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Mad Dogs, Scotsmen and the Tilley Hat

I am one of those who objects to paying through the nose for what should be everyone's birthright - a reasonable standard of fitness. That's one reason why you'll never find me in any of Qatar's grossly overpriced gyms. The other reason is my mental health. I value it too highly to put it through the tedium of cycling machines and treadmills. I have a perfectly good cycling machine at home. It's called a bicycle and it has taken me thousands of miles in its time. And treadmills are for hamsters.

Instead, I make a point of walking every day, for at least half an hour on weekdays and a couple of hours at weekends. So what if the destination is the bar? It's still exercise and beats sitting in a car.

Sometimes though, the Doha climate can be a bit of a disincentive. Last week, temperatures were recorded in the mid fifties (above 125F, for American readers). Is it still possible to walk in these extremes, and if so, how?

Conventional wisdom says the best time is early morning, just around sunrise, when the humidity and temperature are at their lowest (or should that be their least high). I'd go along with that, except for one small detail - early is far too early! I prefer to surface gradually, enjoy a coffee, check news and emails and generally pootle about until fully human, by which time the sun's up and the chance gone.

Others say wait till the evening, when it's not so hot. But that doesn't work either. In the Gulf, as a general rule, as the sun goes down the humidity ramps up, making walking an extremely sticky experience.

No, the best time, strangely enough, is midday, and here's why. When the sun is directly overhead, it may be strongest, but it's easiest avoided. With a decent hat and your shoulders covered, the sun can't see any part of you. Whereas at 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. it will beat against your whole body without mercy. Also because the midday sun is hottest, the apparent humidity is less. Believe me, I know the ways of the sun. I walk in it more than anyone I know.

A decent hat, of course, doesn't mean a baseball cap. Anyone wearing one of these atrocities from choice deserves sunstroke! Mine is a Canadian Tilley hat. It cost what seemed a small fortune about ten years ago (I bought it for a turn of duty in Mumbai) but is still in pristine condition, hundreds of hot miles later. I wouldn't swap it for anything else.

Now a word of warning. To enjoy walking in extreme heat, you have to acclimatise to it gradually. It's best to start in the winter and let the temperatures grow around you over a few months. And the other thing not to do is drink cold water, however tempting that might be. Stomach spasms will add nothing to your enjoyment. Warm water works wonders when walking. Have fun!

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