be perfect to get marks on the corner light pole.
Then leaning on the rail of the big board watching the grade nine girls down on the grass putting coconut oil all over themselves. They were so old.
But they weren’t as old as the tough who was climbing the steps. He’d left school a couple of years ago to become a boner at the abattoir. Tough all right. He didn’t speak and you didn’t dare look him in the eye. He was a giant to us, his huge tummy hanging over the top of his stubbies. We giggled behind our little hands as he walked past, his bum-crack the source of great amusement.
Having surveyed the end of the board, he walked back to us, turned and began his performance. With three explosive steps he pounded his foot into the board, propelling himself impossibly high. For purists such as us, his body position was all wrong as he approached the water. But at the last instant he managed to contort in such a way he to achieved the perfect figure four. Kehhr . . . spuuurr . . . lunkkk. Spray went miles in the air. Like a World War II movie. The light pole was saturated.
We stood clinging to the rail, heads bobbing up and down with the board’s reverberations. “Shit,” Varley said. (He was the most worldly of us.) We would never be able to do that. The diver got out and went back to his towel, lit up a Winnie Red and put his head back in his copy of Truckin’ Life.
Time for the cricket. Straight on the treadlies and back home with just minutes to spare. Little voices excitedly preparing for the first delivery, as a big voice yelled from some mother’s room, where mothers did mothers’ stuff: “I hope you kids have got towels down on those lounge chairs.”
As the day grew even hotter we squirmed in our chairs. Lemon barley water with ice. The cat stretched under the divan. More lemon water. Salad sandwiches for lunch. And fruit. Nectarines and rockmelon. And watermelon for later on. And a run through the sprinkler to cool off before the start of the next session.
Dad popping his head in from time to time to get the score and eventually staying to watch Greg Chappell in majestic touch again. Your back sticking to the vinyl chair. The brother in the bean-bag sprawled out in the classic horizontal star-jump position. Doug Walters building his legend.
At stumps, it was time to do the lawn. It was always a race. The storm building in the south-west. Cricket fraternity turned gardening commune. To beat the tempest. And getting it done as the storm passed (yet again) to dump its load on Gatton orIpswich, or that faraway city,Brisbane. We were left to watch the towering anvil tops of cotton-wool clouds, white and pink, illuminated by the western sun.
Mucking around with the cricket ball instead of picking up the heaps (no catchers at our place). No relief for us. Just the smell of grass clippings and petrol. And backs all itchy from rolling in the kikuyu.
Inside. You realised you’d actually worked hard and you were sweaty as Dad knocked the top off the reward: one tallie of Carlton Pilsener (we were never a XXXX family) to be shared among all of us. Lucky we kids had shandies. And mum had a glass of lemonade with just the tiniest drop of brandy (“to take the sweetness out of it”).
She sipped away while she cooked dinner. Fish fingers with home-grown lemon and salty homemade chips and pieces of tomato from the garden sprinkled with pepper and thick slices of white bread holed by attempts to spread unspreadable butter made rock hard by the battling fridge. Talk of Walters’ great pull shots. And dad insisting on a boiling hot cup of tea (“the best thing for a stinker”).
You had a cold bath. You got into bed, knackered, but it was too hot to sleep. And your brothers were in what your mother called “a silly mood”. No covers. And you resorted to the ultimate act of decadence: going to bed without your pyjama top on. Still impossible to get comfortable. Back to the shower for a 10-second cold blast. Back into bed. Wet. Back to the fridge for some ice. Into a tea-towel. On the forehead. On the back of the neck. And your mother came in and threw a glass of freezing cold water on you, and you were about to go berserk when you saw it was your mother and you wouldn’t give your mother a blast. No one would. Except your father when he didn’t have a shirt on Sunday morning.
And it was still hot. And no one was asleep. And dad wanted another beer. But the lawn had already been mown so he’d go to the old toot and return with a bottle of his special ginger beer. He’d go through the ritual of holding it over a jug covered with an ancient straining cloth while mum uncapped it and it geysered all over the kitchen and a significant part of the laundry cupboard. A whole bottle yielded enough for the two of them to have a glass.
It was still hot. Everything would be quiet for a few minutes and mum would think we were all asleep until my brother farted. Magnificently. We’d all giggle, which turned into uncontrolled laughter that brought my wise old father to the door: “If you kids don’t get some sleep you’ll never bat like Doug Walters tomorrow.”
I’d forget how hot it was. With the tea-towel over my face, I’d fall asleep to constant slow motion replays of me hitting Derek Underwood for a straight six at the MCG.
Gee, it was hot.