Well it’s past mid-January and here in my part of northern France it feels like spring. Walking the dogs is a joy when it’s like this, particularly early morning when the sun peeps through, mist hangs in the air and the smell of log fires burning to keep homes warm in the valley – for me it is what living in rural France is all about…
This is a bit unusual. I am more used to it being very cold by now and last year certainly by this stage the snow was coming down hard and fast. The local ponds were iced over, giant icicles hung from the roofs and trees and none of my animals wanted to go out. As I have three dogs and five cats that is not so good. When they are in the house they play (fight) and interrupt me constantly – everyone wants attention and cuddles which takes up a lot of time with eight of them. I also have eight ducks, four geese and thirty chickens – they too want to come in the house when it’s cold. Last year the constant pecking at the back door drove me crazy!
Getting to and from London on a regular basis as I do for my work was difficult too. It wasn’t all bad though – it was beautiful to look at, fun for short periods of time and a relief to have enough wood to heat the house.
This year in contrast we have not yet seen a snow flake; we’ve hardly even had a frost. The temperature is quite clement – warm even, rarely dropping below 10 degrees centigrade during the day. My neighbour’s duck had ducklings last week – that’s how mild out it is. Every morning I’m greeted by bird song and there are even some flowers left over from autumn that have survived and thrived.
Usually those who live in southern France call my part of France “the north pole” and usually they are sort of right. Although it can get very cold in the south it is often for a shorter period of time than it is in the north and spring certainly arrives earlier.
My friends in the south believe there is an invisible line across France which divides Nord-Pas de Calais, the region I live in, from the rest of France. You can be driving along from the south quite merrily, the sunshine pouring in through your car windows, open to feel the warm breeze… but cross that line and rain and snow immediately start falling – you’re in the far north! Of course it isn’t true though generally it is much wetter in the north than the south.
This time last year people were building snowmen in Paris and tobogganing down the Butte de Montmartre (the highest hill in the City), the internet was awash with glorious photographs of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre in the snow – it was wonderful. That doesn’t happen every year.
Last year after a break in the snow that began in January, it started snowing again really hard in March; in Normandy, Brittany and Picardy it was up to 40 cm deep and drifting in 100 kmh winds. Here in the middle-of-nowhere-France where I live Madame B fell down the ice covered steps of the Church and broke her leg. The whole village rapidly became aware of her problem – mostly thanks to J-P (whom the locals call Monsier Partout) who roams the little rues and chemins stopping to chat or nipping in for a bierre (from 08.00 -17.00) or a verre de vin rouge (from 17.00 onwards). Neighbours and friends rallied round to do her shopping, feed the animals and help out. When people dug their cars out of the snow to go to the shops they asked their neighbours if they needed anything to save them the journey. I love that spirit of sharing that comes from living in a small French community.
So… are we in for a late snowfall or none at all this year? My neighbour who swears by ant and frog activity (yes I am serious) says that all indications are that we may well have a mild winter all the way through. Unfortunately he is more often wrong than right.
We shall see…