One of the things I love about our new home is the fact that we have 2 open fires. There is nothing cosier than snuggling up in front of a real fire – just ask the cats. It was a whole new experience for them – and for me. It did, however, come with a whole raft of things to think about that had never occurred to me before.
Firstly, there were new responsibilities for the cats. The Calamity Cat immediately adopted the important role of Chief Log Inspector and every piece of timber that comes through the door has to be carefully sniffed and approved before it can be used. She takes her Coal Inspector job even more seriously and regularly appears covered in coal dust from the bunker. The first time she did that, she had so much dust on her face, it changed all her markings and I genuinely thought we had an intruder in the house. It was only the indifference of the Princess and Calamity’s indignant yowl when I tried to evict her that made me realise my mistake. It took 3 full days to get her clean again. The Princess, predictably, considers a job of any kind beneath her, but she makes sure that she gets the prime spot on the rug once the fire is lit, sometimes deliberately lying right in front of her sister to ensure she gets the full impact of the heat.
Then there are the trades associated with a fire. We officially employ a chimney sweep, a log man and a coal merchant. I was particularly fascinated by the chimney sweep. There is more skill involved than I ever would have thought. He produced a cloth with a flourish that would have impressed most magicians, swathed the fireplace in it and then seemed to know by hearing alone when and how to wield the brush and what was happening to the soot it was dislodging. I could have watched him all night – it was better than the telly. He was a mine of information too – full of suggestions for where D could wine and dine me. Hmm, that’s a point – it’s been a while since I’ve been wined and dined. Maybe we should get the chimney swept again so D can have a refresher?
Log deliveries are less fun, I have to say. It sounds so romantic, having logs delivered to the door. What I hadn’t bargained for was that they are tipped on to the drive loose and then need to be barrowed through the garage and right up to the woodstore at the far end of the garden. And I also hadn’t realised how big some pieces of wood are – less a log, more half a tree. I never expected to own 1 axe, never mind 2 but the one time D was mad enough to encourage me to try log-splitting, it didn’t end well, so we both now accept that chopping wood is, at least in our house, better done by a man.
After some trial and error, I have finally learned how to light the fire. With me working from home and D sometimes in late, I had no choice. If there isn’t a roaring fire lit before 6 o’clock, you can guarantee that the Princess will be telling me – loudly – what she thinks of the cold. I learned the hard way that success (for me) depends on long matches (burned fingers being all too common), lots of newspaper (the Sun burns better than the Sunday Times I find) and understanding that some types of wood burn better than others. I have learned why people hold newspaper up to cover the fireplace once the fire is lit, that it does matter where you hold it and that, if you let it get too close, you will set the paper on fire as well (probably the scariest experience I’ve had in a while and I advise anyone in the same position not to scream and throw the burning paper away unless it is into the grate).
I have never actually had a fire go out on me yet, but only because D has stepped in to save it on several occasions. But when it goes right, and I create a fire that fills the room with warmth and light and love, a fire all four of us can gather round together, then I know that it is all worthwhile and I am content.