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The Old Fort: A Musing From The Oil Sands

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Were You Born On The Sun?

THE WEATHER OUT THERE TODAY IS HOT and shitty with continued hot and shitty in the afternoon. Tomorrow a chance of continued crappy with a pissy weather front coming down from the north. Basically, it’s hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut. (Good Morning Vietnam, 1987)

The thermometer said 61.4 degrees Celsius, Kabul, Afghanistan, summer of 2005.

It wasn’t a scientifically approved number. Normal weather reports give you shade temperature, which in turn gives you a false sense of hope. In YMM, in July, that goes something like this. “Wow, it’s hot, but Ferne Wynnyk on the radio said it was only 32 in the shade, so it can’t be that bad.” Actually that temperature in the sun is quite a bit higher, and out in the sun is where the damage is done.

Back to 61.4. I’m glad I have a photo of that because people don’t believe me. “It can’t have been that hot,” he says. Then someone will look it up on Wikipedia. “The highest temperature ever recorded,” he will say in what always seem to be a strangled Monty Python voice, “was 56.7 degrees.” Then he will look at you accusingly, put his iPhone into his pocket protector, pull the little woman by the hand saying “Come along, Gladys,” and saunter off with a disproving yet self-satisfied waddle.

I used to feel like shouting at the back of his cretinous head, “That’s a shade temperature, you oaf.” I don’t anymore. What’s the point? I can tell you that 61.4 is really, seriously over-the-top hot. The sweat dries as soon as it is thought of, your mouth hangs open like a retriever that has just fetched his 50th tennis ball, and you can’t actually ingest water fast enough. We didn’t work that day, or on many others like it. Our offices were canvas tents; great big half-cylinders designed to keep soldiers and support staff warm in the Arctic and not much good in a semi-desert. Our work hours were changed to Ottawa hours, which meant all through July and August our day started at 5 in the evening and finished at 1 the next morning...the cooler time, when the temperature dropped to a balmy 35.

During the heat of the day we were allowed to languish in our sleeping accommodation, more of those same Arctic tents. Who says the military doesn’t have a sense of humour?

Here’s my point. The people who have actually listened to my story of living with 61.4 would often say, “Ugh, I’d never be able to survive that,” which is, if you think of it, one of the most asinine comments to make. What’s the alternative?

There’s no secret to bearing up under the heat if you have no choice. It’s not as if we were rosy-faced Canadians dipping our toes in the ocean in Mazatlan, ready to run into an air-conditioned bar at the first sign of sweat. When it’s hot and you’ve not got a lot of choice, you make do.

“Roosevelt, what town are you stationed in?”

“I’m stationed in Poontang.”

“Well, thank you, Roosevelt. What’s the weather like out there?”

“It’s hot. Damn hot! Real hot! Hottest things is my shorts. I could cook things in it. A little crotch pot cooking.”

“Well, can you tell me what it feels like.”

“Fool, it’s hot! I told you again! Were you born on the sun? It’s damn hot! It’s so damn hot, I saw little guys, their orange robes burst into flames. It’s that hot! Do you know what I’m talking about?”

“What do you think it’s going to be like tonight?

“It’s gonna be hot and wet! That’s nice if you’re with a lady, but it ain’t no good if you’re in the jungle.” (Good Morning Vietnam, 1987)

So how do you survive the summer? We get some of the hot stuff up here and there are articles that tell you about water consumption, SPF levels of sunscreen, best times to be outside and all manner of sensible things. This is not one of them.

Here’s my solution:

  • Make sure you have air-conditioning,
  • Don’t go outside.

I realize this is not totally practical, but as a means to survive the summer it takes some beating.

You will have to go outside occasionally. There are always those pesky trips one must make for beer and steaks. There are also those occasional times when a man feels the need to be extra the abode; the BBQ, taking the dog for a walk, going to work. For all else, planning prevents perspiration. Stock up on batteries for the TV-PVR clicker, go to the library in the evening when it is cooler, shop in the early morning when the sun isn’t taking us towards +35 and up. Pretty soon it’ll be September again, the prospect of colder weather will loom and our lives can get back to normal.

What? You say you like the warm weather: the bugs, the sweat, the sunburn, the three months when you can wear shorts and not look like a doofus. Really, how very interesting? Well if that’s your thing, then I really have only one thing to ask. If you like warm weather, why do you live in Northern Canada?

One more thing. That day it was 61.4, and all the other days it was hot, the combat troops didn’t take time off. They went out on patrol in uniform, wearing body-armour, in steel-lined vehicles with no air conditioning. I watched them go out and I saw them come back. I never heard them complain once. They’re a special breed.

I’m glad they’re ready to do that for me; for us. I’m also glad I’m not one of them. It’s just too damn hot.


Kevin has been writing for YMM since the first issue. Many of his articles have been pseudonymous, hidden behind the tags Keyano writer or YMM staff. Kevin has been a columnist for many years, working for some of the leading newspapers of the world, including the New York Times and the Devon Dispatch.