Taking the heat

Susan Erasmus is absolutely delighted to be back at work. It's not because of being so conscientious, it's because there's air con.

The last three days have been scorchers: a Cape newspaper reported that in parts of the Cape temperatures of 45 degrees were measured, and there's no sign of its letting up. It's supposedly in the high thirties in the city centre. High thirties: come on!

Yesterday afternoon my feet were burning when I walked across the tarmac of the parking lot. And I was wearing sandals with thick rubber soles. Another ten minutes up there and they would have had to call emergency services to come and scrape me off the tar.

Normally reticent Capetonians were all talking to complete strangers about the indescribable heat. Maybe that is what it takes to remove the rather unnerving British reserve found in these parts.

A moment of silence for people who had to do things such as sweep the streets, man stalls in open-air markets, or work on building sites. Or for those who live in Vredendal, Upington, Redlinghuys or Paarl. The list is long.

In one of those bizarre contrasts in which this country specialises, the rest of SA seems to be flooded.

Of all things, I had to attend an open-air wedding on Wednesday afternoon.  Yes, outside. In the sun. I must have been at least a war criminal in a previous life to have deserved this. Beautiful garden setting, gorgeous couple, lovely live music – but the ventilation was definitely organised by Satan. And he had clearly decided "No more Mr Nice Guy".

The bride managed to be beautiful and radiating – the rest of us simply sweated and wilted and cleaned out the bar of its orange juice and cold water.  It's the first wedding I have been to where no one seemed very interested in the open bar. It was simply too hot to drink anything alcoholic.

I have often wondered what we would do if the heat just carried on and on. We have such a touching faith in our own abilities to manage the inconveniences nature throws at us. And all of those are easy to do in the short run. We switch on the air con, the central heating, or whatever is required. Water comes out of taps, there's power laid on, and we take it all for granted. But it could all collapse if we ran out of fuel or if the infrastructure just couldn't cope.

The time might come that we were down to fighting each other for the shade of the nearest tree in order to prevent heat stroke. Or do our washing in the river, if there is still one.

Our planet is a precarious place. We never quite know what it's going to throw at us next, and what with climate change and all that, the past is no longer the best predictor of the future.

A moment of silence for those who were in the vicinity of El Azizia in Libya in 1922 when the hottest temperature ever recorded hit a scorching 57.8 degrees Celsius. There's a reason why so few people live there. The same goes for Death Valley in the US where a very similar temperature was measured in 1913.

OK, this is not a geography lesson. It is actually a plea: please make this heat stop. We have had enough now. I know no one is listening who could do anything about it, but it makes me feel better for just having asked. My Gran always said there was no point in complaining about stuff about which no one could do anything. She was right. But she didn't write columns and wasn't given the space in which to whinge, so that particular pleasure remained out of her reach.

I have just seen a few lunchtime survivors traipse in after braving hell on the pavements. They look battle-scarred, hollow-eyed and dehydrated.

I am so working overtime tonight. But I won't get any brownie points, because I suspect all my colleagues will be huddled around the nearest air conditioner with me. That could include a few who are still supposed to be on leave.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24.com, January 2011)

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