Covid Hail Brings Back Memories

During the pandemic, after Victoria breaks the world lockdown duration record in which Melbournians have spent 246 days living under stay-at-home instructions, it hailed. The sound of hail falling on the roof stirs some excitement, I rush to the window to watch the tiny pea-size hailstones bouncing on the garden tiles. What a delightful feeling, not so much about the tiny hails, but the memory it strangely aroused.

I clearly remember the passion of a man who was animatedly describing a lightning-ball of the previous day. He told 80-year-old Uncle Wal and a six-year-old me, of how the lighten-ball was followed by an unstoppable hail storm rolled towards the bowling club, and how in the blink of an eye took the roof off the clubhouse and began to flood the nearby golf links. I have never seen a lightning-ball, but after listening to the man, I have long thought it would be wonderful to see the real thing if they really exist! I felt Uncle Wal didn’t quite accept the story we were being told.

Still, that was an amazing story for an impressionable youngster, especially while I was standing in the middle of that Mainly Vale Bowling Club, tilting my head to look – there was no roof but a still ominous sky.

Another unlikely hail story was in my father’s first car, a 1939 Austin 8 Tourer Convertible, we called it “Little Jimmy”, and it had a canvas roof. On this day, dad and I were somewhere around North Sydney with Little Jimmy. It had been drizzling rain since mid-morning. Then it started – first a few small hailstones, then seconds later golf-ball-size hailstones dancing and roaring around us. I looked up the car roof – the canvas was holed in two places by the hailstones, then looked down to see a large white knobbly hailstone in my lap. I passed it to dad. Luckily, we were close to a modern service station and dad was able to quickly drive undercover. Later we found out that many cars and some buildings were damaged by that storm.

One thought leads to another. Dad had earlier been learning to drive Little Jimmy with help from police sergeant Stevenson, who lived next door. I was in the back seat while the instruction proceeded. After a while, I hear Mr Stevenson say: “Don’t do that, or the engine will drop out”. I was quite alert and excited for I had never seen an engine “drop out”, and I certainly didn’t want to miss the event. But, it never happened.

Then I recalled dad getting a speeding ticket in Little Jimmy on the way back from the Blue Mountains. Aunty Joan asking me not to tell Mum, scouts’ honour, I never did. Well, not entirely true, for I did spill the beans about twenty years later!

Little Jimmy breaks down in the city. I asked dad why there’s a red light on and does it mean there is a little fire in the engine? Weeks earlier, dad had described to me how an internal combustion engine works in terms of “little fires”. Mum became concerned when dad said “maybe”. So, we all quickly evacuated the Little Jimmy fearing it would quickly become a “big fire”. Dad held onto me and Mum held on to my younger brother John, we stood away from Little Jimmy till the helping hand of the NRMA arrived.

Little Jimmy only stayed with us for a year or two. Later dad bought a brand-new Morris 1000 – we called her Morri – and it became the talk of the street. On a big expedition from Sydney to Adelaide, we were running low on fuel. This caused great concern in the front seats, and we all stared at the fuel gauge that had been reading below empty for some time. Tensions were building, and dad was driving relatively slowly to improve the mileage, but it stretched out the time to what seemed the inevitable. Finally, we were approaching a town – Wagga Wagga I suspect – and the first building we saw was a petrol station. As we turned in I could feel the petrol pump behind the back seat suddenly start beating furiously and the car jerked a little and rolled to a stop. The noise of the pump getting louder and louder and louder, finally it stopped. I looked up, we were at a petrol station, right next to the bowser, not one drop petrol was in the car. We had made it – didn’t even need to get out and push – something I was secretly looking forward to. How about that for luck? Morri never let us down!

Seventy years later, I still enjoy a good hailstorm.

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