This week we had unarguable warning of the impending end of spring with the visit of the chimney sweep to perform his annual ritual of cleaning the stove and the vent. (For the uninitiated, wood fires don’t burn cleanly and seem to give very messy chimneys.)
Last year, our first full year in France, frequently found us wrong-footed by the changing of the seasons. So we had been expecting a slow, gradual shift from spring into summer but found out that the reality here is otherwise. Suddenly one day the wind changed direction and blew northwards at us straight out of the furnace of the Sahara creating the illusion of being inside a tumble dryer. By that point however it was too late to buy a couple of extra fans as the supermarkets had run out of them. Similarly, when winter came upon us we found we have should stocked up on firewood earlier. This year we are prepared. We think.
The result of the possibly imminent sudden arrival of summer adds a certain urgency and busyness to May. And here of course summer is not your blink-and-miss-it British summer of sun and clouds but a sustained continuous thermal onslaught that can start in June and go through into September. (This year by the way, with El Niño still around, everybody is predicting another heatwave.) The air of urgency seems to extend to the plant and animal world. The wildflowers seem almost desperate to get blooming and seeding over before they are baked brown.
Other wildlife is out in profusion. The Golden Orioles have returned to the wood across the road and the nightingales there are warbling loudly through the night. Swallowtail butterflies flit across the garden and there is the occasional gecko and lizard scuttling around.
May is very much a season for dealing with gardens. In a month’s time the soil will probably have the consistency of brick and the slightest exertion will drench you in sweat. And here, prepared, we have been busy. We had the last remaining cypresses hedge cut down to size by the excellent Edouard, Alison has rooted out the apparently unstoppable Coronille de Valence (a Scorpion Vetch that grows into a quite sizable shrub), and we have put down three tonnes of gravel on garden paths and around the house. We still need to stop the wisteria from taking over…
We have checked the air-conditioning unit — you really don’t want to try and get an AC engineer during a heatwave — and fitted the mosquito screens for the various doors. And, all important, we have the pool in good shape. We have removed any algae, cleaned out the dust deposited by the winds of spring, balanced the pH, and chlorinity and delved into the little concrete enclosure that contains the pump and filters to make sure everything is clean and running smoothly.
One big achievement this year is that Chris replaced the rather rotting roof of the pump enclosure with a rather elegant plywood unit he made that ought to last for years. It took a lot of preparation, a equal amount of hard work and the wonderful new jigsaw saw with a laser guide on it but the final product is really rather fine. (He resolves however not to be lured on by this into some of the classic extravagances of expatriates down here such as building kitchen extensions and replacing roofs. Enough is enough.)
We also been pretty busy. Amidst various things Chris has submitted his first Readership essay (and had back a very pleasing grade) and is midway through the second one. He has also just completed writing two chapters (Geology, Theology and Climate Change and Climate Change in France: Past, Present and Future) for the post-COP21 book that A Rocha France is doing. (Someone somewhere is going to have to translate them into French.) And Alison is working on a mammoth proof-reading job for IVP on an excellent book on the Old Testament.
On Wednesday we went up to Courmettes to meet the A Rocha International management team. Even at 800 metres (3000 feet) it was warm enough to eat lunch outside; something much appreciated by those who had overwintered in the UK. If we’d proposed that the entire international team move to the south of France I think the motion would have been carried unanimously. Summer may be coming; they thought it had already come.