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Frosty tips

Jesus, the temperatures have dropped...

Brr is all I can say.

The temperatures really have dropped off a cliff now. It's 2 degrees out there this morning and clearly I'm going to have to start allowing time to scrape the car. 

It seems to have turned from summer to winter overnight once again this year, leaving me in a slight state of shock. I mean, I knew it would happen, and that when it happened, it would be sudden, but so long and hot has the summer been that there was, I suppose, a sneaking hope that it would indeed continue forever.

The penny dropped when I popped into town on Thursday and found that in my leather coat, I was only just warm enough, even over two layers of wool. When I had to walk the dog later, I instead wore my Land's End Stadium Squall coat, which is fleece-lined and has 300g insulation in it and - most importantly - comes way below my knees, as I was only wearing jeggings and that one thin layer of cotton was nowhere near enough. Imagine my delight, then, to find a pair of fleece gloves and a fleece beanie in the pockets - most welcome as the wind blew off the lake at my local plan d'eau.

Our new winter bedroom still isn't ready for habitation because despite buying three mattresses, we can't find one comfortable enough (and it's a weird measure at 140x200). But I can't afford to buy a topper until next month because we have a massive tax top-up to pay, so for the next few weeks we'll still be in our 'summer' bedroom, which last night was 15 degrees.

Now 15 degrees isn't so bad - it can get way lower than that in winter - and we don't have any heating on, but having paid a fortune to close off this floor for winter so that we don't have the expense of heating it, I think our reaction might well be to tough it out until the other bedroom is ready. The past couple of nights, I've slept with an alpaca stole wrapped round my head (the perfect warmth to weight ratio) to stop waking up in the night. 

Oh la. Off swimming in a minute and I don't think my Adidas tracksuit bottoms will be enough now, so it's back in the thermal sweats, searching for the scraper tool in the dark.

Welcome to winter.  


The end-of-winter blues

Spring, spring, when will it be spring?

Trish and Zola at the Parc Florale

Lord, I've been feeling fed-up lately. 

Work seems to be a treadmill and I've had no time to do the daily walk that keeps me sane, the weather's been bloody awful, my computer is dying on its little rubber feet, I've got conjunctivitis and eye strain so I haven't been able to go swimming, my dog's got congestive heart failure and my cat's got thyroid cancer, the DH is feeling overwhelmed and depressed and on Friday I finally got sick.

I'd managed to avoid it all winter by avoiding ill people and obsessively washing my hands (with an auto-immune disease, I can't be too careful - I wear gloves when I shop and wash my hands before and after unpacking the shopping etc) but when I took the dog to the vet, the receptionist was full of cold and I think I must have picked it up from there. I hit my bed at 4.00pm Friday afternoon with the shivers, nausea and a blinding headache, and didn't get up till the next morning. 


But heck, no wonder we are tired. We didn't get a holiday last year because of our cancer cat, who need dosing every day, and I think we are just feeling worn out. We haven't had a break since November 2011 and barely a day off either - we usually do a six-day week and often a seven-day week. I can't remember, I really can't, the last time I had any FUN. Just pure fun. And oh I am sick and tired of being COLD. Ack. I fucking hate winter. This is my 49th and every damn one of them seems to get harder. 

It didn't help that our last load of wood, from a new supplier, was hopelessly unseasoned and isn't giving out much heat, plus which it created so much tar we had to get the chimney swept mid-winter, which is unheard of. The bedroom temperature's been as low as 9 degrees (teach me to live in a medieval shitpile instead of a normal house like a normal person), the kitchen is about 10 and you can see your breath in there. Every day is a task of donning ski thermals and fleece layers asap and spending the day hunched against the cold, all of which is do-able when you're feeling well, but doesn't feel so do-able when you're unwell.   

Still, all is not lost. Yesterday I worked like a dog to get work out of the way, and today we finally - yay! - managed to get out to the Parc Floral de Haute Bretagne. I really wanted to take the dog to the sea, which he loves, because I don't know how long we've got him for, but he knows the park and I think it was enough for him right now. At least he seems to be coughing less on his new diruetics. 

Oh la. Let us be thankful for small mercies. My swimming mask has arrived, so I can now risk the pool again, thank heavens (I couldn't get a mask round here for love nor money - I was told they wouldn't be in stock before April - how the hell is a swimming mask a seasonal item?), and the Abufène the doc put me on in the hopes of fixing these hot flushes does, fingers crossed, seem to be working and I am finally getting 5-6 hours sleep a night, which feels miraculous after 3 or 3.5 hours had become the norm. 

And my new Macbook Pro is on its way and might just get here before this one dies. And the days are getting slightly longer, just a couple of minutes a day. My David Austin roses have turned up (this year, deep crimsons of Guinée, Etoile d'Hollande and Crimson Glory (Climbing), and even in the chopped-back Parc, the odd camellia and witch hazel were giving just a hint of promise. Oh, and the the new Lands' End Stadium Coat was the perfect garment for walking around in an icy wind - lightweight, waterproof and totally windproof.

OK: rant over, but finally, finally, are we seeing the end of winter? I hope so, because right now, I have really had enough. 


A white world

Minus five overnight and a hard frost this morning.

frosty orchard

I can forgive Normandy everything on a morning like this. I've just got back from walking the dog in this first hard frost of the winter, and it was so gobsmackingly beautiful it took my breath away. 

The whole countryside looks like it's been dipped in sugar: every catkin, every withered leaf, every blade of grass (the photo at left was taken just after dawn). The fields were peppered with crows, waiting for the sun to thaw the maize left over from the harvest. My neighbour's willows were reflected in his lake, preternaturally blue and lined with ochre bullrushes. A solitary heron was hunting by the stream, and the dog and I seemed to be the only other creatures on the surface of the earth as the sun came blazing out and turned the whole world into a mirror.

I didn't see another person or sign of life, nor heard a sound until I reached my gate again after an hour of walking, when a solitary tractor appeared on the brow of the hill. Not even a single cow was in any of the fields - this temperature drop was forecast, and the farmers have taken the cattle in. 

Squall parka

The dog is always happiest on a frosty walk, but now that he is 12, I put a coat on him when it's below freezing. He looks very sweet in his scarlet Land's End fleece, which (other than the colour) matches my Squall Parka. No more perfect coat for dog-walking was ever invented, btw, with its fleece-lined handwarmer pockets and hood, drawstring waist, and screaming daffodil yellow colour that I hope will prevent me being mashed by a tractor. Luckily, no-one could tell this morning that I still had my polkadot pjs on under my layers of fleece.

Yesterday we had the 1000-litre fuel oil delivery, just in time for this freeze, so we actually woke up to a warm house, ye gods. Until now, the mornings have been a rush to get into my down dressing gown (Lands' End again - I should take out shares) and Uggs and get down to the living room to bang on the paraffin heater.

If we're frugal with the heating, running it for just two hours a day, the oil lasts a year, at a cost of just short of 1,000 euros (and right now, this office is 17.5 degrees, which seems to me stiflingly hot - about 16 would suit me better, as we're just not used to being this warm).  The wood will be, what - another 1,000 euros this year? For six cords. Plus maybe three lots of paraffin, and say the same of butane, and about 200 euros a month for electricity. No wonder we're broke when it costs over four grand just to heat the house to a moderate temperature, LOL, though of course that lot also includes cooking gas, hot water and lighting. 

Oh well, enough whingeing. Lunch is in the slow cooker (rabbit and lentil casserole), the birds have had their second feed of the day and I've put vegetable scraps out for the deer, so I'm now off for a bath before we get the wood in.

Wrap up warm, people.  

Dress the part

If it's cold in your house, why not wear a bloody hat?

It's morning, and I've just been watching the BBC Breakfast programme about people who are suffering from a lack of heating oil this year.

I feel sorry for these people - I really do. It's scandalous the way the price of heating oil isn't regulated in the same way as mains gas, etc. But watching people being interviewed, complaining about how cold their houses are, I can't help but notice that not one of them is dressed properly. 

If you live in the countryside, you can't twat about in a cotton blouse and a t-shirt indoors, wittering like a townie - you have to tog up. That means Aran or Shetland sweaters, hats, thick wool trousers, Ugg boots.

We are so used to this way of dressing in this neck of the woods that we don't even think about it, but it is, after all, only the way we all dressed when we were kids, before central heating became ubiquitous. 30 years ago, people didn't expect their whole house to be warm in winter - you heated only the space you were IN, and you stayed in that space.

Right now, I'm not yet dressed, and that means: full-length silk nightie, cashmere cowlneck sweater, beanie (this is my actual sleeping attire - if I slept without a hat, the cold would wake me up). Add to that Ugg boots, full-length wrap woolmix cardi worn as a dressing gown, and a calf-length wool kimono.

This might seem like overkill if you live in town, but our living room temperature is 13 degrees right now, after three hours of the central heating being on (it will now go off until tomorrow). However, I'm warm as toast. 12-14 degrees is pretty much as good as it gets here and I don't think of it as cold indoors until it drops to about 10 degrees.

In case you're wondering, the DH hasn't had a cold in years, and I only get bronchitis in summer. On the downside, we do find shops, offices and hospitals appallingly hot, stuffy and airless.

Another thing I notice from the telly is people's apparent reliance on only one form of heating. But you can't live in the countryside and rely on supplies - they can be disrupted for all kinds of reasons. You also have to order well in advance - you can't leave deliveries till the last minute and it looks like many people have been caught out in this way in Britain this year, with the suppliers running around like blue-arsed flies trying to do a month's deliveries in a week.

Here, we have tough winter weather - icy winds and well-below-freezing temperatures for days or weeks at a time - and if you're not prepared, you're buggered. The power also goes out at the first opportunity because cables run above ground in France. We therefore have a plentiful supply of candles and paraffin lamps, lots of bottled water (no electricity means no pump for our well) and four forms of heating: oil-fired central heating (which we use for just a few hours in the morning); electric blow heaters in the bedroom and office; a butane portable heater in the kitchen, and woodburners in the kitchen and living room. We also tried a fifth form - paraffin heating - but found it too smelly, and these days, we also have two types of wood fuel - logs and densified wood - so that we can ensure supply at any time of year.

Country people in England are learning the hard way this year how quickly everything can grind to a halt, as are many in town - it is only when the weather really bites that you become aware of how precariously we all cling to the illusion of civilisation.



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