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A nip in the air

Autumn is approaching - time for fleece pyjamas

Mint pyjamas

The mornings are preternaturally beautiful at present. Now that our puppy is seven months old and can hold his bladder for the night, my getting-up time has gradually moved from around 5.30 to around 7.15. It's still pretty dark then but by the time I've walked the dogs up the lane to the chasse coops to do their business, the horizon is pink and orange, with blazing contrails bisecting the landscape. 

Our neighbour's field, which held summer barley, has been stubble for some time now and give a huge, wide view of the district - wooded hills to the east and south, the village to the north, hidden behind rows of poplars, and our garden, looking like a dense, solid woodland, to the south. I usually walk the mutts up here for 20 minutes or so in the low-lying tree mist, where they can chase the rabbits, skylarks, and any of our neighbour's chickens dumb enough to stray too far. 

It's on these mornings that I really notice the nip that has appeared in the air. A couple of days ago I washed my Squall Stadium coat from Land's End - one of the great things about these fleece-lined, quilted coats is that they are machine washable - but I have also noticed, the past few days, how the wind is starting to whistle right through my cotton jersey pyjama pants.

Peach pyjamas

Hence I've just splashed out on a couple of pairs of fleece PJs for the coming season. Only Ebay jobs, but they're very pretty and in the sort of boudoirish colours that I hope will tone with both my pink bedding and my naked face.

When it comes to PJs, I like a conventional cut with a proper button-front and collar, so that I can flip the collar up to keep my neck warm. It always strikes me as a terrible design flaw that almost all women's nightwear covers your body but leaves your neck, arms and shoulders exposed - the very places you need coverage. Personally, I tend sleep in a cashmere poloneck in winter, though I have just also bought the new Alize poloneck from Finisterre, which I think will be a useful weight and length. Then the PJs go on the morning. 

I am also pretty thrilled with my new bathrobe from German brand Otto Werner by WeWo Fashion. No? Means nothing to me either, but I found it a local shop - one of the few that is very pretty and elegant - and snapped it up even though it's a mans, too big and cost 112 euros. I was so fed up of my piece-of-shit Habitat bathrobe that snags and pulls at every verse end and which, although quite new, looks 20 years old. Let us hope this one lasts longer. 

I feel, though, that it will soon be pensioned off as a dressing gown in favour of my Lands' End down. We lit a fire a couple of nights ago, and it's starting to feel really quite chilly in the mornings, though we usually try to hold of using central heating until October. This weekend, though, it will be time to put the curtains back up. We manage without in summer, as we're not overlooked, but I'm starting to feel the night's black eyes staring at me round about 8.30 now, so the windows could do with a bit of sweetening.  

 

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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.  

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Brass monkeys

The freezing weather has made me add another coat to my collection.

Land's End coatLand's End coat rearHas anyone noticed it's FREEZING?

Jeezy Creezy. Today it's mostly snowed but yesterday in the glacial wind the DH and I spent the day doing the delightful task of shopping in Mayenne, something marginally sweetened by the buffet at the Palais de Bonheur Chinese restaurant, but heck, what do you wear on days like this?

It was alright for him - he climbed into the usual ski thermals, topped with fleece layers and then his navy super-insulated parka from Land's End, and he's away. 

It's different for a girl. Given that my winter get-up at the moment is ski thermals, fleece layers and Ugg boots, and the past few nights I've been sleeping in our 9-degree bedroom in fleece PJs, an alpaca wrap and a massive cowl wrapped round my head, I thought it might be good to take the opportunity to look - you know - nice.

I shouldn't complain, I know. It's been a mild winter on the whole, for all that it's chucked it down almost every day and at least I'm not a blue tit trying to eat my body weight in fat balls every day, but having decided to be girly and wear a skirt for the first time in months, I found myself in the following: big thick knee-length mohair socks, fleece-lined tights from Japan, a turquoise knee-length wool sweater dress from Land's End, a long, thick jade knitted wool skirt from John Lewis, a thick primrose vintage cashmere cardigan, a blue vintage leather 1960s coat, blue corduroy bucket hat, magenta pashmina, vintage turquoise leather gloves, vintage black leather riding boots and fleece wellie socks. And I was just about warm enough. Just about. As long as I kept moving.

It's nice, said the DH, that you're wearing turquoise because of your eyes and your yellow cardi to match your hair. This was an accident, I had to admit - I'd just fancied something a bit brighter than my usual navy bomb-proof getup.

In to town we went. A Chinese meal, a wander round Noz (for me), where consumer goods go to die, and I get to rummage through the detritus that is Western civilisation, picking out must-haves like pickled peppers, travel deodorant and a chiffon scarf; then Lidl, since ours is closing down, dammit; then SuperU for the main shop; then Intersports for a fruitless search for a swimming mask (they won't be here till April, apparently). 

Home again home again, jiggity-jig, where the house was so cold I unpacked the shopping still in my coat and hat while the DH lit the woodburner and I then swapped the coat for a thigh-length fleece parka, as I could keep my head covered. I was wearing more bloody clothes indoors than I was outside! Even several hours after the fire had been put on, it was still cold. 

Walking round in the cold in 'posh' clothes is very taxing. Really, I would rather have been in my trekking gear, which is really designed to keep the cold out, and I seriously regretted - not for the first time - not getting my Land's End fleece-lined parka in a darker colour. Mine is screaming daffodil yellow - great for trekking, and for walking the dog down our narrow country lanes, but it makes you look a bit of a dick in town. 

Land's End Squall Stadium coat

I felt another purchase coming on and it didn't take me long to succumb. In theory, the last thing I need is another coat - I have some great winter warmers. But they are all wool or skin, not the kind of thing to stand up to the endless rain and filth and mud we have endured this winter. So welcome to my new coat, the Stadium Squall from Land's End. Not the most stylish rig in town, I grant you, but the waterproof outside, fleece lining, fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, button-down pocket flaps, fleece-lined hood and storm-flap pockets are persuasian enough, along with one crucial detail - it's machine-washable, which I'm certain will prove invaluable over time.

You can get this coat in a more stylish cut (see the purple version above), but mine (which I got in black, not aubergine) was £59 in the sale, as opposed to £140, so I am willing to forgo a little taste in favour of not breaking the bank, and since I want it primarily for practical reasons, I want to be absolutely sure it has the features I'm looking for.  

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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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