Hell in Melbourne Town

Saturday, 31 January 2009

I love summer, I really do. But the monster that invaded Victoria and South Australia in the last week is not summer. It's some extra new season. I think we should call it Beezlebub. Winter, spring, summer, beezlebub, autumn.

I enjoy nice dry 35 degree heat. But bump it up 10 degrees, and repeat the experience for three days in a row, and everything goes haywire, including my head.

I caught the train to work yesterday. Well, a train. My usual train wasn't running, along with the other masses of trains that were cancelled this week. The heat was so intense - three days of 43, 43 and 45 (that's 109, 109 and 113 for you Fahrenheitians) that the steel rails were buckling. My train had to stop for a couple of minutes just before Spencer Street station, and the seat I was sitting happened to be in the sun. I was already battling a bit of heatstroke, I think. Sitting in the sun for those couple of minutes, I really began to wonder if I was going to fall over on my way to the carriage door. And then the 10 minute walk to my office. I have heard of people coming to Australia from the Northern Hemisphere and getting caught out at how quickly it is to be sunburnt here. That damn ozone layer hole. The beating sun is an intense beast for us here these days. Yesterday, I'm surprised the footpath wasn't beginning to melt, the street lamps, the trams, everything. I kept to any shadows I could find and battled nausea for the rest of the day.

The trip home was even better. A signal fault at Flinders Street meant that no trains were running at all by the time I went to catch mine. And so what is usually a 40 minute tops trip for me turned into a trip that took over two hours. No trains meant a bus trip, but after four consecutive buses that sped by me, full to capacity and not taking any more passengers, I started getting desperate (mainly because I was going to wet my pants). I was also desperate to get home because my dog was inside, and there was talk of rolling power outages to start occurring across the state to try to get the grid under control. I was getting really worried that I would get home to a house so hot that my dog would have expired. It was a real worry, even though by the time I had left work the cool change had rolled in (oh, bliss. Bliss bliss bliss).

So finally I got desperate, hailed a cab, and paid 20 bucks for the privilege of getting home. At the shopping centre the power was out, the only light coming from the Coles, brightly humming along on its generator power. The refrigerated shelves, however, were empty, making me feel somewhat like I was in a Russian supermarket in the 1980s. The checkout operator informed me that the power had been out for quite a few hours. Turned out that there was an explosion in one of the electricity thingymybobs-where-explosions-occur and that this was also another reason why entire suburbs were without power. Traffic lights were out, all sorts of mayhem. On the way home in the taxi, I witnessed a car accident that had one car crumpled in on the other side of the road while the other car sat where it had landed, through the plate glass windows of a shop.

Luckily I got home, opened the door to something resembling a furnace, but my dog was okay. His poor tongue. Lester's tongue is so long he's like the Gene Simmons of the dog world. If I ever have to have him operated on, while they are there I will ask them to cut off 5 centimetres and he'll still have one that is fully operational. Lester's tongue was lolling out of his head. The house was uninhabitable, so me and Lester went and sat outside, with a blanket and a candle, and I commiserated with my cousin's husband via text message. He is a linesman for an electricity company, and has gone back to work after holidays to rotating shifts of 12 hours on 12 hours off for the foreseeable future.

My power was off for about another two hours. Whenever there is a blackout, I am always reminded anew of how monumentally reliant we are as a people on things other than ourselves and the earth. As we sat outside in the growing dark, and I admired the stars, which seemed just a little bit brighter for the blackout, I thought about how it would be if all of a sudden electricity was no longer an option for us.

And it sort of scared me a bit, how reliant I am on it. Sometimes I wonder how we as a people must appear to the centuries that have gone on before us. Such a different way of living. It would be a terrifying thing if, say, you came from the 16th century and were given a chance to witness people living now. We must be curiously out of touch in so many ways, like people who have a leprosy sort of relationship to the earth, the thing that sustains us. How fragile our existence must appear to be to them.

Which is ironic when you consider that most of us probably look at people from centuries before and wonder how the hell they managed to get through a life without refrigerators, air conditioning, heating, computers, Internet, television, movies.

I suppose they must wonder at our dearth of storytelling skills, our strange little ways we go about things, our masses and masses of distractions, the humongous amount of bloody plastic everywhere. Sometimes I think the days of living individual, in the way that we have been allowed to in the past few generations, are coming to a close. And by God that scares me, but in another way it excites me. Because it's not meant to be like this. There are so many layers of artificiality concocted around our lives, between us and each other, us and sister earth.

When the power was off, all around me in my suburb, it was so much quieter. There was less of a hum in the air. Our efficiencies and trinkets and toys are indispensable to us, but they silently hum in so many ways just behind our conscious awareness. How much of an effect do they have, all of these things? All of these waves flying through the air, messing in ways we don't even understand with the delicate electrical balance of our bodies. I spoke on my mobile last night for two hours to my cuz. I could feel the effects afterwards. There is some evidence that some instances of certain types of disorders such as autism, ADHD and the like, can be linked to urbanisation gone mad, to the lack of basic nature in children's lives. A Chicago study found such conclusive evidence that more trees and greenery around its high-rise developments lowered crime rates that they plant trees as a matter of course now.

I want this crazy monster that has built up around us dismantled. But I can only pray that it happens slowly. This frog is comfortable in her boiling water, as bizarre and as crazy as that sounds.

Current temperature: a beautiful, balmy 21 degrees (69F). I appreciate it like you wouldn't believe :)


  1. you know i hope for the same things. that this beast would be dismantled and that we could do it together in a slow and purposeful way to make a smooth transition for everyone.

    but, unfortunately (you can call me a cynic) i just don't think it is something the majority of people the world over will do voluntarily. i mean, it is IN OUR FACES and instead of people talking about how we can make such a transition, we're simply talking about how to keep the status quo and save what we have built. i have not heard one conversation in news or political media about how to do away with money or electricity or de-urbanize and move people into smaller self-sustaining communities. everything about our society right now is completely built and based around gas powered vehicles, and yet through this whole fuel debaucle this summer, not one conversation was had about how to move us away from dependance on vehicles. the only conversations were about how to remove dependance on foreign oil. not to mention the fact that, for us here in america, the average person is so damn coddled and lazy that they would never even want to think about a life with that kind of hard work. *sigh* people just seem so comfortable in their misery...

    well you know me girl, i could ramble on about this all day so i'll stop for now. glad to hear things are cooling off for you guys. it's interesting to hear how unbearably hot it has been for you guys while it's been just the opposite for us here in minnesota. in fact we just had a stretch where the actual outdoor temerature got down to -23c all day and night for 3 days.

  2. I have noticed here that around 3 AM it gets totally quiet in our neighborhood, especially in the spring or fall when people aren't running heat or A/C. Even though we live a few blocks from a busy thoroughfare and less than a mile from the freeway...for whatever reason, it get's really quiet...I can't even hear any cars. For a few minutes or an hour, we aren't polluting the world with noise. And I like it.

    I don't know...there are good things about technology and electricity. I do think our dependence on unnatural things is huge, but then again...how have they changed our lives for the better?

  3. I'll bet you are enjoying the cooler weather! I'll take our ice storm of 1998 when transformers were exploding (that's the exploding gizmo, I'll bet), there was no electricity and no heat. I was out of my home for 8 days. I was lucky enough to scrounge for shelter. There is no shelter from the heat! You poor, bedraggled woman and your poor, tongue-dragging dog!
    You are always welcome to come by here and roll around the snowbanks to your heart's content!

  4. jON - I don't think you're a cynic at all. I agree. There's no way this beast could be dismantled with us doing it willingly. We don't know any different than this way of living. I think even if we are all for it, we will by necessity go kicking and screaming :)

    I agree with your frustration about the lack of discussion. It happens all the time in the media. They are the largest proponents of the status quo. But still, I suspect the groundswell and undertow are perhaps bigger than we think? And, like Kent mentioned yesterday, the maxim of St Francis comes to mind, one which does often in this regard: ""The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Just move to the side and live differently." I realy strongly gutfeel think that this is something of what might happen for us. A bunch of people going off the grid, as it were. Or maybe forced off, who knows?

    "People just seem so comfortable in their misery." Don't they? I think there's a lot of professional victims out there that moan and bleat but when it comes down to it, they don't want anything changed because they've spent their lives not thinking for themselves instead of envisioning something different and doing the freak-out faith walk into what feels like fucking nothing and ends up being amazing.

    I love talking about this stuff too, as you can see :) I can't believe how cold your temperatures are. We had a difference between my highest temp and yours of 66C/150F. Pretty freaky, huh?

    I pray an achingly beautiful spring for you all. You guys have done it tough this winter

    Erin - ooh, yeah, I like that too. Sometimes it feels almost eerie, and the only noises are the seagulls crying in the night. Times like that, feels like there are thin spaces popping up all over the place, that open up in medieval villages ;)

    Barbara - yes, that's the gizmo I was trying to think of :) A transformer. More than meets the eye. Our of your home for 8 days? WOW! That must have been a strange sort of experience. It must have been so nice to get back into your house again afterwards. I'm glad you found shelter. I always think of the people who can't, in those situations. Freezing to death would ... well, maybe once you'd snuggled down in the snow and got warm, you'd just go to sleep.

    Anyway, that's a bit depressing, isnt it?

    Yeah, last week I would have deifnitely put up my hand for a large truckful of snow to get delivered to my front yard. That would have been a lovely roll-around :)

  5. sorry to hear you were hit with the power failure - i bet that taxi fare was the best money you've spent in awhile!!!

    just talking to my dad in Michigan this morning - they are having their first winter in America and it's still a novelty

    he said they were sending us a surprise - "an esky full of snow on the next first class flight?" i asked . . . your idea of the truckload sounds better

    it's cooler here today, but so humid, you'd think it was QLD

  6. How much nicer does 35 degrees seem after 44? With breeze. BREEZE!!! We spent the whole afternoon outside with friends and didn't start feeling warm until about 3.

    Usually when it's 35 I moan and groan and run for the air conditioning.

  7. Wish I could send you some of our weather, Sue. We've a wind coming in from Russia at the moment, 0C but a wind-chill of -6C, cuts through anything you wear. The heating was on in church this morning, but it seemed only barely warmer than outside. The cats have got it right, snuggling up on the bed or on laps, and sleeping it out! But I'd rather have this than 45C - or 35, come to that. Anything much over 30C and I start to go all peculiar - more so than usual, I mean - and headachy and dizzy and yuk.

  8. Kel - the power outage with nothin' really. Just a couple of hours. Some people had their power out for several days.

    Yeah, the humidity is annoying, isn't it?

    Heather - yeah, 35's a piece of pie. Might even start seeing people wearing long sleeves and windcheaters - acclimitisation :)

    Mike - so the cold weather keeps you being less peculiar than usual? Be good if we could share the weather around and have a nice even temp, wouldn't it? I guess that's what spring and autumn are for :)


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