Saturday, 10 November 2007

Morning Ritual

Back to the early morning routine. While Tod walks the dogs, I reluctantly leave the warmth of bed (two duvets) and don two dressing-gowns, thick socks and wellington boots to light the elderly, somewhat battered Tirolia kitchen range. The boots are so that I can take yesterday's ash to the compost bin through the long wet grass in our small orchard of plum trees. Sometimes I walk through thick mist. Today it is already sunny and I can see across the valley to the woods beyond, now warm shades of russet and brown.

The fire lighting ritual starts with riddling the dead embers and then using the long hooked poker to push any remaining ash wedged in corners down into the ash pan below. Next, I use a tool like a croupier's rake, to pull out all the ash in the bottom that has missed the pan. I then brush up all the residue and tip it into the ash pan and take it to the compost heap. With an empty pan back under a clean, empty fire box, I'm ready to light the fire.

A scrunched half page of newspaper goes in first with a small white paraffin-smelling fire-lighter on top. Over this go a few twigs of old, dry vine cutting (they burn quickly and fiercely) and on top a few pieces of bark (they burn more slowly but longer). One match and the kindling catches (easy with a fire-lighter!). The newspaper has a green flame - the ink perhaps? I put a couple of small pieces of firewood on top and shut the door to the fire box and leave the draught door underneath ajar. There is a handle thing by the oven which opens and closes a flap in the chimney. Not sure I notice much difference; sometimes I open it, but the fire catches just as well without.

After a few minutes there is a satisfying roar from the fire box. I open it up and pile in more firewood, as fast as possible, getting sooty fingers in the process.

I then anxiously keep an eye on the thermostat on the water pipes at the back of the range, while putting the dog beds on to the veranda and filling the kettle for Tod's return with the dogs and the fresh loaves for breakfast. Once the thermostat reaches 60°, I switch the pump on for the old clunky radiators round the house. Within minutes, the thermostat drops back to 40°. I switch the pump off, pack in more firewood and distractedly wait for the thermostat to creep up again.

At 40° the radiators are no more than dispiritingly luke warm; just about tolerable at the moment, but useless in January and February when the temperature will go down to -10°! So juggling the pump on and off, opening up and shutting down the draught door, packing the fire box with small pieces of wood which burn more fiercely, I do my best through the day to coerce the Tirolia into holding steady at 60°.

Success is baking radiators and an oven so hot we have to leave the door ajar. But sometimes the whole system sulks and we make plans to buy a propane gas tank next year and install proper central heating.

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