Voices: This is how British people can cool down in a heatwave

·4-min read

Being hot in the UK is not like being hot anywhere else in the world. When a country is made for drizzle, wind and damp cold, as soon as the temperatures reach anywhere over 25C we are all seriously in trouble. Carpets, double glazing, and lack of AC on public transport feels like a death sentence on hot days.

I’m a Londoner. I get it. But thanks to my Spanish parentage and having lived abroad and travelled a lot, I’ve also survived temperatures of between 42 and 49C with no air con or swimming pool. I assumed that a lot of the ways that I’ve kept cool were common knowledge, but recently I’ve shared some tips on Twitter and discovered many people don’t know some of the simplest ways to stop getting flustered in a heatwave.

So, with this UK summer set to be a scorcher, it’s time to adjust your way of living and start acting like those in the Med.

The first thing I’d advise is to close your curtains. Shade is your friend. The more sunlight you let into your house, the hotter it’s going to get. That’s how greenhouses work. Keep it dark.

On the subject of windows, open them in the early morning and at night. If it’s hotter outside than inside, keep the windows closed. But first thing in the morning, opening a window or door at the front of the house and the back creates a lovely through draught. Then when you shut the windows midday and keep curtains closed, the air your fans are circulating is cooler.

It might seem obvious, but avoid heavy meals. Why do you think Spaniards love tapas? Eat little and often, and things that contain a lot of liquid. Salad, watermelon, ice lollies – nothing hot and heavy. And avoid spices, cinnamon, and alcohol that all warm you up (they’re better for winter).

Eat big in the day and light at night. If you want a big meal on the weekend, enjoy it at midday (in the shade) and then have a siesta. Why do you think everywhere is shut at midday on holiday?

Another tip is to embrace the vampire lifestyle. I know it’s exciting to see the sun, but you don’t have to be out in it just because it’s a rare sight. Do all your hard work early in the morning, go out late at night, and rest or stay home from 1 to 5pm. In Spain, my kids’ parties didn’t even start until 7pm. It’s too hot to sleep anyway, so let children stay up at night and sleep during the day.

Remember to drink water slowly. Gulping down a pint of freezing cold water won’t keep you hydrated. Take room temperature sips throughout the day, otherwise the cold water gushes straight into your stomach and you pee it out. Really cold drinks aren’t great for your throat or digestive system, and hot drinks make you sweat more.

Put sun cream on before you get dressed in the morning to avoid getting burned along clothing edges. Factor 50 is a must for the face to avoid sun damage, and don’t forget your ears, scalp and hairline, and toes. Keep re-applying (especially if you’re sweating a lot or getting wet). Anything below SPF 30 is a waste of time.

Move less and lay low. We all know that heat rises and your body warms up the more you move. So get off the sofa and sit on the floor. And stop fanning yourself, just relax and let your body temperature regulate itself.

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Why are you still wearing PJs in a heatwave? Have a cool shower before bed, use just a sheet, sleep naked and alone if you can (I recommend the starfish pose) and a cold flannel to the back of your neck or wrists works wonders. It makes the fan hit colder too.

Again, it’s obvious, but wearing tight, synthetic fabrics and high heels causes chafing, sweating in places you’d rather not sweat, and swollen body parts. Keep make-up minimal too. Kaftans and sandals all the way!

I know these tips aren’t ground-breaking, so apologies for those of you who have tried it all and are still suffering. But when I walk past my local pub and see sweaty people in polyester tops, burning in the sun while downing their third pint, I do wonder whether they’re the same people moaning about the weather on Twitter. Do yourself a favour; copy your Mediterranean neighbours and live like a Spaniard for a while.

I know the Piccadilly Line in 30C is not the same as chilling by the pool on holiday, but even sitting in your shady living room with your feet in a bucket of cold water is better than cooking a Sunday roast, sun blazing through the window, while moaning that the UK is not made for this heat!

N J Simmonds is the author of fantasy novels including The Path Keeper, and the Blood Web Chronicles as Caedis Knight. She’s currently working on her debut thriller which happens to be set during a London heatwave

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