Camel racing in Derby, bikinis in Piccadilly Circus

As Britain swelters, London broke records this week, soaring to 97 degrees.

It's a quiet news week here, so let's cut straight to the weather.

It's one of the hottest weeks ever recorded in Britain. So hot, in fact, that this is coming to you from a beach about 70 miles south of London. Apologies for that. But for many Britons, it's just too beastly to be anywhere else.

The strain is showing. The country's notoriously frail railways have been on go-slow all week for fear that the tracks will buckle. Cancellations and delays are making life a misery for commuters.

Avoiding the sweaty subways and buses - and the daily fight for the office fan - some Britons have decided not to bother going to work at all. "You couldn't really blame people like manual workers for taking a day off," says Stella Walker, who runs Handle, a recruitment agency. "A lot of people may take time off because they just can't cope with it, particularly if they work in very hot offices."

And there were plenty of those in London this week. Temperatures in the capital broke all previous records, soaring to 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit), tantalizingly close to the highest mercury reading ever taken in the country of 37.1 degrees (99 F.) at Cheltenham 13 years ago. London got a small break yesterday as winds shifted to the north, but forecasters say a new high could be set this weekend.

Newscasts begin these days with the weather. The London Eye Ferris wheel has been shut, its glass pods having become unbearable ovens. Beachwear is de rigueur everywhere; fountains are for swimming.

It's all very un-English. Lawns and leaves are brown; people are sitting out in the shade, the streets shimmer with ozone, and the occasional whiff of a sanitation system under pressure. Zoo animals are being fed ice lollipops. Apples are ripening too soon.

The annual Bakewell Show - something like a state fair - brought a touch of the Sahara to Derby, in central England with a one-off display of camel racing.

Coastal resorts are teeming. Places like Bournemouth and Blackpool, which had their heyday half a century ago before people started going overseas to vacation, are suddenly reborn, to the delight of marketers there.

"The beach and promenade were packed full of happy people enjoying the sun yesterday," says Katherine O'Connor of Blackpool's tourist board, who called this a "spell of great weather."

Indeed, the biggest problem for tourism bosses is making sure revelers don't get too much sun. Health experts are issuing all kinds of advice for surviving the high temps, including a warning to watch where you swim. Two youths have died in swimming accidents in recent days.

Some are warning that a prolonged hot spell could hurt the economy. All those sick days and slack trains and empty shops cost millions of pounds a day to the economy, though if you're selling ice cream, the heat's a boon.

Comparisons are being made with 1976, a year that has long passed into British folk legend - the summer when people shared baths, when dirty cars were patriotic, and when a minister of drought was appointed. But that was a one-off, whereas the tentative feeling among weathermen here is that Britain's summers truly are warming up, possibly as a result of global warming.

"The last 10 years have seen some of the hottest summers in the past century," says weatherman Paul Mott. "Global warming could well be contributing to this current hot spell."

While Britain swelters, other parts of Europe are even hotter.

Fully-clothed Parisians cooled off in sprinklers yesterday as the mercury hit 104 F. Belgium's Royal Meteorological Institute predicted it could reach 104 in the country's south - the hottest forecast since the institute's founding in 1833. Italian weather experts said the heat wave is among the five worst in the past 150 years and will probably last until September. And in Portugal, more than 2,500 firefighters continued to battle forest fires.

Meteorologists say the heat wave is due to hot air pumping up from North Africa and Spain.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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