Mediterranean colours from our terrace.
The people of this region have the reputation, particularly amongst northerners, of being lazy. The reason for this is that everything stops for several hours around lunchtime, which is treated almost religiously. What the critics fail to realise is how hot it gets here in Summer.
In an area with the highest level of unemployment in France, the main source of work is agriculture, mainly the cultivation of vines. The guys who do this work are as tough as old boots. They start very early in the morning, before the sun really starts blasting and finish off their work in the evening. It is hard, hot work, which rips your hands to pieces. However, they manage to cope better than most with the fiercely hot summers.
In contrast, the northerners who do all the criticism have no idea about how to deal with the sun, or indeed how hot it really is. The Brits, Irish, Belgians, Dutch and Germans who flock here on holiday are often to be seen doing the most absurd things here in summer. You see them at the café terraces at mid-day, without hats, in Eric Morecombe shorts, sandals and long, brown socks, sitting in the sun rather than under the parasols and drinking beer after beer. Like many people from cooler climates, they tend to be a strange bluish-white colour; the type of flesh which burns faster than Joan of Arc. The locals are normally nowhere to be seen at this time of day, preferring to come out in the evening, when it is a little cooler.The tourists, by this time, have quite often gone a ghastly, rich tomato colour and often look decidedly unwell.
What is it with Anglo-Saxons and sun? As my German ex-girlfriend once remarked, ‘We’re ugly bastards, us Anglo-Saxons,’ which is possibly true, but it doesn’t help when the nation with the highest rate of obesity in Western Europe, decide to display their blubber to an unsuspecting world. It seems to be a uniquely British trait. I picked Millie up from Beziers airport the other day. Finally, the sun was shining and the temperature was a pleasant 22°. The flight from Bristol came in and immediately several guys came out into the sun and took off their shirts. It was not a sight for the squeamish.
Of course, when the summer really gets going, the temperature is extreme. Our house has a terrace, surrounded by walls, which reflect the heat. I’ve seen the the thermometer go over 50° out there, which means normally, that it’s siesta time, but visitors will quite happily attempt to sit out there. The last time he was able to come here, my father in law went tottering out of the kitchen: ‘Think I’ll sit in the sun for a while.’ When I told him that if he sat out there, it would probably kill him, he looked surprised. ‘No, I’ll be alright.’ It was the one time I nearly lost my temper with him, my reply being something like: ‘GET IN HERE NOW!’
Of course, when they have finished ignoring one’s advice, they normally arrive at stage two, which is mild sunstroke, thus giving them the opportunity to ignore you again. Bearing in mind that we’ve lived in this climate now for 16 years, we are reasonably well placed to deal with such problems. Do they listen? Of course not. The first thing to do is start drinking water. Again, the reply is normally, ‘I’ll be alright,’ which I now know to be shorthand for: ‘I don’t have a clue and as a result, am going to vomit for two or three days instead of a couple of hours rather than drink a couple of litres of mineral water.’ You have to hand it to them. The people from hardier climes really know how to have a good time.