Horse Power

“Remember Clare, horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow.”
 Said to me by Pat Jeffkins, my grandmother, about 1958.

Everywhere: on the end of your nose, between your toes, under your finger nails; a crusty sensation as the normally smooth movement of the blink of your eyelids is interrupted by salty granules.

The dampness of a humid atmosphere is quite remarkable (and people with arthritis suffer from the damp here just as much as in Scotland). When you move out of a room with ‘air con’, it envelopes you with the same alacrity and totality as a ha’ar off the North Sea. You are instantly – instantly! – clammy. It reminds me of post-it notes. Apparently their inventor spent ages trying to make a sticky substance that was sticky enough to stick but would release its hold when pulled. He obviously didn’t live in the tropics in the rainy season.  There’s an old-fashioned sort of formality here (it goes along with the bureaucracy, I suppose) which includes hand-shaking as well as the ‘Miss X’ or ‘Mr. Y’. And there the post-it note sensation happens – my hand lingers just fractionally too long against theirs as we release our grip.

If you are sitting absorbed in something, and fail to notice that one surface of an arm or leg is against another for any length of time, suddenly you feel a trickling sensation following a gravitational path. Or you shift your position, as you do, and find a virtual pooling between your thighs.
I have discovered the relative merits of weights of fabric. My two cotton voile blouses of which I am very fond don’t quite do the trick. Or rather, have a trick of their own which is most unpleasant. Just as a damp piece of toilet paper sticks to a surface like a second skin, my once-loved voile does the same – a wet layer of cloth adhering to your flesh, and needing to be peeled away like skin. Horrible. My 100% linen shirt, which before I came I had assumed would be really useful, is too heavy, too hot when it is both humid and high temperatures. (Inland, where the humidity is less and the evenings are cooler, the linen can be about right.)  The couple of tops which are mixes of linen and cotton, or of heavier cotton, are the best; cool enough to be comfortable, and robust enough to be able to absorb some of the sweat without leaving me looking like – or feeling like – a washing line.

Occasionally I do glow, it’s true. I catch my reflection off a window, in a glass picture frame or a mirror. There is a shine across my whole face. When I was little, there were rare occasions when someone dropped a thermometer and the beads of magical mercury spread across the floor. I remember Sister Annunciata, matron at my school, sent one flying once as she shook the thermometer to bring the mercury down to normal before taking my temperature. I had been in isolation in the San. with some contagious ailment or other, and it was the most interesting thing that had happened to me for days! I spent hours on my hands and knees, gathering up the precious fluid, marvelling at how close each bead was to the other before there was a sudden ‘whoosh’ and the two became one. Painstakingly, you could move around the floor and garner up more and more. One false move and you had to start all over again. Great occupation when nothing else to do.

(I remember while in there listening to Radio Luxemburg on my little transistor, ear pieces in so the nuns couldn’t hear, and one of chart toppers was a song called ‘Hold the ladder steady’ or some such. Its words were perfect for someone locked in a convent sanatorium, and I still remember how the chorus goes:

“James, James, hold the ladder steady,
 James, James, I’m packed and I am ready
 I’m a-coming down to your ah-ah-arms
 I’m a-coming down to your arms.”

For years I thought it was because like most of my relationship-obsessed school friends, I wanted to fall in love. I now see it was eloping to freedom!!)

But to get to my point: beads of sweat, or ‘glowing’ to Grandma, are all well and good. But there is a critical point when many become one, and there ain’t much you can do about it, it seems to me, whether sweat or mercury.

When I worked in Dundee, the architect of the very modern building had made a few interesting touches. Rain water was channelled off the roof (into a water barrel or two here in Beisle Cottage) so that it streamed down a sheet of clear Perspex. It was quite effective, and folk could while away a few minutes watching the patterns the water made as it cascaded down. I have substituted the Perspex for Conor’s back. Actually, it is what in Process Work we would call a coupled channel experience. What I see on his back I can simultaneously feel on my own. Sweat pours off his head (particularly when wearing a sun hat, which in this heat in the high 90F over the last two weeks, is essential) round his ears, drips off his hair, down the back of his neck, to meet his broad back with glee. A large surface area to move around on as it flows ever-downwards. Sweat, like all liquids, follows the line of least resistance, so there is really only one place that this designer waterfall can end up in.

In BC, we have a fan strategically angled at night so that it ripples over the top of our bodies. (We have purchased a quiet fan because the one in the apartment was like trying to sleep on Heathrow runway. I think I have already told you that.) Fortunately the bed is large so we can both lie spread-eagled without any danger of inadvertently creating the sixth Great Lake in the middle of the night.

At least here in Crooked Tree I am sitting typing away in the shade of the verandah on a late Sunday afternoon, the glare of the mid-afternoon heat now receding, enjoying the cool breeze which has come in over the last couple of hours. Oh, and here the clamminess goes at night – whatever the temperature during the day. What a relief!