Many of us in Europe are asking this at the moment. Throughout most of France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and eastern Europe too, we have had what is possibly the wettest, coldest summer in more than ten years (at least as long as I have been here). To make it worse, when it has been warmer, the humidity levels have been so high, it has been excruciatingly unpleasant. Add that to lack of sun and you get a stuffy, oppressive warmth that you cannot relieve because it's still raining and the doors and windows have to be closed. In one word..yuk!
We had the most glorious, dry spring with long days of sun and warmth, but it doesn't help because that's when we were all at still work. The two holiday months, July and August - those months when everyone with a family, or anyone who works in education, is obliged to take their time off - have been a complete washout.
We have, however, managed a few brief days of sunny escape. Sadly, both these interludes were cut short, but nonetheless, I have already posted the photos, so you can see that we made the most of them.
Northern France was a surprise I will not forget: its emptiness, space and stunning vistas reminded me so much of parts of South Africa. We were terribly disappointed when the clutch on the van packed up two days before we were due to head home, so we had to limp back to Zeeland early.
My trip to the south was also cut short. What was originally intended to be five days there plus one day returning dwindled to a weekend visit to my sister, including a mad dash to Toulouse and back. We then had to leave early on Monday for them (my sister and brother-in-law) to catch the ferry on Tuesday morning. A misunderstanding about dates that was wholly my fault, but disappointing all the same.
Still, I did at least have two days of sun, although even there it wasn't as hot as I was expecting or hoping for it to be, and it has certainly given me a desire to go back. What a beautiful land it is. I am also completely intrigued by the still medieval customs and habits of the rural French paysan. It feels like stepping back several centuries, and I love it. The sunflowers; the Bastide towns on the hilltops; the ancient, pale or golden stone farm houses and barns, and the sense of both a populace area but one with huge spaces as well.
The visit to my former employer, Roger, at his gorgeous old farmhouse in the department of l'Aude, gave me several new insights into the character of the place, the people and their customs, not to mention the canny (and sometimes downright fraudulent) way they turn the agriculture subsidy systems to their advantage.
This is a subject that often gets my blood up, as France receives as much as 80% of the EU's agricultural subsidies and has everything its own way. On the other side of the Channel, large numbers of English farmers have gone out of business and had to leave their farms due to EU agricutural policies that have killed their generations-old way of life. I love France, but on this subject, I can get very heated very quickly - especially when I see how they abuse it.
Anyhow, at least we have been able to get away, if only very briefly. In the interim, I've made desperate attempts to paint my barge between the downpours, only to have my work ruined by hail or heavy rain. All told, though, I don't really feel I've had a holiday, and now it's time to go back to business and prepare for the new school year. I think I'll try and go away at Christmas for a week or so. Perhaps that's a better idea!
For now, though, all the best to all of you, and apologies for the slightly jaded sounding post. I promise the next one will a return to my normal cheerful enthusiasm! I'll leave you with some photos of Zeeland last weekend, when we took a lovely walk between the showers.
The only way I could get both Koos and Sin in the same photo
Zeeland scenery in the evening light
The harvesters are out. Amazingly, they have had a great crop this year!
Luxury coffee Belgian style, accompanied by a glass of advocaat and cream on top of a small scoop of ice cream. Sinfully divine...