Christmas in Australia ... dirty work, but someone's gotta do it.
OK, so I have to confess: I never really get used to Christmas in Australia. I don’t think I ever really will. Not a complaint, merely an observation.
It’s often bloody hot, for a start. Not just warm, but hot. A friend posts to Facebook that he’s excited to be going to Florida for the holidays where it’s due to be 80 degrees on his arrival. I guess when most of the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year is either cold, or wet, or perhaps cold and wet, that’s good. Then again, the mercury passed 90 in Melbourne about the same time, and has been climbing steadily ever since.
It’s just not right, somehow.
Last night, at Midnight Mass, the hot weather broke, for about fifteen minutes, as a sharp, severe thunderstorm hit semi-rural Warrandyte, near Melbourne.
(Why we were in Warrandyte? We had met the vicar at the local craft market some weeks previously, where she was cheerfully selling wooden toys and home-made jams to raise funds for the Lord’s cause. A cheerfully chubby lady (says he, who was last described as slim, er, well, never, actually) I hollered out “It’s the Vicar of Dibley!” She smiled wanly at me, and murmured, “I’m OK with that, really, the therapy sessions have been working.” In response, it seemed only right that we should patronise her pretty little Church for Christmas – and it was called St Stephen’s, as it happens – spooky or what? Anyway, I digress.)
So right in the middle of the Vicar’s homily, God started moving the furniture around upstairs. It started with a few distant rumbles, then some refreshing rain, and then whammo, God dropped the leather recliner armchair he uses for watching sports on TV, right over our heads.
Megan the Vic had just got to the core of her sermon: how important it is that we remember to do the little things at Christmas, the ordinary things that touch people’s heart, when all the lights went out, bar a few well-placed candles. After a brief pause, she carried on, and a few more trenchant remarks later, there was another percussive, punctuating clap of thunder, and the lights all came back on again. People shot each other meaningful looks.
In a small country Church, with a total of maybe forty people, everyone can hear everything. I turned to the future father of my grandchildren and remarked: “Neat trick.” Hardly pausing for breath, Megan deadpanned from the pulpit: “That’s why I get paid the big bucks.”
After the service, we drove future-son-in-law back to his place, windows wide open, oceans of warm, wet air streaming into the car. At 2am, steam rose off the road, almost fog-like. The sky was now perfectly clear, the deepest imperial blue, almost black, like wet just-laid tar, and studded with a billion billion stars. Anyone who has ever seen the Southern hemisphere sky will understand. It is wildly, unfathomably more brilliant and dramatic than the north. Frankly, it’s worth heading south just to see it, at least once, before you die.
Rising bleary-eyed on Christmas morn, the day was already oppressively hot. All the new blue blinds are wound down around the house, the three small air-conditioning units are labouring ceaselessly and largely ineffectually, and the ceiling fan whirls and clicks in the kitchen, stirring the sticky air to no purpose whatsoever that I can divine. By the time we are halfway through the present opening, sweat pops uncontrolled on the forehead and trickles down one’s chest.
Time for champagne, with a block of ice in it. Hang tradition, and snobby wine critics with it. Champagne was not invented to be drunk on days like this, or, indeed, in Australia, but it is Christmas, and I am damned if I will resort to water.
As one glances outside at the pool, it is clear that the overnight thunderstorm has also encouraged the water, by some miracle of chemistry that I will never understand, to turn milky-white and opaque, instead of crystal Mediterranean clear. And then on cue, the good Lord decides he is not happy with the interior design from last night, and starts shifting furniture around again. The heavens open, then shut again. And then again.
Family swim tomorrow, then. And I take a management decision – the duck will remain un-basted and uncooked in the fridge, because it’s too hot for a roast.
Wherever it is I have got to in my wandering life, it is never where I expected to be. So I sit down at my computer instead of pottering with the duck, and idly reminisce over what Christmas used to be like before I ended up on the other side of the planet, more by accident than intent. I recall that when a mere youth I would always wander down on Christmas morning to the Saxon King pub in Southbourne, and have a couple of pints of Gales 6X while Mum struggled to make sense of cooking a turkey for two people.
Need a recipe for left-over turkey rissoles? Just message me.
It rarely snowed, but it was often bitterly cold, and roughly every other day a biting wet wind would sweep in off the English Channel, lashing the little seaside town with horizontal rain. We would cower in the pub, and eat free Stilton provided by the publican, stacking on the body blubber for the walk home like so many vigilant Eskimos. And later in my life, you would find me trudging home from watching Southampton play on Boxing Day, invariably either frozen or sodden – but happy – to thaw out or dry out in the Bevois Town Hotel with mates.
Yes, I am a long way from home.
When you’ve moved around a fair bit, it never really stops being a long way from home, even when what you perceive as home stops being home and home becomes where you are now. I run the idea past my daughter, and she remarks that this will be her memory of “home”, when she has moved on.
Too hot for Duck. Damn it. Oh, well.
On the other hand, there are compensations for the life Antipodean. The oyster and Bloody Mary shooters for breakfast are already a happy memory. The “champagne”, grown just up the road, is seven bucks a bottle, and by the third glass I am feeling no pain, memsahib and the fruit of my loins have finished breaking open the Antarctic Crab legs that we have decided on instead of duck, and the crayfish tails that I am about to barbecue momentarily and serve with white wine and garlic butter are looking moist and inviting.
Later, we will even get to chuckle at the Queens Speech before it’s seen in her own country.
The message of Christmas is surely to be thankful for small mercies. The small mercy of a tiny child, laid on straw and wrapped in rags, whose words and actions were to change the world, mainly for the best, for the rest of time. And the fact that although the heat may be weighing on my aging British head like a ton of bricks, we have been blessed with enough good fortune to have a choice of Christmas lunches, and a damn fine choice, at that.
So, Merry Christmas, everyone, wherever you call home today. As I write, the mother of all thunderstorms is now breaking over us, with hail so bad the better half and daughter rush out and cover the cars in the driveway, and so intense and lasting so long that the roof is leaking in 20 different places, and every towel and receptacle we have is rushed into service to prevent the entire house (and all the Christmas presents) disappearing under water. It’s called a “super cell” storm apparently, which I suspect isn’t good. There’s a tropical cyclone due in Darwin, tomorrow, as well. Then again, that is a long, long way from here, too, and in this case, thank goodness.
“Weird country we live in,” mutters my daughter, serving us panacotta and fresh strawberries, as we watch the pool making like it isn’t a suburban front yard pool but a storm-tossed sea some latitudes further towards the equator.
Indeed, it is. Anyway, anyone mesmerised by the opening photo of this article will be amused by this little flash, hot off the presses. Personally, I am going to bed for a snooze: isn’t that what Christmas afternoon is all about? I see I am supposed to turn the computer off. Isn’t this exciting? Isn’t it like actually being here? The wonders of modern communications, eh?
For coverage of how bad the storms now are this afternoon, just pop here. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/a-beauty-of-a-super-cell-thunderstorm-hits-melbourne/story-e6frf7jo-1225837959592 or here http://www.theage.com.au/environment/weather/violent-storms-shatter-the-peace-of-christmas-20111225-1p9mc.html
Meanwhile, I shall set the alarm for Her Maj. Pip pip.
Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology
Victoria Regional Office
TOP PRIORITY FOR IMMEDIATE BROADCAST
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING – MELBOURNE AREA
for DESTRUCTIVE WIND, FLASH FLOODING, LARGE HAILSTONES and TORNADOES
For people in the Inner, Eastern, Northern, Western and parts of the South East,
Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula, Outer East and Port Phillip Local Warning
Issued at 5:19 pm Sunday, 25 December 2011.
THIS INCLUDES A TORNADO WARNING.
The Bureau of Meteorology warns that, at 5:10 pm, very dangerous thunderstorms
were detected on weather radar near Bacchus Marsh, Greensborough, Hurstbridge,
Lilydale, Yarra Glen and the area south of Bacchus Marsh. These thunderstorms
are moving towards the east to southeast. Very dangerous thunderstorms are
forecast to affect Deer Park, Healesville, Melton, St Albans, Sydenham and the
area south of Melton by 5:40 pm and Craigieburn, Essendon, Footscray, Melbourne
Airport, Preston and Sunbury by 6:10 pm.
Other severe thunderstorms were located near the area north of Meredith and the
area west of the Brisbane Ranges. They are forecast to affect Anakie East,
Brisbane Ranges, Lara, the You Yangs, the area south of the Brisbane Ranges and
the area west of Werribee by 5:40 pm and eastern parts of the Bellarine
Peninsula, northern parts of the Bellarine Peninsula, Portarlington, waters off
Portarlington, waters off St Leonards and the area east of Lara by 6:10 pm.
Destructive winds, very heavy rainfall, flash flooding, large hailstones and
tornadoes are likely.
A tornado has been reported near Fiskville [15km west of Bacchus Marsh]
associated with the thunderstorm currently south of Bacchus Marsh.
Very large hail has been reported with thunderstorms this afternoon.
The State Emergency Service advises that people should:
* Keep clear of fallen power lines.
* secure any loose objects in the vicinity of your home.
* keep away from creeks and drains.
* do not drive vehicles through flooded areas.
* stay indoors if possible.
* Avoid using the phone during the storm.
* if you are outside, avoid sheltering under trees
* listen to the radio for storm updates
* switch off your computer and electrical appliances
The next warning is due to be issued by 6:20 pm.