The maize crops look variable

Here in France for the whole of last week and this weekend, it has been very hot; so hot in fact that it was declared a heat-wave on Thursday.

As I kept getting reports of rain and showers in the UK, here we were getting temperatures in the high thirties (varying from 34 degrees to 37 degrees). That leads to problems, the first of which is fire and there are reports of fires in the ‘Sudouest’ regional newspaper, with pictures of firemen in breathing apparatus fighting the flames. Over 1,200 acres of woodland destroyed in the Gironde area, and another picture depicting a populated area around a lake, with people sunbathing and swimming, whilst huge plumes of black smoke from fires linger on the horizon.

The second problem is the population and I remember whilst we were here in 2003, a searing heatwave which lasted from the 2nd to the 19th of August, with temperatures above 40 degrees, killed 15,000 people, mainly the elderly. Only 18% of old people’s homes had an air-conditioned room at that time; today, following the outcry which followed, 96% of old-people’s homes have an air conditioned room.

Government has been pro-active, giving advice on how to cope with some sensible suggestions. Avoid confined spaces such as cars, and certainly babies in prams. Consume two litres of water a day and avoid alcohol (what!). Wear light clothing and a hat; look for sheltered places in the shade such as trees. Close house shutters during the day and open at night; take frequent showers (no hose-pipe ban here!), don’t hesitate to ask for help (parent, neighbour, doctor) and if possible spend 2-3 hours in a cool place such as a supermarket!

I must admit, shopping is rather pleasant, given that the supermarkets are so cool (unpleasantly so in the refrigerated areas normally), but the queues by the checkout are longer than usual as more people wander in to cool down.

Queue is derived from the French word for tail, which is strange given that the French don’t normally queue, and take full advantage of a man with a trolley. I let a lady with a small child in a large pushchair go past, as she seemed to be hot and flustered, carrying only a few items; she subsequently pulled the most amazing amount of shopping from bags under the pushchair, more bags which she had carried rather than push a trolley, and yet more bags from goodness knows where. I was derided for my naivety (nothing new there!) as we waited a very long time to pay for our few items. There are less subtle ways of getting ahead in the race for a cashier; such as crashing into one’s trolley and just refusing to move.

The maize crops look variable here in the Dordogne area, with irrigation guns and ‘centre-pivot’ systems going full blast. Some of the poorer crops I saw earlier in the year are still well behind and will not yield much. The sunflowers are past their best, looking rather ugly as their bright yellow flowers have given way to a particularly unattractive brown, as they dry out; ripening the seed.

A few fields of later sown plants are still a picture of vivid yellow, lifting their heads and following the sun all day, drinking the heat and bright light.

We came down in my brother-in-law’s minibus this year, quite a pleasant change to travelling in two cars. A long wheelbase Renault which cruises effortlessly at high speed, returning 40 miles to a gallon of much cheaper diesel here in France. With full air-conditioning and tinted windows all round, it is a rather pleasant way to travel, and as we are all together, we take turns in driving, making the journey down (600 miles door to door) very easy.

We are so impressed with this that we have decided to go off on Monday morning towards the Mediterranean, visiting the walled city of Carcassonne, before taking to the beach at Perpignan, and then travelling east to Aix en Provence. One member of the party will fly home from Montpellier, as the rest of us head north to Mende in the National Park area of Mont Lozere.

There is another reason for this four day trip, and that is to do with our builders! Having been down more than once to check progress on the cottage we are renovating, and received assurances that it would all be ready by the 14th of August (the day we arrived); as long distance project manager, I mentally prepared myself for some disappointment.

I thought the upstairs would be ready, but that work would still need to be done in the downstairs rooms, despite our journeys down with kitchen, cooker, and so on.

Our holiday did not start well, when on arrival I realised that very little indeed had been done in the last month; even the upstairs was not finished.

With five teenagers camping out in the finished bedrooms, but with only toilets and cold water in the bathrooms, it has been challenging! I politely suggested to the builders that they kept away for a week, and that they should arrive on Monday morning with some intent to finish what they started in the four days we are away on our trip.

I suspect they will manage to disappoint once more, but that will not surprise any of us. There is always that final payment – and the snagging list to look forward to; that could take some time!

Gwyn Jones - Farm Diary