We ate lunch outside on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, basking in warm sunshine. Lulled by this, and an exceptionally mild early January, we were unprepared for what hit us last night. Winter had arrived, with a vengeance.
Okay, it was only about 4-5 cm of snow, a mere bagatelle to those of you who inhabit colder climes. But it was wet, heavy snow, and then it froze on top. The pic above shows our barn and the well (small building on the right) this morning. A quota of snow even balanced on the washing line.
Along with most of our area, our electricity went off at 8 pm. The wet snow probably brought down a high-tension cable somewhere. We have a wood burning stove, but it’s not enough to heat the house when the boiler can’t fire.
For a few hours, we had a taste of how it was to live here in past times. Dark and chilly, and they didn’t have the benefit of back-lit tablets and mobile phones with torches. Then, they kept the fire ablaze day and night, and it supplied warmth and light as well as heat to cook over. By comparison, we are spoiled.
I have to take my hat off to Enedis (which runs the electricity network). First, the website supplied information about exactly which addresses were affected and the estimated time of reinstatement. In our case, it said midnight.
Even more important, the Enedis technicians were out there in absolutely atrocious conditions to fix the problem, as they have been all week in the parts of France that were affected first. They braved driving snow and icy winds to get the network back up.
They did it before time at 10 pm. Unfortunately, just as we had reset the boiler and all the electronic clocks, it went off again, and kept doing it until about 1 am. Now, hopefully, it has stabilised.
We took a walk down our lane this morning to check if we could get out (and, above all, get back) in the car, since the SF had an appointment in Montauban. No way. The lane, which is steep with a sharp bend at one point, was like an ice rink. You could hear us coming as our boots crunched on the frozen snow, which spooked the horses in the field around the corner.
South of France realities
People think the South of France is always warm and sunny. If you saw us outside on Christmas Day, you could be forgiven for that. People have even asked us in January if we are swimming yet.
What we didn’t realise when we moved here in 1997 is just how cold it can be in the winter, despite the fact that the SF had previously lived in Limoges for four years. We are a long way inland and 1,000 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Massif Central.
Our first autumn and winter were unusually warm, but the weather soon reverted to type. We experienced a series of winters in the 2010s when it snowed repeatedly, sometimes heavily. We haven’t seen snow like last night’s for about 10 years.
Our late neighbour told us that when he was a boy in the 1920s and early 1930s, they had a lot more snow. Despite this, the children had to trudge several km through it to get to school. A minor inconvenience like snow was no excuse for absence.
I always give people who are thinking of moving to France two key pieces of advice. First, make efforts to learn French, because it will pay dividends. It is possible to live here with only a smattering of French, but then you are dependent on other French-speaking Anglophones for help, and you miss out on a lot.
The second piece of advice is to make sure that your house is adequately heated and insulated, if possible, and don’t get rid of your warm clothes! We have seen much colder temperatures here than anywhere I lived in the UK. One particularly freezing morning years ago, our neighbour told us it was minus 18 C.
The upsides? It is very pretty here when the snow settles. The snow-laden branches stand out as if etched against the sky. The air takes on a crystal clarity and sharpness. The fallen snow picks out features of the landscape you don’t normally notice.
We also saw many animal tracks in the snow, a reminder of how much wildlife is around. Down the lane, several tracks of hares criss-crossed one another. On our drive, small footprints may have been made by the fox we heard barking just outside the house last night. And, of course, the treads of our hulking great walking boots are now visible along the lane until the snow melts.
This arctic weather is due to last for a few days with temperatures well below zero at night and not far above it during the day.
If you are in this hemisphere, keep warm. If you are in the other one, keep cool!
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