Swinging in the rain

Well, the non-stop heavy rain, spiced at time by thunderstorms, continued for over four days. And all power to the family – they continued to have daily walks and make the most of what has been the wettest school holiday I can remember. They even enjoyed a couple of wet sessions on the double swing.

Luckily my main house has been leak proof, except the half finished building of a bedroom and bathroom beneath the house, so Jude and Ed watched a certain amount of damp creeping under the newly installed doors. However Sebastien, currently renting our original house, has had buckets out in the main room. Thankfully he and Philippe, who looks after my land, may have finally found the source of the leak.

This is nothing compared with the stories of major flooding and catastrophes all along the Mediterranean coast. It was definitely a bit more than the Episodes Cévenoles which we are accustomed to in the autumn. But this morning, thankfully, we saw blue sky again and here is, as usual, the morning view from my terrace.

Jude and the girls have just come back from a repeat of the Esparon to Bréau walk, this time in tee shirts rather than rain gear.

Rain, rain, rain

My daughter, Jude, and family arrived on Saturday and with the exception of yesterday, where it was mostly just overcast and cool, it has rained – and rained and rained. And it is going to rain until they leave on Friday.

All credit to the family that they have such a positive attitude in the face of such lousy weather, particularly as it looks better in London, where they came from!

The parents had an energetic wet walk on Saturday and an even wetter one early on Sunday. Then the whole family braved the rain for their traditional Esparon to Bréau walk. Yesterday they took advantage of the relatively improved weather to climb up the steep hill to the Col de Mouzoules (not bad for Maddie, aged six) where I met them for a picnic lunch, and then they continued on to Bréau and back home via a visit to their other favourite haunt, the river at le Rieumage.

After all that energetic, bracing exercise it is entirely permissible that they are playing games on the iPads! We alternated this with a good session of the two families’ favourite card game, Monopoly Deal. Even Maddie can now join in, when she is not creating decorated folders (Private – keep out) and other art works.

On Sunday the girls, helped by sous-chef Ed, made some delicious chocolate chip cookies, which have been sustaining us since then. Sadly Ed has now had to go back to London, unexpectedly, for work. So meals without the chef are going to be a challenge for Jude and me.

More good news: my cold is improving by leaps and bounds, and Philippe (who cuts my grass) and my tenant, Sébastien, are climbing on the roof trying to find and fix the source of the leak (so i can avoid major roof repairs).

However, a new complication is that on Sunday I heard that my friend, Roy (Chris and he were graduate students together 50 years ago) is seriously ill in the hospital in Alès. He was in Alès for a court hearing of a neighbour dispute and was found unconscious in the hotel. His children are scattered round the world, his main friends happen to be absent too, so I have been a bit preoccupied with phone calls.

His wife, Lynn, is en route from York, but it is tough for her, as she speaks only English and Spanish (she is Mexican). But I have just spoken to the hospital and been assured there is someone who can explain what is going on in English. Meanwhile, I just got a call from Ryanair – she left her mobile on the plane! Poor Lynn, I may have to leave my family tomorrow and go to Alès to see what I can do for them.

Difficult return

It should have been lovely coming back home. But I seem to have just faced problems.

It started by my discovering I had somehow lost (not been given back?) my French sim card for my phone. So I had to spend yesterday going back to Montpellier to get another phone card.

It is cold and wet. (Inevitable, of course, after the incredible September we had.) This will be a challenge next week, when I sleep/camp in my new bedroom, where the only improvement since the summer is it at least has doors now.

My lodger Sébastien came up to tell me that there was yet another roof leak which I will need to sort out. October is a bad time to find builders who repair roofs.

Worst of all, the cold which I caught in Azrou, has developed into something pretty nasty. I’m not just sneezing and developing my usual bronchial hack, but I have a slight temperature, feel tired and shivery and very sorry for myself.

Jude and family arrive on Saturday. I must somehow get better by then – and tell the weather to behave.

Oh, and Brexit… … Johnson may get his numbers on Saturday and we will have a Brexit that will be even worse than Theresa May’s. Corbyn is doing his usual faffing around, the chances of a second referendum seem slim, and if/when there is a general election, we have the sickening prospect of several years of Johnson as PM. So half the British population, including me and all my family and friends, will be unhappy and angry.

Heat and drought

For us worriers about global warming, this summer continues to sound alarm bells. We no longer have the fierce 40+ temperatures of July, but afternoons are still in the 30s. And, more worrying, after the landscape has been grilled it is now dried out.

I cannot remember a real day of rain for nearly three months. We had one or two drops maybe when the family was here. Then a week ago we had a day of grey cloud and some uncharacteristically light, persistent rain. But each time thunderstorms are forecast, they mysteriously decide not to reach this far, though the weather is uncomfortably humid and heavy.

Yesterday there were a few rolls of thunder and a brief rainstorm. Then again, annoying, nothing. By midnight the sky was clear and full of stars. This morning there is once again a blue sky, just the view from my bedroom of clouds rising in the river valley behind Bréau reminding us that we did actually have some rain yesterday:

We do need real rain badly. There is a watering ban and my garden is looking sad – the bamboo which hides the neighbour’s house is looking worryingly tired. Everywhere you see trees that are in distress and the rivers are extremely low and slow moving. In fact the commune has banned bathing in our local river at the riverside, le Rieumage, where my family loves to picnic. Apparently water samples show it is so low and slow moving it is now polluted.

Meanwhile, my bassin is sadly not operational. The main sand filter – which should have been refilled in the spring but wasn’t because of Jacky’s ill health – had become completely blocked and the pump which circulates the water was sounding strained. So last week, we decided to turn the pump off, which means that there are no longer the lovely waterfalls and the water in the swimming pool is rapidly filling with algae.

Wilting

It is not as hot as earlier in the month – afternoon temperatures (in the shade) are in the mid 30s rather than 40 plus. But for some reason I am not coping as well. I’ve not been feeling great for the past 24 hours.

Of course my damned compression stockings have a lot to answer for. Initially I was good and kept them on all day. Now I manage to keep them on for the morning, but then concede defeat and take them off, which means I have to lie horizontal – or sit in the pool. This is no great hardship!

Initially the pool was hard work – not helped by my inadvertently throwing away the robot filters when cleaning out my basement and having to go to Montpellier to get new ones. The robot is now working fine and the pool looks beautiful, although somewhat slippery (no doubt caused by the unrelenting scorching temperatures).

I am however finding it difficult getting the robot out of the water each day, as the pulley system used in previous years is not working. I’m really not supposed to be lifting any weights after last year’s scares, and I’m slightly worried that my current problems may have been exacerbated by breaking the rules. I can’t wait for the family to come in ten days and take over pool maintenance.

The poor old garden is not looking great either:brown and scorched with very few flowers surviving. And the insect population has suddenly soared. When we used to camp I was always the main target for mosquitoes and other nasties, but years of living here have I think made my blood less interesting to them – until now.

Too hot for comfort

Last night, for the first time for weeks, there was a slight breeze and temperatures dropped. And magic, this morning at 10am it is still a lovely fresh 25° in the shade. Fingers crossed we will now never to normal summer heat rather than the extreme canicule.

I feel the heat particularly badly, partly because my heat thermostats seem to work less well over the past few years of health problems and also because I have to wear my horrible full length compression stockings all the time.

But everyone is complaining, especially those of my age. At night we throw open every door and window to try to cool the house down, and as soon as the sun rises, we close all doors, windows and shutters. This makes the house airless, but you have to resist the temptation to open a window, even facing north, to stop the hot air rushing in.

The only acceptable place to be has been the dining room of my friends Charles and Pierre, where I play music every Friday. The vaulted former cellars date from about the fifteenth century and the stone floors and massively thick stone walls are a wonderful barrier against this cruel heat.

It must have been even worse for David and Dacia, my mother’s former neighbours, who have been spending the last few weeks in their caravan at La Corconne, the campsite where we spent so many happy summers. Dacia fell two weeks ago, hurt her coccyx and has been bed bound since. I have been involved in supporting them, though thankfully the son in law has now flown over to manage things and Dacia is in hospital in Ganges having tests. Thank goodness my car has air conditioning which, guiltily, I have been using when visiting her daily.

We have had a couple of spectacular thunderstorms which have not managed to bring the temperature down much. The last two days have been horribly heavy and then yesterday evening another short but violent downpour which miraculously seems to have shifted things.

Too late for my garden, which is looking a sad, brown wreck. But much more serious for farmers. Jacky, who is working to get my pool operational, says that even the fields high up on the Massif Central to the north of us are suffering: there is a general shortage of fodder for animals. We turned to talking about the need to change eating habits in France – a country in which la cuisine is normally centred around meat dishes. Jacky and Jacquot (the electrician friend currently fixing various things in my house) are adamant that habits are changing and that restaurants are beginning to offer interesting meat-free dishes.

They are both against solar panels, on the grounds that they are expensive to make and that battery technology is still very unsatisfactory. France is of course worryingly dependent on nuclear energy. For Jacky and Jacquot the solution is simply to consume less – electricity, fuel – everything.

Alerte rouge

Written two days ago, but apparently failed to post! Since then I have bought electric fans for my house and for the gite, where I have friends staying. This is much better, provided I sit tight in one place, do nothing except let the cooler air blast in my face.

We have been watching the temperatures climb all week and today the Metro France forecast passed from orange to red – the highest level. Our department (le Gard) is the one second left:

Yesterday afternoon was already pretty horrific; it was stiflingly hot and yet if one opened just one window, hot air rushed in. I’m afraid the after effects of the cancer treatment – loss of lymph glands plus horrible thick compression stockings – have meant I have lost my tolerance for hot weather. So I was dreading today.

I spent the morning playing music with my friends, Charles and Pierre. Not only is this a pleasure in itself, but it was paradise playing in their dining room – a fifteenth century cellar with incredibly thick stone walls and so its own delightfully fresh micro-climate.

As soon as I stepped outside after lunch the heat hit me. The car registered 47 degrees and the steering wheel was almost too hot to touch. I rushed home, deposited Poppy and cello somewhere cooler and went down to le Vigan in search of a fan.

After half an hour in my least favourite shop in le Vigan – the sole remaining hardware store – I came back to my car and by now it was registering 50 degrees!

In comparison my house seemed relatively acceptable. Though half an hour later, with the fan still not assembled (the plastic bits are not fitting) I was again drinking and sweating litres.

We have just had a thunderstorm, which lasted all of five minutes and we are back to unrelenting sun. The BBC forecast is that this will continue for another two days. Here we are again, the red blotch blog the coast of the south of France.

I’m hoping that normal summer weather will arrive in August, when the two families come, because this would not be fun for anyone.

Too hot to think

And apparently too hot to finish posting this and the following item.  I wrote this on 26th June.

The canicule has hit in with a vengeance today, and it is predicted to be even hotter tomorrow and Friday. It is impossible to do anything. Poppy is flaked out too.

I’ve just been down to le Vigan and my car (which has my only reliable thermometer) says it is 35-6 in the shade and 40 in the sun. Last week’s heavy humid weather has been replaced by a hot wind coming from the south, as if we were one stop away from the Sahara. I’m not sure which is more unpleasant.

Until now I have managed to keep the house at an acceptable temperature, by having all doors and windows wide open at night and almost everything closed, with shutters down, in the day. Even so, the house has unfortunately heated up and there is not a room to be comfortable in. On days like this I wish I had an old Cevenol house with thick stone walls.

Sadly I cannot jump into my pool. Jacky, who built and maintains my basin, has been very ill and needed to take a break this month. I agreed he could get the pool running early July, not knowing what weather was round the corner.

I’ve just looked at the forecast for the next two months. According to Accuweather, temperatures are going to be 30 and above until 31 August!

March

I have spent so much time obsessively following every tortuous turn of the miserable Brexit saga that I have let March come and go without comment. I find it a truly magical month (unlike April, which should be so wonderful but so often disappoints with unseasonal rain or chilly spells).

At the start of March there are no leaves, just a hint of colour in the branches of trees and a few timid buds appearing. Then everything changes. Almost overnight you can see the buds turn into blossom and lovely, light young leaves unfurl. As I drive into le Vigan, there is one weeping willow in particular, whose transformation I have failed to capture (always too late for an appointment or too cold to stop). The sun shone all month and people walked around with a spring in their step and smile on their faces.

I have just put up an odd collection of photos to record this lovely month. The first two were taken on a crisp day at the start of March. Then a couple of pictures of the moon, as this year we have had spectacularly splendid full moons, with not a cloud to be seen. I thought I would pop in a picture of rush-hour traffic on my way home – this herd of sheep has a donkey as well as the usual dog to encourage it up the road to Mars.

The next photo is an old mill, taken with my drone. This is one of a group beside the river below Bréau which several of us want saving before it is too late. The picture afterwards is the old farmhouse near it which is too far gone to rescue.

The rest are the usual mixture of buds and flowers that everybody snaps on walks or in the garden.

Now we are into April. The weather has continued to be unseasonably cold, but a couple of days ago, the non-stop blue sunshine came to an end: we have just had 36 hours of heavy rain. Typically this was on Saturday, more or less washing out the weekly market. But as everybody was saying, since this is only the second time it has rained this year, we desperately need the water. It is good to once again hear the River Souls, in the valley below my house. It was more violent towards the coast, with hailstorms and ‘tornadoes’.

It is raining again now and more is forecast for the coming days. I want it to rain and rain – until next Saturday, when my daughter Jude and family arrive for an all too short week. At present it looks as if it will be cold and dry the first half and then warmer but wet thereafter. Lots of board games will be needed 🙁

Super moon

We continue to have this unreal weather: non-stop sunshine and warm afternoons (22 degrees today). Not necessarily a good thing for nature, but it enabled me to marvel again at the full moon two days ago.

Pity I didn’t look out of the window an hour earlier. It would have been a better photo as the moon appeared above the hill across the valley. Still, it was a wonderful sight – brighter than my photo, which I have darkened so you can see the moonscape. It has been lighting up the countryside all night for the past week.

Apparently they call this the Snow Moon because in February it often shines onto the snow. Little chance of that this year! Instead, everything is sprouting, even in my garden where neglect and ignorance attempt to reign.