The road from London to the shores of the Mediterranean takes travellers past two natural weather frontiers.
UK winter a distant memory on the road back to France
Only the UAE's most organised residents could claim never to have boarded a flight out of the country, or back into it, while inappropriately dressed for the conditions likely to be encountered at the other end. Of course no one in their right mind leaves Abu Dhabi or Dubai, bound for wintry northern Europe or North America in short sleeves or paper-thin trousers. But the differences in temperature test the tidiest of minds when it comes to deciding how many layers of clothing to wear, or to pack in cabin bags.
It also happens on journeys that do not even involve changing continent. The road from London to the shores of the Mediterranean takes me past two points I regard as natural weather frontiers: the English Channel and the city of Lyon. Yes, I have seen torrential rain in Normandy, floods in the Loire and Burgundy and snow on, of all roads, the Autoroute du Soleil. But these are exceptions that prove my rule that the farther south you go, the better it gets.
I set off to cross the Channel after a few months in the UK. It had been a harsh winter and, leaving at the crack of dawn, I had a shirt, jumper and fleece as I headed south. The car was loaded with domestic objects; the only other living creature was the cat, unaware that the comfy fur of winter was about to become the heavy cloak of a Provençal summer. The moment I knew the weather had changed was when all that body padding combined with sunshine streaming through the windows to make me remember that the car had air conditioning, largely unused since September.
It soon became necessary to stop and peel away a layer or two, even though there was hardly a heatwave outside. All the same, I was delighted to be back in France. There have been work-related trips during my absence, mainly to Paris, but my France is the south, and that is where I feel most at home. What has changed while I've been away? Well, motorists who find even 130kph too slow now see their registration numbers flash up on overheard screens nagging them with "too fast" signs. And on reaching my small town, I saw they'd been fiddling with the road network: a new roundabout here, extra parking spaces there. The little boutique that Clara Mar Amado, an Air France hostess, opened shortly before she died when flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic, is still empty, with a "to let" sign in the window.
Some things do not change. I had hardly been more than five minutes at my local supermarket before I spotted someone going the wrong way round the car park. And it remains as good a place as any to be in the early spring, except that the house feels bitingly cold after standing empty since September. Friends from Canada are due any day; I'd better be ready to offer them that clothing I found surplus to requirements on the Autoroute du Soleil.