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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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