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.

February

Yes, we are still in winter: yesterday it was -1 degrees when I went to the baker in Bréau (though by the afternoon we are often sitting outside).

But February is a strange month; nature is never really dormant. The hazelnut trees have had catkins for several weeks now and suddenly crocuses and other small flowers have sprung open. The tits are suddenly tweeting away and last week I even heard a nightingale – just briefly.

Jacques, the local onion farmer, is busy ploughing in preparation his ever expanding number of fields (he has been quietly being buying up parcels over the last ten years).

We have had very little rain since November (when we had a lot) and – a reminder that summers seem to be drier too – Jacques’ brother Eric has been installing what seems a huge pipe system to irrigate the lower fields.

Weather-obsessed

My daughters think I am obsessed by the weather. They are right. If you live in the country you are so much more aware of the effect of weather changes, particularly when we have more and more extremes.

Last week we had snow, and for a day I did not venture out of the house. Then we had some magnificent mists. I was visiting Dessa at La Rouvierette on Friday and up there we looked over a lunar landscape of mist and clouds.

Then at the weekend we had unspeakable weather: icy cold gale winds which howled remorselessly. The snow descended down from the mountains, but stopped just above our level (I am 400 metres above sea level).

Last night the wind calmed at last and I watched the stars return to the sky. This morning, walking with Poppy up the valley from my house, the scene was once again bright, crisp blue sky. With no horrible wind, it felt so much warmer.

Nevertheless, up above us, on Mont Aigoual and neighbouring peaks, the snow is still there. I could see it when shopping at the supermarket this morning. And on the way home I saw the sign on the ‘main road’ up the mountains had not only its seasonal symbols that snow chains or winter tyres were obligatory, but an additional sign saying the roads were closed completely, even the one to the ski station. I guess this might date from yesterday when the winds would have made the icy roads even more dangerous.

Postscript

And now – – we have just had several glorious days of non-stop sun and temperatures which actually hit 20 degrees on the way back from Montpellier on Monday!

Snow

The snowflakes started to fall while I was playing music in le Vigan. I rushed home, keen to negotiate the steep hairpin approaching my house before it came impassable.

It snowed through the evening, but then during the night we had another strong wind, and this morning, although the landscape was white, the snow had been blown off the trees. I reckon that was it: it has been cold today, but little signs of further snow.

Nevertheless I decided not to set foot outside this morning. When I remember how what we were young I thought nothing of trudging through the snow to school or work, I am sad to think that now prudence now dominates.

Jacquot, my charming electrician, made it to the house to fix some lights in the bedroom. But together we watched while a van negotiated the road outside my house, with a dozen attempts before he made it up a few metres.