Working for the local radio station, stuttering Cathy found herself thrown into the microphonic deep end when the weatherman called in sick…and found out more about meteorology than she’d bargained for!
There’s a novel in all of us, so they say. In my case, it’s only a story, not a novel. And it doesn’t begin on a dark and stormy night, but a bright and sunny afternoon.
There’s something almost disturbing about days which are perennially bright and sunny, and where it only rains at night, like in “Camelot” – “The rain may never fall till after sundown….” – week after week, month after month, season after season.
And in Jameson Heads, that’s what the weather was like.
You can scoff and say it’s just the geography of the land, the proximity to mountains, the sea breeze. Whatever you want.
I worked in the local radio station at Jameson Heads for three years, doing just about everything but going on air – and I did that once or twice too, when the newsreader was late back from lunch. Locals had to hear the stuttering tones of Cathy Miles instead of the dulcet warmth of Neil Harbison. Newsreading isn’t an ideal job when you’re a gal with a stutter. Or when you have an alcohol problem like Neil, either, come to that. I’ll never forget the time he stuffed up the intro to the Smash Hits hour and I had to hit the bleeper real quick. But I digress. Back to my little chat about the weather.
At the radio station we had the most accurate weatherman ever. Well, it wasn’t hard, was it? “It’ll be sunny today with rain this evening.”
Mort Black was his name; he was a qualified meteorologist, and what he was doing stuck in a country town nobody knows. With his accurate forecasting he could have made a killing in the city working for the Bureau of Meteorology. Mort never got it wrong. And I mean NEVER. Even when we did have the odd storm or gale or any of the other goodies nature chucks our way now and then (and usually at night at that), Mort could predict it almost to the minute. And if Mort predicted that a storm heading our way would change direction, he was correct on that count, too.
The local regional TV station also had Mort’s talents at its disposal. I’d work with Mort during the day as he lounged around in torn jeans and stained sweatshirts, his grey hair a rumpled halo around his head, and marvel at the suave, made up miracle that was Mort presenting the weather on the TV at night.
I don’t know when he actually sat down and plotted the forecast or whatever weathermen do. I never really saw him do anything except listen to the radio or read cheap western paperbacks. Which got me to wondering.
I asked him one day how and when he predicted the weather, and he fixed me with that watery, pale blue gaze of his: “Dear girl, it’s unexplainable. It’s a mixture of training with something far stronger, the feeling in these skinny old bones of mine.”
That was the day we had our worst storm in years, predicted accurately by Mort in plenty of time, almost as if he was proving his talents to me. His supercilious smile as the thunder crashed overhead and we almost went off air was the last thing I saw before the lights faded to blackness. Almost immediately the emergency generator kicked in, but Mort’s smile seemed to hang like the mythical grin of the Cheshire Cat in the brief spell of darkness.
I steered clear of Mort after that, or as clear as you can steer in a small operation. He was starting to give me the creeps.
Jameson Heads was a prosperous little place. Because of its great climate tourism was one of the major money spinners, with holiday makers flocking to the area even in winter to soak up the rays or take a boat out on the sheltered harbour and inlet.
Plans were underway to widen the two lane road into town and expand access to Jameson Heads. Of course, this brought a mixed reaction from the locals. Those with businesses welcomed the idea. Those who, like me, had moved to Jameson Heads to get away from it all howled in protest. Eventually though, the mighty dollar won, and Council approved plans to widen the road and even build a couple of cheap motels on the outskirts of town.
I don’t know how many people noticed the slight but inexplicable climatic changes as the bulldozers moved in that winter.
As I drove in from my place just out of town I’d see the bulldozers bogged after the night’s rainfall, their drivers cursing. It seemed the rain fell heaviest at night in that particular part of the county, according to Mort, who was one of the people most opposed to the developments and was openly glad they were going slowly.
Sunny skies were replaced by cloudy days, even stormy afternoons. Instead of being temperate the weather had moved to cold. It was enough of an anomaly for Mort to be interviewed by the local press and even one of the city papers who’d picked up on the story.
“We’re experiencing a band of low pressure systems,” Mort explained. “It also appears that the hole in the ozone layer may have an effect on our particular eco system here in Jameson Heads. By the way, there’ll be a storm tonight, around 6.15.”
Work progressed very, very slowly on the new developments, to the delight of those of us who didn’t want Jameson Heads full of busloads of tourists. The rainy weather had another effect on the town, too: colds and flu.
Our bodies weren’t used to weeks of rain and the chilly moisture that seemed to hang permanently in the air. I got my share and was stuck in bed for three days with a streaming nose and heavy head. I didn’t even turn the radio on but lay back listening to the steady rain pattering on my tin roof and the creaking walls of my house.
Finally I decided I was well enough to return to work and discovered that half the station was down with the bug. As we ran on a shoestring, this was pretty disastrous. Neil was reading the news with a handkerchief permanently glued to his nose, and Mike, our afternoon announcer, was playing back-to-back music as he was coughing too much to run the usual talkback show.
And Mort was sick, too. He was phoning in his weather reports in a croaky voice, and we played them direct to air.
“The rain will continue,” Mort crackled, “For at least another two days. We can expect some sunshine again on Monday.”
“Modday,” groaned Neil, off air. “I wod’t have a dose left by thed.” He blew his nose trumpetingly in punctuation.
“Can you work over the weekend, Cath?” Sid asked. He was the manager. “It looks like Annie’s off with the flu now too.”
God, after only half a day I felt like sinking back into the warmth of my bed and sleeping for a week! “Sure,” I agreed. What else could I do?
By the next day things were worse. I drove a four wheel drive and only just made it into town. I reached the station to find out that we were not only short staffed, we were out of tea and coffee. What a disaster! We’d lost enough announcers to the bug for Sid to take the mike himself in the morning, and even Mort was too sick to phone in the weather as he usually did at weekends.
I rang him at home.
“Go away,” moaned Mort. “I’m sick. I’m on medication. Go ask the Bureau for a forecast or make it up yourself. It’s pretty obvious, just look out the window. I’m going to sleep.” And with that he set the phone down.
I relayed the message to Sid. “Great, just great! Well, go on, look out the window and make it up. You can be the newsreader today.”
“On air?” I was horrified. I always stuttered heaps more if I did any kind of public speaking!
“Do you good, Cath. You’re on in five. You can sit in Mort’s chair. Have fun!”
Trembling, I made my way to Mort’s studio. He was a bit of a star and had his own little studio which nobody else ever used. You’d expect it to be covered in maps and charts, or at least have a barometer there, but all he had on the wall was a print of a barque foundering in high seas and a temperature gauge.
There was a huge tin full of herbal tea sitting on the filing cabinet, and I made myself a mug. I like herbal tea, I’m a bit of a hippie, but this was on the bitter side. Still, it was warm and the mug was blissfully hot on my icy fingers.
The studio also had a window, and, as instructed, I looked through it and sipped my tea as I listened to Sid back announcing songs through the headphones.
“And now for a quick update on local sport,” Sid said cheerfully. “In a nutshell, all local games have been washed out this week. If you’re keen to watch live sport, however, there’s a basketball game between Jameson Heads and Port Kerry on at noon today in the Jameson Heads High School gynasium. The CWA are catering with lots of hot drinks, so go and cheer our team on! And now to our own Cathy Miles, with the weather and news.”
I pulled a face. Why should I be the bringer of bad tidings? I gulped another mouthful of tea and turned the mike on.
“Hi, Jameson Heads. M-M-Mort is sick today, s-s-o let’s see what’s in s-s-store.” I glanced out the window. Hey, solid rain, surprise surprise! Then a little devil got into me. “The rain’s g-g-going to c-c-clear by two o’c-c-c, two pm,” I said firmly, astonishing myself. Where had I got that from? I found myself continuing as the warmth of the tea flooded through me. “It’s g-g-going to be f-f-fine f-for the rest of the w-w-weekend. C-c-currently it’s s-s-sixteen degrees,” I finished quickly. Somehow I made my stumbling way through the news – flash floods in Jackson Creek being the headline – then took off my headphones with a sigh.
James Blundell started singing and Sid burst in. “What the hell are you doing, Cathy? It’s bloody pouring out there! No way is it going to fine up! You’ve just made a fool of us!”
I was shaking. “I d-d-don’t know, S-S-Sid. S-s-something just c-c-came over me.” Which was true. Don’t ask me how, but I KNEW it was going to fine up.
I glanced out the window. Was it just me, or did the rain seem to have lightened off a bit? “L-l-look,” I suggested to Sid.
Out near the horizon the clouds were definitely lighter. And it was true, the rain on the roof didn’t sound nearly as heavy. “Bugger me!” Sid exclaimed, scratching his grizzly red head. Then, “You’re doing the news and weather for the rest of the day.” And he left the studio.
By the noon news I’d had a couple of cups of Mort’s tea, which I was getting used to. If I hadn’t had his tea I’d have hit the scotch like Neil, and God only knows what weather I’d be predicting then! I had practiced my news and weather report in front of the mirror in the loo until I had it word perfect.
“This is Cathy Miles with the weather,” I said more confidently. If I concentrated hard on looking out the window I didn’t stutter too much. “The rain w-will lift by two pm, and we’ll have a sunny afternoon. T-tomorrow will also be sunny with a high of nineteen. The t-temperature right now is seventeen. B-back at one with an update.” With a huge sigh I turned the mike off and congratulated myself. Sid made a thumbs up sign through the inside window and we grinned at each other.
Sure enough, my forecast came true. By two the sun was shining and steam was rising from the puddles in the streets. Hesitant children came out to play and bored holidaymakers realised their weekend wasn’t a washout after all. We had ourselves a beautiful Jameson Heads afternoon – bright and sunny, with not a cloud in sight.
Stars shone in the heavens for the first night in a long time. I sat by my window at home, watching them twinkle in the crisp winter sky.
We didn’t hear from Mort the next day. I did the weather again, and it stayed fine and sunny and nineteen. My stutter grew less frequent as my confidence increased, and by five that night I was telling people it’d be fine and sunny on Monday as well.
By Monday we were all a bit worried about Mort. He had neither showed up or phoned in. Finally Annie, our program producer, knocked on his door. When he didn’t reply she used her ingenuity (a piece of wood strategically knocked through one of the panes on the door) and broke in, to find Mort dead in his bed. Mort was mort, you could say. The doctor said he’d died sometime on Saturday; a post mortem revealed heart failure. Apparently he’d had a weak heart for years, and the severe dose of ‘flu he’d suffered had been too much for it.
The station came to a bit of a standstill. Mort was the number one news item (it was a slow news day), and I appeared to have inherited his job.
To my surprise, predicting the weather was much as he said. In the bones and unexplainable. If I was in bad mood and thought it was time for a storm, I said so. If I wanted the sun to shine, well, shine it did. After our weeks of rainy days I decided that sunny days and rainy nights really were the best mixture, after a dry spell to get rid of the mud that surrounded our town. It suited my lifestyle fine and seemed to suit everyone else’s, too. And as time wore on I seemed to need less of the herbal tea, whatever was in it, to do the job. My stutter improved, and I became able to approach the mike with confidence; “fine and sunny today” simply rolled off my tongue.
People did say it was funny how storms seemed to break first and hardest over the construction site. That poor construction site… hit by lightning, flooded…it seemed to attract the worst of the elements. When the cost of building the new road was projected to zoom way over budget, the construction was halted. Mysteriously, the climate in that part of the county improved, almost overnight.
I began to encounter curious looks when I walked down the street. Had the townsfolk started to realise I didn’t so much predict the weather as create the weather? Perhaps it was time to move on for a bit.
So now I’m shifting my talents to Sydney. There are people who’d pay a lot of money to ensure the weather during the Olympic Games is to their liking, whatever their liking may be. After that, who knows? I may retire to a sleepy coastal town…where it’s always fine and sunny. And only rains at night.
© Copyright 1999 Caroline Sully
Reproduction without the author’s permission strictly prohibited