I’m British: I complain about the weather. Too cold, too wet, too dry, too windy.
And, at the moment, too hot.
Britain is in the throws of a ‘heatwave’. I put this in inverted comas as (rather pathetically) we are just not designed to cope with anything above about 22 degrees centigrade. Everything and everyone melts. As I walked to school this afternoon I could hear the ‘wet’ sound as cars drove along the road…tarmac liquifying in the hottest part of the day. I wonder what damage it does to tyres?
Our house is fitted throughout with underfloor heating, which means that every room has a thermostat in it. This morning the kitchen had reached 24.3C by 8am and we hadn’t even made toast. Last night I had the brilliant (though I say so myself) idea of allowing my daughter to sleep in the spare room. Both my children have attic rooms and despite the windows being open all day they are excruciatingly hot. At 9pm yesterday her room measured 28.9C. Unfortunately the spare room was at 27.3C, and (since my daughter had earlier emptied most of the games drawers onto the bed and I could not face tidying it away in that heat) she stayed put, with a cold, wet flannel on her forehead.
What amuses me is that, since I lived in Zambia and wrote a book about it, everyone says to me, “Oh, you’ll be used to these temperatures!”
It is so untrue!
Firstly, it is nearly six year since I lived in Africa, which is more than long enough to reacclimatise to British weather conditions!
Secondly, part of what hits us about the weather here is the extremes. Only a few days before this astonishing spell of sunshine it was maybe 10 degrees cooler. In Africa it is warmer year round, and it is a more gradual increment. All of a sudden you realise that the daytime temperature is ridiculous compared to ‘winter’ but it is less noticeable due to the slow crescendo of heat.
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, the whole lifestyle in Africa is built around combatting heat. Houses are designed to let heat escape (unlike my extremely well-insulated British home!) and lives are geared around keeping cool. There is sun-shelter all over the place. Buildings without air-conditioning are often sited so that the prevailing breeze blows through them. As ex-pats we were lucky to have an open-air swimming pool near at hand: it was a massive privilege to be able to have a swim at the end of a hot sticky day!
African houses don’t have airless rooms in their attics. No wonder my children enjoyed it there so much!
But it’s not all bad here in blighty. I watched the temperature in the water cylinder fall after filling a bath the other evening – from 65C to 61C – and I couldn’t help but smile. It hadn’t cost me a penny to heat it, thanks to our wonderful solar panels working overtime this week!