Saturday 30 June 2018

A heatwave is no holiday

The list of jobs to do before we cross the Irish sea to the wide, white beaches of Eire seems endless. I had, perhaps unwisely, put a mini spring clean on my to-do list - now my back is stronger. Things I couldn’t do when unable to bend or crouch, like cleaning our under-counter kitchen cupboards, have had to wait.
But I hadn’t reckoned on our sun trap of a breakfast room becoming soooo hot in the week before our dash to the glittering emeralds of Ireland. Cleaning in that room is as hot as standing in front of a 200C oven - with the door open.

I still haven’t managed the corrosive activity of cleaning the innards of the oven itself. That will - ahem - have to go on the back burner. And, in 85 F (29C), running down the road to catch up with our awol window cleaner resulted in my coming out in a torrent of sweat but still left me with windows which remain dusty and sand-blasted. Mr Squeaky-Clean has so many corporate cleaning jobs domestic ones aren’t his priority ... this week ...

But, in this who-knew-heat-wave, watering has reached new depths. The depths being the bottom of the water butt. Never have I seen it so empty so quickly. Do we start taking water from the pond? The frogs won’t like that and evaporation alone has caused its water levels to drop by 3 inches (7.6 cm).

I have packed an extra moisture-absorbent mulch around my rows of spinach and am shading them with a patio parasol while we are away. The umbrella is positioned so low over the spinach it’s hard to get a watering can under it... You win some ...

This week we have watered our front and back gardens twice a day but last night I needed watering myself. I must have become dehydrated. I was tired, hot, dizzy and had to go to bed early. I didn’t manage 7000 or 8000 steps and I had to give in. Getting up at 6 a.m. to catch persistent drips from a leaking boiler wotsit thingummy  (apparently a common design fault), hoovering and moving furniture to reach the leak, in scorching sunlight and top temperatures, waiting in for the engineer and drying out a water-damaged Turkish carpet may have had an effect on my energy levels. It’s just possible.

It’s certainly been a week of water. This afternoon I foolishly dropped my ‘Swiss made’ non- plastic water bottle on the bed - I was feeling pleased I’m not using single use plastic ones any more.
To my horror I didn’t put the lid on properly. The contents of the bottle now reside in the duvet cover, the duvet, the bedspread, the bottom sheets and right through to my £1100 mattress. 
It must be time for a holiday ...

Earlier today temperatures struggled to a mere 59F (15C). The lawn is like straw but the wilting plants have revived. After weeks of dry weather peering into the water butt is like looking at the bottom of a deep well. If I drop a coin in, and make a wish, would I hear it splash as it reached the dark waters below? How daft is it to carry full watering cans to refill the water butt given we will be on our holidays in a few days’ time?

Washing and ironing seem to be the next ‘must do’ tasks. We are running out of truly thin cotton trousers and dresses. The washing machine, an expensive one - it needs to be, is working very hard. On top of our cotton apparel it has taken cushion covers, bedspreads, rugs and other heavy-duty items during our extended heat wave. They dry so fast under a searing sky it’s a pity not to take the opportunity for a radical spring clean.

Except my legs are white. I haven’t sunbathed or sat on our patio in days. It’s simply too hot. Or am I just becoming a work horse? Driven to achieve absolute cleanliness like a perfectionist? More a domestic scrubber than goddess. Working myself into a frenzy yesterday was behaviour that was driven. And rather unlike me. Is this the nesting instinct run amok by climate change? 

But I’m not a bird - well not of the feathery species. And I can’t be pregnant, that’s for sure.  

The animal kingdom also changes its behaviour in these teeming temperatures. Our cat, truly heat-affected, ran up to the television last night and pawed the screen. The crows on the nature programme were safe. He couldn’t reach them beyond the glass.

This morning he pulled the bedroom light cord and switched it on. At 5 a.m! And he must have spotted yesterday’s Sainsbury delivery van. Today he won’t eat Whiskas (other cat food is available) and is staring us out until we open his cupboard to reveal expensive kitty treats. We are knackered. 

Perhaps, today, I should just chill...Ought I to get into the holiday spirit, cover myself with factor 30, lie on the sun lounger and leave the stains on the dining room chairs until we come back home? Bugger the beans. Take remedial action on our return ...

Or simply leave it all...
Let it be...

Take a break...

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Weather the Weather.

Isn’t it strange that in Britain we need to read articles about how to stay cool in the hot weather? Like we’ve never had hot weather before or no-one has the knowledge to pass down to our younger generation or new arrivals from the planet Zanussi.
When we have a snowfall here traffic comes to a halt, our supermarket shelves are empty five days later and A&E have additional winter stresses: broken bones from unrehearsed folk slipping on the ice.
Do we not know how to adapt to changes in the weather? Or is it that we are neither a very hot nor a very cold island thus we aren’t prepared for extremes?

My own frailty in these unexpected but welcome temperatures has been to stave off heat-induced migraine. It’s a combination of the glare from white-walled buildings, disrupted sleep patterns, dehydration and changes in eating habits that can create the malady.
In this particular sun-soaked spell of super-strength sunshine I appear to have come through it migraine-free. Hooray for that!

My own coping strategy is to drink even more iced-water than I generally consume on warm days. I always eat breakfast so that I am fed and watered before I use the hose or watering can to nourish my plants. I go to the shops before the heat is up too. 

I try to accomplish these chores by 10:00 or 11:00. a.m. And I always plaster myself with sun bloc, wear long sleeves, hat and shades. I dress as if I’m on my way for a sea-water swim in baking-hot Cyprus. Odd but cool and practical. Only a parasol is missing.

By midday I allow myself a rest or, when the temperature is mid-eighties (29C) or more, I take a siesta. The challenge is coping with the bright sunlight at 6:00 am. It’s a bugger waking up so early when you really want your energy to tackle household tasks before the heat becomes too much. And that lack of sleep can create a migraine. Oh the woes of the effects of glorious summer sunshine.

How must it be for the vast majority of people who are in full-time work? Labouring on a building site, creating bread in an already hot bakery or repairing wires atop a vertiginous telegraph pole, your head facing upwards, eyes blinded by penetrating rays from a fierce sun. I am the lineman for the county.

Sitting in a hot car, or on an airless bus or a delayed, overcrowded train must be, at the very least, exasperating. You’ve done a day’s work by the time you reach your place of employment. 

When at your desk you can’t lose your rag because of feeling weary after a sleepness night in a hot bedroom. You can’t shout at the phone because your stress levels from a hard journey into work are trying your patience. Everyone else is likely the same.

At least at home it’s easy to keep all the windows and doors open and just go for walks in the cool of the evening. And you can swear at things getting stuck down the plughole in the kitchen sink or flies hovering around the cat’s food. You can lose your temper and not risk alienating anyone else in the room or a client at the end of the phone. But what if you have to go into town or a big city, pollution hanging in the air like a toxic cloud? 

Yesterday my husband went shopping for our holiday. It was 85 degrees (29/30 C).Rather him than me. He came back ringing wet with sweat and could barely speak. He went for a lie down. Was it ever thus? Or is it getting hotter, drier and more stifling for longer than it ever did?

Today he needs to go in to the city to collect euros. Thankfully a delightful breeze has taken the sting out of the heat and temperatures are hitting a relatively cool 79 degrees (26C).

As I sit typing I sense I actually feel pleasantly warm rather than overwhelmed. The temperatures are dropping. I think we’ve peaked.

What other vagaries of the British weather will we endure next week? Hail storms or thunder and lightning? And how much does it matter when we have good water resources - at the turn of a tap - and enough to eat, petrol in the car and a crime-free neighbourhood allowing us to leave our front doors open?

We have a good life. It is frightening to think of those in refugee camps or living in perennially hot countries suffering crop failure. 

Enjoy the heat while we can, I say! In Britain it’s a gift. Not a threat.

Friday 8 June 2018

The Zoo Keeper's Wife and Gilead

From the end of January until the last week of May I was on one kind of painkiller or another. By March 14 my lower back pain had responded to Co-codamol and Naproxyn. From March 20th, after being given inappropriate physiotherapy exercises to try , I needed Tramadex simply to get to sleep. All the while I was taking my analgesics I was slipping in the odd glass of white wine and Aperol spritzer. (My GP said I could.) I was on the maximum meds and sometimes needed more pain relief than even those strong drugs could provide. At times I was unable to move but as the irritation around the disc and sciatic nerve got less, and once the cold snows of March had passed, I was able to walk for thirty minutes a day. I was visiting the GP surgery more than I had ever done and decided, in April, to have a health MOT. Oh woeful day!

I believed I was doing well until the results of the MOT came through. A practice nurse told me I was overweight and I had to lose a stone. I also needed to have other tests run to ensure I hadn’t damaged vital functions through my carrying of extra fat. I did explain I’d been unusually inactive for a couple of months but she wasn’t impressed. Indeed I felt like a school girl who had turned up to class in dirty knickers. After that I had a dental appointment. Having got into the dentist's chair expecting a filling I came out, fifty minutes later, my mouth wedged with bloodied cotton wool. He'd had to extract a perfectly good tooth...and it didn't want to be pulled. Back to the heavy-duty painkillers for another ten days.

My concerns are nothing, however, in comparison with the plight of women incarcerated in war-torn lands or enduring oppression in misogynistic regimes. Women in such countries are likely frightened of, or indeed prevented from, walking the streets in the towns where they have grown up. Going shopping for basics in a war-torn city can be fatal and likely result in little or no food being left on the shelves once the stall, or whatever constitutes for a bazaar or shop, has been arrived at.
And I’m bothered, as are so many in the rich first world, about being overweight…

My weight-reducing exercises and diet are paying dividends, I'm glad to say. My waist is shrinking and the scales show I am losing weight effectively. So far, so good. But what of women who have no choice? No shelter? No food? These are quite different problems.

 While watching ‘The Zoo Keeper’s Wife’, set in Warsaw in 1939, just after the Nazi invasion, I couldn’t help draw a comparison between the lives of women there, being bundled into carts and hidden while Nazi guards checked the cart driver’s papers, and the life of June in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ June, the protagonist, is whisked into the backs of trucks, left in disused buildings - until ‘it’s safe to move’ - in the dystopia of Gilead, the USA of time yet to come.

In both novels women are being protected from soldiers who might rape them, others who might assault them or beat them, enslave them or send them away. What have we learned as a human race about how to treat each other? Margaret Attwood said, when writing ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ that all events – the hangings, the servitude, the forced procreation – had actually occurred at some time in some part of the world. In 1939 Jewish women were the ones targeted for brutal treatment, along with their men folk, their elders and their offspring. In dystopian America any fecund woman is treated as a reproductive machine. There simply to produce a child. Merely another part in the baby factory.

In both films, ‘The Zoo Keeper’s Wife’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ dark interiors, cruelty, fear - but also great bravery - characterise the prevailing atmosphere. Whether it’s Europe 1939 or a broken USA of the future the way human beings treat each other can be truly inhuman. To describe such cruelty as animalistic is wrong. Animals kill when they are hungry. Few are cruel.

My cat, who can be a terror when he’s hungry, is lying at my feet while I type. He’s behaving as a cat can: friendly, warm, purring and content. It’s only when he’s hungry that he hides, ambushes us as we walk past and grabs us by the ankles. Only when he’s hungry, mind. It is when resources are in short supply or one country invades another or men and women have become infertile that human beings inflict pain on each other, worse than any animal that’s hungry. One can only hope for world peace and for human interaction to become civilised and co-supportive. As a species we still have a long journey to make. And, according to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ the future will be no better. I should stop grumbling about being on painkillers and be grateful I'm allowed to take them.