Tuesday 27 September 2016

Instructions for a heatwave

There are a few old reliables when the mercury rises in Ireland - sunburn, teenagers drinking cans of Dutch Gold and people complaining that actually, it's too hot. Kim Bielenberg reflects on the greatest summer cliches

Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30

Golden moment: Enjoying the sunshine in Dublin yesterday
Golden moment: Enjoying the sunshine in Dublin yesterday

At noon yesterday I was driving through Clane, Co. Kildare and the temperature gauge in the car suddenly read 28 degrees.

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There then followed a debate between me and my passenger about whether this could actually be possible.

Was it the temperature inside? Was it the temperature outside - or on top of the bonnet?

Could it actually be possible that we were actually having a hot day in summer in the middle of Ireland, or was this temperature reading some kind of mirage, brought on by excessive thirst, or the shiny shimmering tarmac along the Kildare road?

After many days of rain, hanging grey clouds and unseasonal grey blurs of mud splotched around gateposts - in other words a typical Irish summer - when the sun does actually appear we are overcome by a kind of frenzied mania.

The media and the general public responds in a state of dazed shock, as if a sunny day was a meteorological freak of nature, or a mystical event on a par with the moving statues of Ballinspittle or the appparitions at Knock.

When I got home and logged on to the Internet, news reports confirmed that Ireland was indeed doing that most unusual thing - "sweltering".

The heat was so "searing" that Newstalk said it was going to be a "sizzler" - and who knows, if the blue skies hung together long enough, it could even be a "scorcher".

We have been told that it is going to get so sultry in Santry some time today, up to 28 degrees (more or less normal summer temperatures by European standards), that Met Eireann issued one of its semi-apocalypic yellow hazard warnings.

And of course there are no end of nannying health and safety jobsworths telling us to be careful if we go out in it, especially if we have red hair and freckles, because we are not designed for consistent sunshine like this.

We could burn if we spent more than 20 minutes out there. Or, as Sally O'Brien said in a famous ad for Harp lager: "You could fry an egg out here - if you had an egg."

I know of a photographer who tried to fry an egg on his bonnet, but it never worked (at least not without the aid of a camping gas stove).

Somehow we are never deterred by those nannies who choose to lecture us about the ill effects of sunshine. Ireland is perhaps the only country - well, apart from our neighbours - where we wear our sunburn with enormous pride, as a mark of some great exotic achievement.

As news spread virally yesterday of the magnificent golden orb in the sky (hashtag #heatwave), you could be sure that newsrooms were checking which top sunspots we were hotter than.

That's what we want to know: where do we stand in the international league table of heat if by some chance we have a sunny day?

We didn't go all that far in the Euro football championship, but we will probably be able to proudly boast today that "Ballybunion is balmier than Bali" or "Horse and Jockey is hotter than Honolulu".

And we know it's hot because the news reports tell us that Teddy's in Dun Laoghaire is selling out of 99s, Tesco is doing a roaring trade in paddling pools, and young fellas are drinking too many cans on Portmarnock beach and getting rowdy.

In a couple of days there will be concerned mutterings: why oh why can't our adolescents not enjoy the sun without knocking back 20 cans of Dutch gold, and annoying little old ladies?

But will the heatwave continue tomorrow and the next day, and the day after that? We have to know now.

We have waited almost a decade. So are we finally going to have what has been billed as the "barbecue summer", where we can spend from now until September blissfully exposing nobbly knees in our shorts, and burning sausages?

You can be sure that some amateur meteorologist who lives up a boreen in Kerry will be consulted at length with a long range weather forecast, because Met Eireann does not yet have that kind of expertise.

An aul fella in Dingle says it's going to be hot all summer, because he heard two dolphins whistling earlier than normal this year, and another meteorological sage from that part of the world noticed that the frogs were jumping in the nettles in Knocknagoshel.

That last happened in the long hot summer of 95. So, this heatwave may indeed go until September.

Or it could be all over by 2pm.

Whatever happens, you can be sure that by lunchtime today there will be complaints, and many of them.

If the mercury does not soar to a sizzling 28 degrees everywhere in Ireland, we will complain that Met Eireann got it all wrong? What were they thinking when they said we were going to have a heatwave?

And if the predictions come true and we are actually sitting at our desks, sweating like Christy Moore singing 'Nancy Spain' in a sauna, there will also be complaints - that it is just a "little bit too hot".

Irish Independent

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