Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Preparing to hibernate

It's December and officially Winter. The temperatures are sinking down to zero and ultimately below that. So far, this season, we've had no dump of snow, not even a flake. This is great but the temperatures are still chilling.
I've got my winter duvet on my bed with a polar fleece blanket on top. The heater stays on all night. I wear my socks to bed but I'm still cold because my bed is right beside the doorway. Maybe it's time for the 'bouillotte' or hot water bottle and to go to bed fully clothed like I had to do last year. Certainly, my pyjamas are now inadequate.

During the day I look like some sort of Siberian woman or an Inuit as I make my way by bicycle to and from work. Last week I invested in a fake fur-lined hat with a flap in the front and flaps on the ear sections. Unfortunately it's not waterproof. I wear a heavy winter coat (not nearly long enough) covered by my waterproof but very thin nylon raincoat with hood, scarf and gloves.

The end result in rain is always wet knickers and legs. There are so many speed bumps and cobblestones to ride over that I have to stand on thee peddles. Each time I do that the rain wets the seat. The wind blows the rain between my legs and knees as I cycle and the mud sprays all the way up my lower legs as I negotiate broken branches and mud, mud in the near darkness. This is the alternative to getting stuck in winter traffic.

Jean-Claude has spent many weeks preparing for the winter season ahead. A winter that is so much longer and harder than those in New Zealand. He's worked very hard to chop up trees to make firewood of various sizes; kindling and logs which he stores according to diameter. When building a fire he starts with crumpled paper, then kindling, then progressively thicker logs. Pour diesel over it all, light a match and whoomph! Voila, open fire in the chimney. Cosy but inefficient and different to my log fire in Auckland. Don't they use firestarters here?

JC has mowed his extensive lawn for the last time for five months. He rides on his mover methodically cutting the grass and sucking up the leaves form all the trees. There are no leaves left now to fall. Much of nature will hibernate for months now.

Winter preparations have also included fitting winter tyres on his car. He did it himself this year as he had the time to do it. It's heavy work changing four big tyres. There are many sorts of tyres folks use here for the changing conditions.

He doesn't usually do much about Christmas Trees but this year decided to buy one so I could decorate it as I told him this is a special treat for me at Christmas-I've always done it except for last year. I can't have one at my place as I can't afford it and decorations and don't have a car to transport it in anyway so I was happy to settle for creating one at JC's place.

We chose a less expensive variety. It's the smallest once-alive tree I've decorated. The trees in NZ are very different; larger and less delicate. The smell is also rather different, less tangy here but they still all drop their needles.

In France they get wrapped in a net for you to make it easier to transport them. A great idea because the needles are rather sharp and painful. I weighted the bottom of the container with JC's collection of fossilised sea urchins that he has collected on rambles in the woods and fields over the years-that's certainly different!

We bought new fibre optic lights and some extra baubles to go along with what he already have. After a few hours I'd finished deorating it, the fire was on and as darkness grew the tree was truly festive with the tiny multi-colour lights reflected in the balls.

There's less choice of decorations and generally they are of lesser quality in France (so far that's my experience. You have to resort to a supermarket or a garden nursery to find anything. I'll be interested to see what other differences I notice this time around.


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