I am not sure if it is the way the planet is lined up, or if it is something specific to Western Australia and the way the roads are built, but the sun over here can be a right hazard.
I am not talking about the dangers of ultra violet light, or the heat of the infra red, or the fact that eventually the sun is going to blow itself up and swallow the earth and all the petty things that humans have wasted their tiny lives rowing about. I am just talking about the way it hangs in the sky at certain times of the day.
It happened this morning. I was driving to work on a road that runs east-west. It was seven thirty in the morning. Normally I have no idea what direction roads run, unless I know they end at the ocean, or Sydney, but I do know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and right at that time, the sun was still on its long slow way up the sky.
It is winter here at the moment, and there is less than twelve hours of daylight. It is pitch black when the alarm goes off at 6am and the light is only just starting to dilute the darkness at the edges of the sky, like water added to a puddle of black ink on the surface of a desk.
The winter started off wet and has gone very dry. That means there is no cloud cover so it is very clear and cold. As I turned onto the road this morning, the sun had unfettered access to me in my car. Normally, driving into the sun is problematic at sunset, but I have never had the sun sneak up on me from behind like it did today. First, it hit my right wing mirror and bounced into my eyes. I had wanted to move the car from one lane to another but all I could see in the mirror was light and I was stuck, unable to see if the way was clear.
The rear view vision mirror was just as bad. The sun was bouncing off it and into my eyes so badly that I had to twist it away and render it useless. There was flare everywhere, it was like being trapped in a car that was being directed by JJ Abrams.
Finally, I got over a hill and was free from the sun but for a while I had been driving blind. It reminded me of an incident that took place many years ago. It was during a simpler time and my father had gone out for potatoes one afternoon and come back with a car. That car was one of his favourites, a Peugeot 604. He loved it so much that he used to wash it every weekend even taking each of the wheels off to clean them.
I remember him telling a story to demonstrate the power of its various features. He had been driving home one night and someone coming towards him had flashed their beam at him in anger, assuming that the Peugeot was driving with high beam lights.
To demonstrate that it was not and was merely the quality of his new car’s normal headlights, my father engaged the high beam briefly at the oncoming vehicle. This was the seventies, when people did this sort of thing on the road and people still had dinner party conversations where encounters like this were recounted. I still remember my dad’s description of the horrified driver in the tale he recounted, his electrified face frozen in terror for a split second in the high beam behind the oncoming car’s windscreen as it passed my father.
I felt the pain of that driver this morning, although I suspect that I was blinded for a good deal longer than the man who had tried to taunt my father with a bit of roadmanship. Tinited windows and sunglasses offered no protection. I guess I have just two choices: go to work later, or wait until the sun blows up.