At 7.30 on 2 January, on the morning of the coldest night of winter so far, my car was encased in ice, and frost had burned the grass crispy.
As I took the dogs for their first walk of the day, I put my thermometer outside; when I returned 15 minutes later, it registered -5.
I am thankful on these days to possess three very efficient heating units, which cost me between 10 and 12 euros per week for the three, even when operating throughout the day and night. They are self-propelling, too, and tend to move into the part of the room I am occupying. At night, they place themselves around the bed, and their convection heat keeps me cosy.
Yes, you’ve guessed, they’re the dogs.
Because dogs’ normal body temperature is a few degrees above ours, a side-effect of their presence in our lives is warmth. You read true tales about dogs which have saved their owners’ lives in freezing wilderness conditions by cuddling up to them – the latest being a Siberian five-year-old whose pooch kept her warm for nine days after she got lost in the forest. I should imagine that when dogs were first domesticated (in a more distant past than has hitherto been postulated), this characteristic helped the process along. And they are still keeping us warm.
Talking of the cold, it seems the British government is about to stop paying heating allowances to ex-pat pensioners resident in the Mediterranean, because, they say ‘winter is warm and they don’t need heating’. I sent an invitation to Iain Duncan Smith to join us here, and promised him he would be the coldest he had ever been in his life.
I said I would put him up in a marble-floored house with concrete-block walls and single-glazed windows, so that he could experience exactly the conditions many elderly folk here must survive in.
It’s typical of the arrogant ignorance so many Brits are prone to when it comes to life in other countries. (I remember being questioned by every single one of a 50-strong botany group I was guiding once; they all asked me if I had running water!) On my last trip to the UK, one January, I had to fend off a dozen queries: ‘Where’s your suntan, then, eh, eh?’ It’s called ‘winter’, I said. But it goes in one ear and out the other – they KNOW Corfu is warm and sunny, because they went there last July. I blame that stupid mantra in Geography classes at school: ‘Mediterranean climate – warm, wet winters, hot dry summers.’
The freeze has had quite an effect already on the countryside. Those poor flowers who thought spring had sprung in December have realised they got it wrong and gone into hiding. Underfoot in the fields, the grass is showing signs of frost damage, with browning at the tips.
Since I have now acquired a pair of wellies, I can still tramp through the fields, waterlogged as they are. With the grass frostbitten and the wet ground, I am starting to create a visible footpath.
One plant which is still thriving, though, is watercress, which grows in a spring-fed ditch nearby (no, I’m not telling you where!). I picked some earlier and now there is a pot of lentil and watercress soup on the boil. We are always told never to eat watercress from areas where sheep graze, due to the danger of picking up liver fluke.
Watercress is apparently involved in the very complicated life-cycle of a minuscule snail which carries the fluke parasite. However, the general consensus is that boiling the cress for about 15 minutes will destroy it. So, I am allowed watercress soup, but no watercress in salads, regrettably. Watercress was until quite recently one of the most popular salad greens in Britain, and in the past country folk would make a living from hawking bunches around the streets of London.
Can you still buy it? Or has rocket taken over the world?

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