Friday, May 30, 2014

A disquisition concerning rain, clouds, and grey things

For some reason, about this time of year, on train stations around Melbourne we start seeing ads for holidays in Brisbane. I say "for some reason" though of course I know the reason why: people don't like the cold and wind and rain and wet. People are perverse that way. I was standing on Reservoir Station just the other day glowering at one such advertisement showing people wearing customary "happy" grimaces on their faces, and not much else, in the ocean somewhere, with some smug slogan about "That's why we say/Give me Brisbane any day" hovering over the top. The strange thing was, it was a beautiful day; cool rain caressed my skin and the train platform glistened in the wet. There was a refreshing and crisp breeze coming from somewhere. Curlicues of clouds hung in the sky, mounting one on the other: you never quite realise how many lovely shades of grey there are until you see a bunch of clouds ornamenting the sky. The sight of these clouds louring over old early 20th century terraces and shop fronts was particularly attractive.

A guy called Lantern once said to me: "How could you not like Debussy? His favourite animals were cats. His favourite musical interval was the tritone. And his favourite colour was grey." That struck me as being a Great Truth at the time, and it's why I feel certain that Debussy would have loved winter, clouds, and the rain and wet, also. A sky is always interesting with a few clouds floating about in it. A city is interesting with a few clouds floating around in it as well: smog will do, but fog is even better. It adds just that little touch of adventure and mystery to your everyday life, making you feel like you might end up somewhere wholly unexpected (sometimes, you even do). Perhaps that's one reason why people started the industrial revolution: all those smokestacks and chimneys produce wonderful clouds.

Take a walk along a Melbourne street in the middle of winter or on a cold autumn day and you will discover another reason why these cold seasons are so nice: the whiff of wood smoke. We so rarely have an excuse to set a log fire roaring in Australia, and wood smoke has such a pleasant smell. There is a reason people use it to flavour their foods. Rain, also (though it is more pleasant being inside a house while it is raining) causes beautiful smells to rise in the air: the cool, earthy whiff just before rain comes; the satisfying smell of wet soil that has just drunk its fill; and the pungent fragrance of plant resins, eucalyptus and lemon verbena, that have come to the surface of the leaf or tree bark in the rain.

It all makes me wonder if there oughtn't to be an advertising campaign for winter, the rain and wet, and the colour grey. Something like a picture of an atmospheric, mossy building shrouded in some nice fog, with attractive people doing nice dances around it, and a slogan hovering over it:
That's why we say
Give me rain and the colour grey. 

Then again, I suppose that would attract entirely the wrong crowd of people.


Steve said...

I have very specific opinions about this.

The problem with Melbourne winters are that they are neither here nor there. An Australian city which can go through a thoroughly cold winter (say, Canberra, or some of the other largish towns like Armidale) has the interesting extremes that involve things like scrapping ice off windscreens, and a view of snow on distant hills, if not in the backyard.

But Melbourne is just grey, damp and cool-cold for a protracted part of the year without even giving the rewards of getting really cold.

The thing is, it is not at all unusual to have a minimum in suburban Brisbane in winter which is less than the minimum in Melbourne (our clear winter nights are the reason why), but Brisbane winter days tend to be sunny and cheering.

So the problem is not how cold Melbourne gets, but just how protractedly cool it is.

I mean, it really used to bother me, in the year or so I spent there, that the city does not really get reliably warm until about December. Sure, you might have a warmish, sunny day in October, but then a front will move through and you are back to cool, grey for another fortnight before the next sunny day.
I found that really annoying, given that I was pretty much used to being consistently daytime warm again in Brisbane from about September each year.

I have explained this many times to many people, and still think I am right.

Steve said...

By the way, the reliable grey, moist, cool/coldness of Melbourne in winter makes it an interesting place to visit for a long weekend from Brisbane for the contrast. It's perfectly fine for that purpose.

But for a Brisbane person to live there, the length of time that this goes on just becomes sorta depressing.

TimT said...

It's a beautiful thing to sit in a Melbourne pub on a weekend and feel cozy and comfy as the evening gloomth settles in. I like it.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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