Stay in bed. Or emigrate somewhere warmer. Although I have considered the latter, the former is less hassle. It’s distinctly appealing during the continuing cold snap. Getting out of bed requires courage; getting out of the shower demands even more. Those few frozen moments as you fling on your clothes are excruciating.
Welcome to winter in southwest France. After Sunday’s snow, Monday dawned to minus 13°C. Although the morning temperature struggled up to a balmy minus 9°C yesterday, it had second thoughts and was minus 12.5°C this morning. The daytime temperature has not been above freezing for almost a week. We haven’t experienced temperatures like this since a similar spell in 2002.
On Monday I was supposed to do a photo shoot for one of my articles. No way was I going to risk life and limb in the car. The main roads are cleared but the minor ones around us are like ice rinks. For the first time ever, our walking group cancelled its Wednesday promenade, although I understand a few brave souls did it anyway.
We managed to get to the village, 6.5km distant, on Tuesday with the SF driving. Being Swedish, he is used to driving in these conditions but our car is not equipped with snow chains or winter tyres so progress was slow. We didn’t expect the Tuesday market to take place so stocked up at our local Casino supermarket. However, the newsagent told us she had seen the vegetable man’s van driving up the main street. He comes all the way from Figeac and I admire his courage and tenacity. We didn’t go and check him out, though. La Place de la Halle is the coldest place on earth in winter.
Keeping Warm Against the Odds
Last night we slept wrapped in our dressing gowns. Normally, the cat is unceremoniously dumped outside at night. The past two nights he has had a special dispensation and has taken full advantage of it to sleep on our bed. Keeping the house even tolerably warm is a struggle and our complicated heating system is going full blast around the clock. We also light the woodburning stove early.
France is one of the bigger users of electricity in Europe and has had to import it from neighbouring countries this week to keep up with demand. Apparently, 31% of electricity consumed in France is for domestic usage. Most new houses have electric heating. And EDF (Electricité de France) has encouraged people to switch to it. I’m afraid we are partly responsible, too. We have a heat pump – pompe à chaleur – that is, of course, powered by electricity.
Complicated Heating System
We had the heat pump installed six years ago. When we moved here, the house had gas central heating and the gas was stocked in an ugly white tank. During a tough winter seven years ago, the supplier Antargaz filled it up three times. The cost? €1,000 a tankful. Realising we couldn’t continue like this we looked into other options. Oil was almost as pricey then. Traditional electric radiators were out of the question in a house like this. So we went for the heat pump.
At that time, the government was offering a 40% credit d’impôt – tax credit – on the cost of the equipment. Even after that, it was still expensive but the SF calculated that it paid itself off last winter in savings on heating. Ours works by drawing in warm air from the outside (the SF informs me the correct term is ‘calories’) and transferring it to the wet radiator system. It’s not the geothermic type that draws heat from underground. Drilling into solid rock is ruinously expensive.
The heat pump is effective down to about minus 5°C. Then it starts to struggle and has to keep reversing the flow to melt the ice that forms on the heat exchanger. So we still have the gas boiler, which we switch in to work in tandem with the heat pump. Since we now use much less gas we had a smaller tank installed in a more discreet position.
Before you move here, no one tells you how cold it can be in winter. Fortunately, temperatures like this week’s are rare. But once every 10 years is more than enough for me. The upside is that we have bright sunshine and clear blue skies. No doubt people in Vladivostok or Murmansk would laugh at our feebleness but they’re used to it.
Vivement le printemps!
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