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Summertime, and the living is easy, sang Billie Holiday.

Stress is jumping and tempers are high. Roads are melting and cars are overheating. Grass gives up the ghost completely and turns a parched straw-colour. Ice is coveted like gold, precious shade is fought over with tribal territoriality, makeshift fans are being constructed from anything that can be waved. Last Wednesday went down as the hottest day in British history; not the hottest this year, this decade or this century, the hottest ever. Who says we aren"t making progress?

Strange Times

Oppressive heat, like that beating down on Britain at the moment, does strange things to people. Some go crazy. Most just wilt, and sit like deflated balloons in the shade of the lounge, with a long cool drink in easy range. The thing with heat is that it is inescapable; whereas on a cold day, you can get warm by using clothes or heating, on a hot day you are stuck with it. You cannot get cold on a hot day, at least not without a swimming pool and even then you leave yourself at the mercy of the dreaded UV rays. This is the first lesson of hot days: resistance is futile.

Resistance is futile against an enemy as all-powerful as the sun, but that doesn"t stop the British public from forging ahead at midday with only disconcerted-looking dogs for company. Not when the lawn needs to be mowed, not when the shopping needs to be done, not when you"ve got to get to work"¦ "Tube Temperatures Hit Twice the Legal Limit for Cattle" screamed the headlines this week as the London Underground enters its annual inferno; did that train say "Harrow and Wealdstone" or "Hell and Brimstone"?

Short Fuses

People become irritable when it gets hot. It's easy to become stressed when the office hits 35, and the computers have all stopped working, and the fan's on the blink (it worked fine until it got hot) and even when it works, by the time the air reaches you it feels like someone else's breath. Stress. The queue at lunchtime is twice as long and all the good drinks have gone, leaving you with peach-flavoured Lipton or one of Coke's less appetizing creations. The precarious finger of shade you parked your car under has moved along like a sundial to instead protect your boss" car, and leaving yours to feel the full brunt of the sun-god's wrath; on opening the door you are greeted by the rush of unpleasantly warm air as if you"d just breached the mummy's tomb. More stress.

Heat acts as a kind of catalyst for road-rage and general impatience; the red lights glare at you with hostility, the speed cameras watch your every move, some brat presses the pedestrian crossing just as you get there, and doesn"t cross. No escape on the trains, either, with windows cleverly designed to either smartly deflect the breeze back outside the carriage or not open at all. Stress now reaching critical mass"¦

On being seated, you find yourself next to the Person Who Does Not Sweat, and who glares at your glistening brow and dampening shirt as if you perspire on purpose. Arriving at the station, you see the drink kiosk as a kind of oasis, but on inspection find you do not have enough change left over from your exorbitant ticket to buy even a bottle of water, so high are the prices; like a mirage, the cool water disappears before your very eyes"¦

FE Needs a Policy A/C!

It is even worse for people who work in FE; not only is the heat unrelentingly demanding, but so is the government; just this week the Education Secretary called for yet more testing, more standards to fear and the intensifying of league tables for FE's already much beleaguered (geddit?) institutions"¦Now the stress reaches boiling point. Vocational qualifications are pressurizing traditional subjects, privatization is looming, and all at 35 degree heat"¦FE could be heading for a meltdown.

So it is essential, then to beat the heat and combat stress before FE starts to froth at the mouth and frolic in the midday sun. Here are some tips on keeping cool. First of all, do not panic at the NHS health warnings that accompany weather reports; they re merely disclaimers of the "well, we told you so" sort. People who are susceptible to the heat will probably have already noticed from their dead goldfish and desert shimmers outside their windows that it's "going to be a hot one", the government does not need to endorse this.

Secondly, do keep your fridge well stocked with cool, liquid goodness, especially tap water. British tap water is the best it has ever been, and is indistinguishable from most bottled waters anyway, so save yourself the financial stress and fill up at your sink"”don"t trust any "water" that requires a use-by date and that costs, litre for litre, more than petrol. Just drink the petrol. Thirdly...no, don"t drink the petrol.

Fourthly, do not race out at midday and be surprised that it's too hot. People in equatorial countries dash inside at around 11.45, and don"t emerge until at least half two. With the possible exception of Muhammed Ali, no one is tough enough to take on the sun. And finally, always do carry water with you, and take it to the station so you can whip it out in defiance at their hyper-prices. Remember to pour some out on your face a la tennis athletes.

Don"t let this heat get to you, as this only a taster; we"ve got decades of much worse to come, thank you global warming. The same goes for the "heat" in FE. Get used to it now, and maybe it won"t be so bad; no need to be high and dry in London when you can be Ice Cold in Alex.

Daniel Wallis

Stay here for the monkey's last word in From the FE Trenches!

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