Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

How to survive a heatwave

My friend the carpenter bee has expired, the dog can’t move and even the Provençal French see la canicule as an ordeal

Mad cats and Englishmen: the only way to survive the Provençal heatwave is to stay firmly indoors during daylight hours. Credit: Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Provence-Alpes-Côte D’Azur

A burning ball appears over the brow of the hill at seven o’clock every morning and then you have roughly two hours to perform outdoor stuff such as shopping. After that you are roasted alive even sitting under a parasol with a hat on or swimming in a pool, and you flee indoors, closing the shutters, doors and windows behind you.

The lizards hide; the birds go quiet. Yesterday I watched Reg, the friendly black carpenter bee who lives in a bamboo pole on the terrace, die from sheer exhaustion. For weeks he’s been terribly busy with the flowers and making love on the wing with a succession of delightful lady carpenter bees and suddenly he hit the buffers. He hobbled and crawled in a crippled circle, then writhed in his death throes and finally stood on his head and stung himself to death, poor chap. I pushed his corpse into the compost of a tomato plant. Only the ants can stick it, prosecuting their brutal and relentless small wars against other ants with greater fanaticism than ever.

I lie on my back with my ankles crossed. I might lay my hands on my chest as if practising for my coffin

With all sources of daylight shut off and the fan going flat out, this cave in which we live is just about tolerably cool. The old deaf dog sleeps so deeply on the sofa one has to study her rib cage closely to see if she’s still breathing. If she regains consciousness she pleads rheumily for a walk. Feeling well disposed to the harmless old thing, I sometimes grant her wish in spite of the furnace outside. I show her the lead and she does a little arthritic dance of joy. Out we go. She exits the cave like a greyhound out of the traps and charges down the hill.

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