Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mad dogs and Englishmen

It's a heatwave!

The first day the mercury rises above 70F, my host compatriots complain about the heat. "Oh, it's broiling," - "It's so hot." - and they start stripping down to sleeveless shirts while I'm still wearing a sweater.

C'mon y'all, I say, it's not hot. Not yet. It does get hot in England - it occasionally tops 100F. It may well top 100 this week. At any rate, it will be in the mid to upper 90s today and tomorrow.

The problem, of course, is that the English don't have any coping strategies for the heat. They just try to proceed as normal. You can't do that when most people don't have access to any air conditioning. Worse still, temperatures in the Underground regularly top 100F and it's absolutely hellish in the peak commuting hours - avoid that time.

Take a tip from a Southern girl, I say. Stay out of the noonday sun. Sit in a shady place and drink some ice tea. As someone who's survived many summers in Tennessee without air conditioning, you can live through it - even reasonably comfortably. The National Health Service has some advice, too.

Keep out of the heat

  • If a heatwave is forecast, try and plan your day in a way that allows you to stay out of the heat.
  • If you can, avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm).
  • If you can't avoid strenuous outdoor activity, like sport, DIY, or gardening, keep it for cooler parts of the day, like early morning.
  • If you must go out, stay in the shade. Wear a hat and light, loose-fitting clothes, preferably cotton.
  • If you’ll be outside for some time, take plenty of water with you.

I would particularly warn folks against the skimpy, skin-tight outfits. Loose cotton clothing will actually help you feel cooler and less sticky.

Stay cool
  • Stay inside, in the coolest rooms in your home, as much as possible.
  • Close the curtains in rooms that get a lot of sun.
  • Keep windows closed while the room is cooler than it is outside. Open them when the temperature inside rises, and at night for ventilation. If you are worried about security, at least open windows on the first floor and above.
  • Take cool showers or baths, and splash yourself several times a day with cold water, particularly your face and the back of your neck.

This window and curtain strategy is something I struggle to convince people of. The Brits, including my husband, refuse to believe that you should draw the curtains during the day. It's like there's a congenital need to open the windows to the day - otherwise it will be stuffy! Please, please remember the laws of thermodynamics - heat flows from hot to cold. If it's hotter outside than in - keep the heat out! Keep the sun out to avoid the greenhouse effect inside your house.

And I have another tip! If you're finding it too hot to sleep, dampen your topsheet - then use as normal, with the fan turned on. I guarantee you'll wake up cold in the night. (This may not be such a good tip for old people who might not wake up cold - and could actually lower their body temperature enough to cause hypothermia.)

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