Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The plagues. And trying to keep cool. Already.

Summer* here brings ‘the plagues’. Mosquitoes are prime among them, flying in squadrons through the teeny-tiniest gap in any defence, whining infuriatingly around your ears and turning even the little sleep you can get, lying in a pool of sweat and a squalid sphere of fetid air as you are, into a nightmare. They can and will find the only bit of your skin you haven’t plastered with Peaceful Sleep, and suck your life-force out through it. You will reach morning with no memory whatsoever of having had any sleep at all, alive with bright red welts and itching so crazily that your eyes will roll in your head.

Then, as the sun rises and hits your kitchen counter, the flies will begin massing like a poorly trained and ravenous army. And this is no lie (I’ve actually done it): you can put a piece of meat, say a bit of fat you’ve cut off a lamb chop, into the bin at noon, and by 4pm it will be crawling with maggots. (Great for the chickens, indescribably hideous to have in the kitchen bin.) And there are always those slow, ‘sticky’ flies – the ones that return repeatedly to one spot on your foot or your back, and no matter how much you slap at them, they refuse to go away. Until you find a can of Doom and empty the entire thing onto your mosquito-bitten, dehydrated, overheated skin.

A special super-hot-weather horror in these parts is the solifuge, or sun spider (or red roman or haarskeerder – Afrikaans for ‘haircutter’, after the belief that it snips and carries away your hair while you’re sleeping, to line its nest). Although they carry no venom, they don’t have to: they can easily scare you to death. They’re big (the adults can get as big as your stretched-out hand), have 10 legs (if you weren’t scared enough by the 8 spiders have), are covered with a furry red pelt, have large snappy jaws (big enough to actually see in all their horror-movie glory), and run incredibly fast in any direction, including directly up walls and across ceilings. There’s something about a solifuge blocking your pathway to the fridge, and a lifesaving glass of iced water, that will tell you exactly how hot you really are.

* I smile in a very annoyingly thin-lipped way when I hear on the radio that Capetonians are ‘suffering’ in temperatures ‘that have been in the 30s all week’. Ag shame. For we out here beyond the boerewors curtain, ‘in the 30s’ is lokshuree.

And even I know this post is premature – we haven’t hit February yet, when nighttime temperatures here rarely drop below the 30s; early-morning temperatures are in the high 20s, and it’s a real wake-up call knowing that that’s the coolest it’s going to be all day.

For humans who don’t have aircon (and we greenies don’t, obviously), keeping cool enough not to go mad or die a lingeringly sweaty death means wearing the bare minimum and often only underwear (something to bear in mind if you’re a home freelance worker and have scheduled a business meeting), frequent dips in the pool or cold showers, hanging wet lengths of fabric over our bedroom windows (in the usually vain hope a slight breeze might spring up during the night), drinking litres of water (from the fridge – I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that water run from the cold tap any time after 10am will literally burn your fingers), and, if you can do it without losing custody of your children or jettisoning your career, staying drunk for about 6 weeks until the worst of the heat passes.

For chickens, keeping cool requires mainly standing around with their beaks open, much like eels waiting for someone to laugh at their jokes, but without the charm factor. (Hard to envisage, but true.)

For cats, it requires either finding a spot to sleep as if you’ve been dropped that way from the sky (Maui, above left - and a morning-after posture probably familiar to those who've drunk too much tequila on a summer evening), or finding the darkest, most tucked-away spot in the house (Evan in the paper-recycling box under my printer, above right).

For dogs – and I especially feel here for my poor Balu, who has a double-thick and quite greasy Labrador coat, designed specifically for retrieving in the icy waters of the north – the only place is the shower. She’s often joined there by Sara, who’s an Africanis, with a thinner coat – and who’s epileptic, and most often has seizures when she’s either going to sleep or waking up, with the result that Balu is frequently kicked unceremoniously out of the shower.

And, you know, in winter, when it’s really cold – something I find impossible to even imagine at the moment – Balu is often also kicked unceremoniously off the bed, for the same reason. She really is an endlessly patient sister; her only reaction, other than slinking indignantly away, is a very occasional raised lip. Dear thing.

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