My husband always says that I was born in the wrong climate and that I am his English rose who blooms in hot weather.
Well, my enjoyment of sun-worshipping and high tolerance of saunas has been put to the test this year. I am sure our neighbors sometimes see me out walking our dogs and think of English playwright Noel Coward’s song, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Midday Sun.”
Wow! Coastal Georgia really can do heat, and statistics tell us that July is the warmest month in our region. I do love the heat and never would trade Coastal Georgia’s weather for that of the U.K., which seriously is sun-deprived with gray skies most of the time.
However, my goodness, it has been hot, hot, hot already this year, with the heat index well above the danger level of 105 degrees several times.
Did you know that demand for energy in the summer months is outpacing the growth of winter energy use in the United States? This not only is because of our increasing use of air-conditioning but also is due to population shifts as Baby Boomers escape cold northern winters and move south for their retirement years.
How did people cope before air-conditioning? Obviously, escaping to the relative cool of nearby hills was a popular option for many.
During the peak of the British Empire, the British Foreign Office used to recommend to its expatriates working in hot colonial countries that they should take afternoon siestas to expend the minimum amount of energy during the heat of the day.
The peak in our area is 1:24 p.m., so avoid the hour or two before and after this time for energetic outdoor activity.
Pre air-conditioning people in many different cultures smeared their bodies with mud or swathed themselves in wet cloths.
It also is possible to acclimatize to the heat – the blood really does thin as the body becomes hot. This means the blood vessels dilate and have an increased surface area, which more effectively radiates heat away from the blood and out of the body.
Unfortunately, as the body loses water, the blood thickens again, losing this important benefit to temperature regulation.
If struck by heatstroke, many doctors recommend applying ice to the armpit and groin as well as removing clothing and moving to a cool place.
Fortunately, science has saved us from enduring the extremes of summer heat. We take air-conditioning so much for granted, unless we have a power outage, which is when we quickly remember what a blessing it is.
However, the innovation of air-conditioning only has become a standard part of life in recent years.
In fact, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to enjoy air-conditioning in the White House. By 1960, only 20 percent of cars in the U.S. had air-conditioning.
In England, it still is much less common to have air-conditioning, although it is becoming more popular in cars and modern office buildings.
I can say from experience that the top three complaints of American visitors to British homes are:
• The lack of ice in drinks. In the U.K., it is standard to get only one or two cubes in a drink, or sometimes (shock, horror) no ice at all.
• The lack of air-conditioning.
• The quality of plumbing, especially the lack of power showers.
I remember the excitement when I got my first car with air-conditioning in the late 1990s, although in the English climate, I only needed it about eight weeks a year. On the other hand, heated seats came in handy on early mornings for about six months.
The concept of air-conditioning is believed to originate in ancient Rome, where aqueduct water was circulated through the walls of houses to cool them. In second-century China, water-powered fan wheels were used, and similar techniques were employed in medieval Persia using cisterns and wind towers to cool buildings during the hot season.
Modern air-conditioning emerged from advances in chemistry during the 19th century. The first large-scale electrical air-conditioning was invented and used in 1902 by Willis Haviland Carrier in Buffalo, N.Y.
The first air-conditioners and refrigerators used toxic or flammable gases, such as ammonia and propane, which occasionally resulted in fatal accidents when they leaked.
Air-conditioning has improved dramatically in the past century. However, I always smile when I think of one of my favorite American writer, Garrison Keillor, who said, “It was luxuries like air-conditioning that brought down the Roman Empire. With air-conditioning, their windows were shut; they couldn’t hear the barbarians coming.”
God bless America!
Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.