Things are warming up in Death Valley
The other day I was sitting in the garden fighting another losing battle with the cryptic crossword, but the afternoon heat was taking its toll -- it was the standard 34ºC -- and when several blobs of sweat landed on No.4 down, it felt prudent to admit defeat and retreat indoors.
Switching on the TV, I was greeted by a story concerning Death Valley in California, which last week recorded the highest-ever temperature on Earth, 54.4ºC. Now that is definitely a bit on the warm side and puts the Big Mango's steamy weather into the shade. I will never complain about Bangkok's heat again. Well, okay, I probably will.
The extreme temperature was recorded at Furnace Creek (population 24), situated in a valley 55 metres below sea level which experiences virtually no rainfall and is mainly inhabited by remnants of the Timbisha tribe. It doesn't sound particularly appealing, but has become a popular tourist spot, boasting two hotels and even an 18-hole golf course which in 2011 hosted the aptly-named Heatstroke Open.
Death Valley is in the north of the Mojave Desert and gets its name from the 1849 California gold rush when many pioneers perished on the wagon trains in the uninviting valley as they hunted gold.
Considering that as a kid I once suffered heatstroke on the beach at Bournemouth, it is unlikely I'll be making any excursions to Death Valley.
Very near Furnace Creek is Zabriskie Point, made famous by a 1970 film of the same name by famed Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. The film was a box office disaster and panned by most critics, but recently it has been looked upon in a more favourable light.
You can see it on YouTube and come to your own verdict. The acting is wooden, but the fearsome Death Valley landscape is worth a look. Rolling Stone magazine reviewer David Fricke incidentally didn't mince words, calling it "one of the most extraordinary disasters in modern cinematic history".
Cold as Hell
Just to cool things down a bit, it must be remembered that the US experiences great extremes of weather and when it gets cold it is very cold. There was a particularly severe winter a couple of years ago when it was even too nippy for polar bears in American zoos and they were not allowed out. Even the penguins were playing up -- no "Happy Feet'' dancing for them. One London newspaper carried a front page of a snowbound town in southern Michigan which happened to be called Hell. Inevitably the headline informed us "Hell Freezes Over".
Furnace Creek and Hell are a reminder that the US has some wonderfully evocative place names. Hell actually got its name in the 1840s when a founder was asked what he would like the town to be called and he responded, "I don't know, you can name it Hell for all I care." So they did.
There are plenty of other intriguing US place-names and where better to start than Peculiar in Missouri. Some are less appealing, like Arsenic Tubs in New Mexico and a settlement in Texas called Toad Suck, a good name for a punk band perhaps. Then there is the delightful-sounding Drain, in Oregon. Equine lovers might also have mixed feelings about the Alaskan town of Deadhorse.
Some places sound almost too good to be true, like the Kentucky village of Lovely. But imagine if stopped by highway cops, trying to explain you come from No Name, a small town in Colorado, or Nowhere in Arizona, closely related to Nothing in Arizona.
It's still difficult to beat the Oregon town of Boring. That must be a marvellous conversation opener at a dinner party. In fact a couple of years ago, Boring became officially twinned with the Scottish village of Dull, in Perthshire. It proved such a popular idea other places wanted to get in on the act and a couple of years ago the Australian town of Bland joined Dull and Boring in what was dubbed "a trinity of tedium''.
At least residents of Dull and Boring are now quite adept at saying "G'day mate".
Sure and steadfast
Recent developments have prompted friends to reminisce about their Boy Scout days and the merits of the three-finger salute. I was never in the Scouts, but the Boy's Brigade (BB), a similar organisation attached to the Methodist Church. However we used a traditional military-style salute to the forehead.
As a nipper I was in the Life Boys, the equivalent of the Cubs. We wore flat sailors' caps which, according to an auntie, made me look "cute". Then I graduated to the BB whose motto was "sure and steadfast", although in my case "wobbly and wavering" would have been more accurate.
In the BB we had to wear a uniform which included a ghastly pillbox hat, which I hated wearing in public. I felt like a marching bell-boy. The part of the BB I disliked most was the monthly march through town on Sunday mornings. I would pray that none of my schoolmates would spot me in my wretched pillbox hat. Of course they always did and I had to put up with assorted infantile banter at school the following week.
Contact PostScript via email at email@example.com
Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org