Burned to a Crisp

Will my citizenship be revoked if I confess I hope never to experience a full Australian summer again? If I admit that three months of hot, dry days and hot, tossing-and-turning nights is my idea of weather hell? If I divulge that I’ll be a happy woman if I never have to show my bare upper arms in public again?

I blame my childhood. I grew up in the Clare Valley of South Australia, where the closest natural body of water was a mostly-dry creek. For a week a year, our family would decamp to a holiday house by the beach in Adelaide, where we would live a seaside life, pretend to be proper outdoor-loving, sun-baking Australians rather than the white-skinned, red-nosed Irish-descended bunch we really were.

My six brothers and sisters and I would spend all day in our bathers, attempt and mostly fail to bodysurf, build sandcastles and sandtraps, get furiously sunburned and spend the final part of the holiday lying inside on the cool lino floor, watching TV and peeling patches of dead skin off each other’s shoulders.

Summer in South Australia was an assault on all five senses. I can still recall the burning glare of afternoon sunlight, the rush of hot-oven air when the front door was opened, the strange temporary blindness when I stepped back inside. The air smelled of sunscreen and flyspray, of citronella candles powerless against whining mosquitos. There was the sharp burn of car seats on bare legs, the shock of ice-cold water on that first leap into the pool, the feel of sticky melting asphalt under my sandals. My staple diet was homemade cordial ice-blocks that never set properly, so I was always surprised by a sudden burst of liquid amid the ice.

The gentlest aspect of summer was the soundtrack: the rattle of ice cubes in glasses, the soft cricket commentary and the tick-ticking of sprinklers on the lawns of the local tennis club.

Year after year, summer after summer, heat-wave after heat-wave, the memories of battling with high temperatures accumulated alongside the freckles.

Then, at the age of 26, I moved to Ireland with my Irish husband and discovered something amazing: summers that didn’t involve heat or blue skies. In the 18 years since, I’ve somehow managed to avoid spending any length of time in temperatures above 25 degrees. I come home to Australia as often as I can, but I carefully time my visits for autumn, winter or spring.

I love a summer without the hot sun. Ireland’s cool climate is my idea of weather heaven. An Australian summer is heat, light, glare, intensity and the annual question: Will this be the hottest summer since records began? An Irish summer, by contrast, is all soft colours, mild winds, long evenings and wishful thinking: Will tomorrow be sunny? I don’t care if it isn’t. Let it rain. Let the sky stay grey. Three cheers for bad weather! After a sun-scorched, sunburned childhood, I’m happy to spend the rest of my life cooling off.

(Published in Notebook magazine, Australia in 2010)

(Copyright Monica McInerney 2014)