Top tips to keep your cool as Ulster starts to resemble Tropics

If you can’t find a walk-in freezer to hide in, JOANNE SAVAGE shares some advice on how to stay chilled, calm and unburnt as the mercury rises

Friday, 23rd July 2021, 8:00 am
The Med has come to Ulster with temperatures rising above 30C

With temperatures soaring to 31.3C in Co Tyrone and elsewhere across the province, it has actually never been hotter in Northern Ireland on record, and you could be forgiven for feeling as though you had awoken in the Tropics, Honolulu, Athens, the Costa del Sol, or Rome in high-noon peak season godawful, sweltering heat that leaves you searching for air conditioners, trays of ice, SPF or ideally hunting for an industrial walk-in freezer (or igloo?) to hide in until the sun’s merciless rays have disappeared, (that is if like me you are more given to vampiric pallor hiding in the shade than sun worshipping on beaches that leaves you feeling like an ultraviolet sausage set to fry on the sorching sands as though on a heavily greased non-stick pan beneath the flame-hot canopy of the impossibly blue sky, these are times of perspiration and agitation).

I know, I know, we are always complaining about the miserable weather that so often prevails in these parts, and many are gleeful to see the sun as they strip down to bikinis and trunks to bask under parasols in gardens or in parks, ice cream cones and ice lollies melting, so that we need not have worried about travel bans to the Med since the Med has come to us, but Facebook and Twitter are awash with admissions of anguish amid what for many is unbearable heat to which we are so poorly accustomed.

I have heard reports of remote workers stripping down to their underwear while working in overheated home offices and living rooms, the humidity making it a challenge to get things done amid the enervation often occasioned by extreme heat.

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Personally I long for a return to more temperate climate orthodoxy, but essentially, how to beat the heat and not simply drop in prostrate exhaustion guggling water in which the ice cubes melt after under five minutes flat with no chance of locating a large palm tree to hide under?

I can’t be the only one who feels like an irate lobster sweating buckets even with the blinds drawn, the windows open and boxes of Pear Picking and Porky and Polly Pineapple lollies at my side. (If only someone would sit beside me with a fan, rubbing ice cubes up and down my limbs).

Here are some top tips on how to beat the heat and stay safe, sane and functional as the mercury rises improbably.

Night fever: chasing sleep in the heat

For many people, hot nights are far worse than hot days. What’s more, according to Prof George Havenith of Loughborough University, speaking to the Guardian: “We know that loss of sleep can have quite an impact on people’s ability to cope with heat [the following day].”

With planning, however, you can make things easier. “The first thing is, you don’t want your house to get too hot in the daytime,” Havenith says. Keep your curtains closed all day until about 6pm, to reduce the effect of the sun on the indoor air. “Then in the evening, open all the windows as much as possible, so you get a draught, which will cool it down again.”

Sunscreen patrol: protect your skin

Hot weather feels like such a treat in Northern Ireland that it is easy to get caught out. Licking ice creams in the sunshine can lead to lethal sunburn needing hospital treatment without the judicious supply of adequately high SPF sunscreen, especially if your blue-white Ulster skin is in no way accustomed to Mediterranean temperatures or you aren’t a frequent visitor to the Maldives who is already sporting a mahogany-hued tan.

Shade is best, and sunscreen is fundamental, but only if you use it properly. “Most people are not putting on nearly as much as they should,” says Prof Kamila Hawthorne, a vice-chair at the Royal College of General Practitioners, and a GP in Cardiff, who shared her advice with the Guardian. For adults, she recommends seven teaspoons: “One for each arm and leg, one for your front, one for your back, one for your face and neck.”

But remember: sunscreen only slows the damage down. If your unprotected skin would burn in 10 minutes, say, then applying factor 30 means that it will take 30 x 10 minutes – so you need to keep reapplying. Keep reapplying that sunscreen if you intend a lengthy bout of sun worship even if you get distracted by a real page turner of a book or feel you want to acquire a colour at any cost - don’t do this, at all, as you will increase your chances of serious burns and heatstroke - who wants to be bedridden and covered in blistering, peeling, roaring red skin?

Child care: how to keep kids happy

“You really shouldn’t leave your children out in the sun at all,” Hawthorne warns. “Children’s skin is very sensitive. They burn easily, especially babies.” Try to keep young ones out of noonday sunshine and make sure they have hats. Keep them topped up with high-factor sunscreen and plan a portion of the day in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm (only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun).

Children should also be made to drink regularly and often, not just when they feel thirsty. A baby might need more fluid and you might want to supplement milk with some boiled (and cooled) water. If you feel your baby is becoming dehydrated, you should contact your GP.

Running on empty: ease up on exercise

Even young, fit people can suffer serious harm if they push themselves too far in hot weather. In 2013, three soldiers died during a summer training march in the Breacon Beacons. “Only run in the early morning or the evening, when it’s cool,” says Havenith. “You have to look after your hydration levels, of course. But if you go for an hour’s run in these conditions in the middle of the day, you are really putting yourself at risk.” So maybe, don’t go for high aerobic exercise bursts and assume a more sloth-like mentality until this insane heatwave dissipates?

The risk, otherwise, is heat exhaustion, at which point your sweating and blood flow start to fail and you begin to feel woozy and confused, which makes it harder to be sensible and stop. After that comes heatstroke, when the proteins in your body begin to cook, causing severe and lasting damage.

Cool it: acquire an air conditioner

Few of us here in rainy Ulster have air conditioning in our homes, but many supermarkets and shopping centres do, so perhaps bring your shopping forward and linger in the freezer aisle. Or order an air conditioner online pronto, like I did.

Failing that, take a cool shower. It doesn’t have to be ice-cold - that is simply penance. Or you could try a wet towel and put it round your neck. Or just get someone to hose you down in the back garden? Or dominate your child’s paddling pool?

Fresh air: how to use your fans wisely

There’s no doubt a fan can help. The first thing is to try to draw the cool air into your room. At night, if the air outside is cooler, but there’s no inward breeze, put a fan in front of the window to pull it in. Otherwise, have a fan moving around slightly. This circulates air.

Chill out: how to keep calm

Recent research from Poznan University in Poland suggests that hot weather might be, in itself, more stressful. So we all might need some ways to calm down. Try lying on the sofa in a darkened room rather than reaching for the valium.

Age concern: look out for older people

The problem is not merely that old people are frailer, or less able to get help. As we age, our bodies lose some of their ability to detect and respond to temperature and will sweat less.

Keep elderly relatives in the shade, make sure they hydrate frequently and if out in the sunshine insist they wear a sun hat and high factor SPF.