Shut up the windows and tuck into a curry: Hot tips for surviving the heatwave

Short of moving somewhere cold, how do you beat the heat? Tom Peck tried some of the many suggestions for staying cool

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The Independent Online

After two mouthfuls of Madras there is a temptation just to drink the chilled peppermint tea, not do the recommended thing and atomise it over myself with a plant sprayer.

With the windows shut and the blinds down, it’s hot in here, and the searing curry’s journey from plate to mouth was a stressful experience in itself, requiring careful navigation past the blades of the handheld fan pointed at my face.

That, and the used tea bags pressed against my wrists and temples, might give the impression that I have succumbed to the heat, but if the mushrooming body of advice on how to stay cool in a heatwave is to be believed, these are eminently wise moves.

For seven consecutive days the temperature has climbed past 30C, a weather phenomenon not bestowed on any Briton since 2006 (apart from those rare few who, in the past seven difficult years, might have taken a week’s holiday somewhere hot).

The curry is a particularly unpleasant experience, but the good news is that I’m sweating. According to one of the approximately one million weather-related press releases received over the past week, eating something super hot will make you sweat, and sweating regulates body temperature. By this hypothesis, now would be an expedient time to inform your girlfriend’s dad of your intention to marry his daughter.

The tea bags on the temples, too, seem a little counter-productive. “Pulse points” such as the wrists and temples are apparently the eight-lane superhighways of your body’s blood traffic system. Blast the blood with something cold as it zips through and it will carry its chilled goodness all around the body.

Cold tea bags are readily available, but if you’re already got the handheld fan and the peppermint spray on the go (more on them later), you’ll have no choice but to hold them in place with elastic bands. Apart from making you look a little ridiculous, cold tea will run down your sideburns like rain down a window, meet under your chin and then drip-drip-drip down the front of your shirt.

As for the curtains and windows, it’s hotter outside than it is inside, so do the counterintuitive thing and close the lot, keeping the hot air out. Others recommend keeping the windows open, both upstairs and downstairs. During the day, this will allow hot air to rise and escape upstairs, and at night, noises from the burglars downstairs will bring on the much needed sweats.

With regard to the tea spray, the menthol in the mint has cooling properties, we are told. It works, undoubtedly, but it’s a labour intensive solution with a long preparation time. And with official government advice telling you not to leave the house between 11am and 3pm, the window in which to purchase a plant sprayer if you don’t already have one is narrow indeed.

If you can’t get one, that does at least partially free up the hands, which, according to Mike Tipton, professor of human physiology at the University of Portsmouth, should be plunged into cold water. “Your hands have a high surface area – it’s like you have five radiators sticking out of your palm,” he claims. “As soon as the deep body temperature returns to normal, it slows the blood flow to your hands and you’ll feel cool.”

Wearing wet clothes is another suggestion, from Cambridge University physicist Jardine Wright. The energy required to make the water evaporate will come from your body, cooling the skin. An interesting scientific experiment for lifeguards or anyone else not burdened by the sort of job that demands dry work attire.

About 1,000 deaths have already been attributed to the heatwave. But the figures are a faceless mathematical extraction rather than an actual sun-shrivelled bodycount, arrived at by comparing deaths in the past week with the year-round average, which is something of a peppermint spray in the face for writers of grizzly headlines.

Handheld fans must be pointed at the face for maximum impact. And they must be electric. Novice heatwave dodgers with their manual fans have been known to flap them too vigorously, the exertion of which heats the body faster than the humanmade breeze can cool it.

Chrysanthemum tea and a native American herbal remedy called Black Cohosh have both been heavily promoted. Both of these are claimed to target the hypothalamus and aid cooling. Were it not for the strict instructions to avoid strenuous activity, I would have tracked down said products and tested them.

There is of course, one crucial bit of advice: avoid alcohol. So whatever you do, keep out of the beer garden this weekend. It’s just too hot. There’ll be no one there. Honest.