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This text is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

She made him, and dragged him away across the grass. They turned a corner, rounded a thick hedge, and the wind hit them. He stopped struggling. Air rushed over the ground like a flood of water at blood temperature, and he pulled himself free of her and went into it pacing slowly like a dancer, his arms spread out and his face tipped back, his eyes closed and his mouth melting.

In this sentence does "air" mean "wind", and does "blood temperature" mean "very high temperature"?

I searched about "blood temperature" but I found nothing reasonable and I guess it as very hot air.

3 Answers 3

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It's not possible to understand the full meaning of this sentence by just giving the meanings of the individual words. It's a simile, and a complicated one at that.

You are correct in thinking that "air" is wind and "blood temperature" is "high temperature". As Mary notes, "blood temperature" more specifically connotes "body temperature", which is fairly high (37°C). The temperature is important because of how it affects the "water" mentioned. Breaking up the sentence into separate parts:

(Air rushed over the ground) like (a flood of water at blood temperature.)

This is comparing how air moves to how water moves. Specifically, water at a high temperature. The viscosity of water decreases as temperature rises. Here's a graph to demonstrate this:

a graph of viscosity on the y axis and temperature on the x axis which shows a downward sloping relationship, labeled "Viscosity vs Temperature for Water"

(Sourced from Quora, via Google Images)

Liquid that has a low viscosity flows easier and smoother around things in its path. A "flood of water at blood [high] temperature" would therefore flow very smoothly. Saying that the air "rushed over the ground" like this very-smoothly flowing water means that the air (wind) moved easily and smoothly around the characters and scenery. A fast, smooth flow of air can be very pleasant to feel. The male character in the passage appears to be enjoying the feeling of this smooth air rushing onto his face and body.

A final layer to the simile is the specific use of "blood" temperature instead of just saying "high" temperature. Blood is known to flow smoothly and quickly throughout the body, which gives further emphasis to the "smooth, easy flowing" feeling generated by the simile.

The sentence could be rewritten as:

Wind flowed over the ground easily and smoothly.

But that's less poetic, which is probably the reason for flowery language to be used in the first place.

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  • 'Liquid that has a low viscosity flows easier and smoother around things in its path.' Is that a statement you can support with a source? Lower velocity liquids certainly can flow faster, but does that also mean more smoothly around objects? It seems much more likely that under the same conditions of force, a faster flowing liquid of low viscosity will experience proportionally greater drag from the surface of an object in its path than a slower moving liquid of higher viscosity would, and that that drag would create turbulence, swirls and eddies.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jul 1, 2022 at 14:00
  • Would you prefer if I just deleted the bit about "around things in its path"? I was trying to be accessible and don't have the capacity/spoons at the moment to chase down a reference without causing myself undue stress.
    – bobble
    Commented Jul 1, 2022 at 14:41
  • It isn't a matter of what I prefer, your interpretation of the phrase rests on that quality being attributable to blood temperature water.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jul 1, 2022 at 15:55
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Understanding this requires a little context about where this is happening, wind is after all a meteorological phenomenon, so it is worth considering the climate of the place the book is set.

The book is set in Melbourne, which sits between maritime and inland weather influences. https://www.emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM00360b.htm describes the climate:

A feature of the temperature pattern is the marked changes. Hot spells occur several times each summer when there is a continual rise in temperature during successive days. They are often a consequence of a large anticyclone remaining quasi-stationary over the Tasman Sea. In such circumstances, dry air from the hot interior of the continent is brought over south-eastern Australia. For example, Melbourne's most notable heatwave on record occurred in January 1908, when the temperature exceeded 35°C on six consecutive days, including five consecutive days when it reached 40°C. This heatwave is also responsible for producing the city's longest run of six consecutive nights when the temperature did not fall below 20°C. In December 1960, the temperature exceeded 30°C on every one of the seven days from Christmas to New Year's Eve. In March 1899, there was a 10-day spell during which the temperature reached 30°C on all but one of the days.

Hot, gusty northerly winds often strengthen with the approach of a southerly change. These cool changes vary in intensity and while some are dry, others may produce rain and thunderstorms.

Hot, gusty winds are a feature of the local climate, but does the description of 'air rush[ing] over the ground like a flood of water at blood temperature' match that feature?

I would say it does, the temperatures given in the quoted article certainly put the winds in the general range of body-temperature, and 'flood' if we think of it in terms of this definition (OED)

An overflowing or irruption of a great body of water over land not usually submerged; an inundation, a deluge.

and think about the leading edge of the inundation 'rushing over the ground' not habitually covered by such flow, rather than the more static 'standing water' phase of a flood, it conjures an image, not of a smooth laminar flow (sorry @Bobble) but of an unruly, tumbling, flow. Or 'gusty' as emelbourne.net.au described it.

So it appears that Garner is describing a seasonal weather feature of Melbourne. She uses it in this particular passage to contrast with the activity just before the scene you quote. Vicki has been pushing Billy on a swing, and he has been immersed in the experience of flying, lying on his back in the air, and is distraught when she pulls him away from the swing because she is bored. When the hot, gusty wind hits them it pacifies him and he slips back into the rapture he experienced on the swing, albeit that the wind is warmer than those conjured by their earlier singing of the Skye Boat Song.

The wind may also be being used as a metaphor for change, presaging a change in weather in actuality and Vicki's change in living arrangements in the story.

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That the air "rushed" meant that it was wind.

"Blood temperature" is another way of saying "body temperature" -- the normal temperature of a human body.

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