Did you ever find yourself out on your balcony at four in the morning with an egg in your hand, mulling over whether to loft the said ovoid into the air with the intention of making it do the Humpty Dumpty on the noggin of one of a group of young lads acting the baloobas on the footpath four stories down? Well, that was your esteemed author last week. I’d finally snapped. I’d taken enough. I wasn’t just angry — I was rabid, slavering with fury. If there had been a gun in the house I would have been loading up and considering which of the drunken, loud-mouthed yobboes I would take out first. For a brief time I had gone mad.
My only excuse is that sleep has been at a premium recently. This September has been the hottest on record in Spain since Torquemada was a nipper. Madrid’s temperatures have been hitting the high thirties (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and, being in the dead centre of the Iberian Peninsula where not an asthmatic’s strained puff of a breeze is recorded from the end of May until the start of October, there is no respite from the heat at night. It is not just myself, a white-skinned, lily-livered Paddy, genetically programmed to deal with the cold and the damp, who has been unable to catch some Zs with temperatures at night refusing to creep below thirty degrees (86 degrees Fahrenheit): por las mañanas the whole of Madrid is bleary-eyed, drained looking and tetchy as an old badger with a weak prostate.
I react badly to heat at the best of times. My symptoms go beyond the physical — sluggishness, heavy legs, loss of appetite, perspiring to a level edging into Christy Moore-like hyperhidrosis, assuming an alarming beetroot-red complexion. I suffer mentally as well. When the thermometers go into the red, a large part of my brain decides to take a vacation in the cool mountains of oblivion. Things like rationality and clear-headedness are pushed aside, and what’s left of the functioning grey matter becomes the dominion of Lord Stress and Lady Desperation and a gaggle of offspring with names such as Morbidia, Lunatica, Muddlestein and Babblestan. No matter how hard I try to battle it, put me on a street that’s forty degrees (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and all my good cheer, hope and quick-wittedness become stifled. My affect slowly sinks, almost as if the heat were physically pushing down on my joie de vivre. Hence heatwaves for me are miserable times.
I have learned over the years not to take any big decisions during July, August and early September. I am just not up to it. The thoughts I have and plans I make are feverish and smack of desperation, as if my body were telling me “I don’t care what you decide, just get me out of this heat.” So all my usual heatwave thoughts of quitting my job and packing off to anywhere relatively cool such as Ireland or even Iceland — or giving it all up to start that craft malting house in the far north — are ignored.
But sometimes my heatwave-driven impulses are just too strong to resist. Thus, finding myself out on the balcony in the middle of the night on the point of egging the yahoos who had roused me from a hard-won, wet-blanket sleep. I studied the egg in my hand. I picked a spot behind a rampant lemon-scented geranium from which I could see but not be seen, and took aim. I lifted my arm behind and over my head and prepared to fire. But out of the blue a thought stalled me.
You don’t really want to do this, it said. This isn’t you.
Then, other thoughts came: What if they see you? What if they direct their simian screeching directly at you instead of at one another? What if they call the police? You won’t get to sleep then!
My superego was not on holidays after all.
I carefully lowered the egg, which was still cold in my hand from being in the fridge, and stood watching this unsplendid sample of the Youth of Today. I sweated in the heat and my limbs imperceptibly shook from fatigue while they roared and hollered, stumbled and rolled, raucously laughed and joked. Without warning, as suddenly as a small herd of spooked zebra skittering from a watering hole, they moved off. When they were out of earshot, I contemplated the egg, now warmed up to body temperature. It seemed to rest in my hand like a cocked gun begging to be fired. It just didn’t seem right to put it back in the fridge. And then, what I guess must have been my id, back in charge of my heatwave-befuddled cortex, spoke:
Let’s just fire this off. To test the range. You know? In case you really want to do this another night.
I took aim at the trunk of a tree across the road, perhaps twenty yards down from my position on the balcony and sixty as the crow flies. I let fly and smiled when I heard it plop against the tree’s heat-crinkled bark. It somehow felt satisfying. I went back to my furnace of a bed and slept the three hours until my alarm went off.