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Postcard from France: under the heat dome

August 23, 2023

41 degrees centigrade sounds pretty hot. Yet somehow 105, the fahrenheit equivalent, seems even more extreme. I was brought up when Britain used the latter as its unit of measurement. Back then, such heat would have seemed almost apocalyptic.

But I’m not in Britain. My wife and I arrived at our little place in Southern France a few days ago. Since then the thermometer has been rising steadily. Apparently we’re sitting underneath something called a heat dome. I’m not unfamiliar with this level of warmth. During our time in the Middle East summer temperatures sometimes rose to as much as 50C. But then we had air conditioning in the car, the office and at home, so our exposure to the withering heat was limited to short excursions between one cool place and another.

Not now. Our house has thick stone walls, which takes the edge off the heat. But we still rely on fans, especially to sleep. Between the hours of midday and early evening, it’s definitely It Ain’t Half Hot Mum territory. So by and large, apart from excursions for lunch at our favourite restaurant, we stay indoors during the day, shutters closed against the sun, slowly making our way around the gloomy interior.

Which is fine, because we have no desire to be one of those much-touted heatwave casualties gleefully leapt upon by the British media. Lord help the campers who have no escape from the heat. Though many of them have a pool nearby where they can cool down, which we don’t. A paddling pool helps, but not much. Whales don’t appreciate bathtubs.

Happily, by the weekend we can expect some relief in the form of the usual thunder and lightning, most likely accompanied by hailstones the size of golf balls. Then things are likely to settle down in the mid 20s, a drop of about 15 degrees over two days.

What else is new in La Belle France? Well, over the past couple of months the nation has been wracked with anxiety since the bureaucrats introduced a form to be filled in by every property owner in the country. It’s effectively a house census. It asks questions at a level of detail such as the precise square meterage of buildings and land, what kind of material was used in construction, how many loos, bidets and basins, how many rooms, what they’re used for and, rather bizarrely, details of patios.

The purpose of this gargantuan piece of data collection appears to be – you guessed it – “rationalisation” of the property tax that most house-owners are required to pay. And yes, most of us will have to pay more once the data has been fed into the Ministry of Finance’s algorithm.

Unfortunately, a number of people, including us, only found out about it by accident. The Ministry had to extend the deadline twice. Call centres set up to handle queries about the form, which is byzantine in its complexity, have had to deal with endless calls from distressed householders who found themselves unable to fill in the form. Two days before the latest deadline expired, the website for online completion crashed. Naturellement. According to our local tax office, it will take months to process the information.

The other fun measure would gladden the heart of London’s mayor, under whose aegis the hugely unpopular Ultra-Low Emission zone scheme is about to be extended way beyond what most map users would recognise as the boundaries of London.

France goes one stage further. The authorities have designated 10 cities as low emission zones, and a further 19 areas where temporary restrictions can be imposed. The rules are fairly complicated, but the bottom line is that all vehicle owners must apply for a sticker that identifies their vehicle’s emission level. And before long, anyone in a high emission car, such as some diesels, will be liable to fines once the municipal cameras are up and running. Which probably means that our wheezy old diesel will soon become a mobile fine magnet in France as well as London. Oh merde. Time to buy a bike, I guess.

Such concerns, though, are far from the mind early in the morning as I sit on our patio looking out on the baked countryside. Straight ahead, we have copse of trees that hosts a variety of wildlife, including a family of deer I saw wandering across a neighbouring field. The dawn chorus gives me the excuse to enjoy a new app that identifies birds by their song. Much as I generally loathe apps, this is one that enhances life rather than complicates it. It’s called Merlin. It uses a huge database of bird sounds to tell you who’s visiting at the moment.

It’s found nothing out of the usual thus far, though a European Pied Flycatcher and a Spotted Flycatcher seem to be in regular attendance, which perhaps explains why this year we don’t seem to be plagued by as many flies as usual. Then there are the usual suspects: pigeons, magpies, woodpeckers, and a variety of tits. But wait! Up on my phone pops a Short-Toed Treecreeper. Whatever that is I have no clue, but, but its name could have been invented by Tolkein. It would also be a worthy insult to be hurled at a diminutive flasher.

Merlin is unlikely to turn me into a twitcher. I don’t have the patience. But what a quiet pleasure it is to get to know your neighbours without having to wander around hedgerows with outsized binoculars. Also a reminder also that you don’t need stickers, forms and permits to enjoy wildlife that gets on with its living while you get on with yours.

Time for a spot of breakfast as the temperature creeps up into the thirties. Whatever the weather, my bit of France is a glorious as ever.

From → France, Media, Postcards, Travel, UK

  1. d. f. moggio permalink

    Have you tried a shallow bowl of water in front of the fan?
    That was our “air conditioning” when I was a child.
    The profligate few added ice. (Not ice cubes. Ice was delivered in big chunks by the ice man.)

    Now, luckily, all I need is the fan.
    The “bowl” of water is the Pacific Ocean a couple of hundred yards outside the front door.

    • Good idea Debby. Fortunately the temperature starts dropping after today, so all will soon be well. The BBC predicts a pleasant 25C for the next couple of weeks with regular rainy spells… S

  2. d. f. moggio permalink

    Steve, please let me know if you read this.
    I sent a comment through the “other” account, and I don’t know if either one of them is working.


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