October Open Fire Season in the Cotswolds
PUBLISHED: 13:14 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:14 20 February 2013
In medieval England, peasants were allowed as much deadwood as they wanted from the royal forests as long as they could reach it 'by hook or by crook'.
In medieval England, peasants were allowed as much deadwood as they wanted from the royal forests as long as they could reach it 'by hook or by crook'. David Tyler, on the other hand, says he pays a crook to bring him a lot of damp wood that oozes tar.
Men, claims the sisterhood, are not romantic. They don't appreciate cut flowers, dread candle-lit dinners and don't voluntarily surround themselves with beautiful objects and exotic smells. And it is true that I prefer a bottle of whisky to a bunch of Chrysanthemums and I would rather tuck into a pub lunch with my mates than pay to sup over-priced produce from the stove of an aspiring celebrity chef. But I take issue with the criticism that the male of the species never buys himself 'smellies'. He does - they're called Zip Firelighters. The firelighter, with its faint odour of kerosene, is a scented candle for boys. It is an elegant oblong of paraffin wax that creates instant ambience when placed in a grate of hardwood and lit. Or to put it in the jargon of the glossy advertisement 'it is an uplifting fragrance that brings a wonderful aroma to any home'.
Let's face it, almost nobody in the Cotswolds nowadays actually needs an open fire. Central heating has killed the flame. The roaring hearth in the sitting room is now, if one is honest, no more than an enjoyable piece of ornamentation, an expensive folly de grandeur that is there to add cosiness. And the Zip firelighter is the piece of frippery that kicks starts the comfort.
October unveils the open fire season in our village. As the six o'clock evening television news gets underway, the smoke starts to curl from a forest of limestone chimneys and Cotswold man re-discovers the caveman inside him (unless, like one friend, you create your magnificent furnace but aren't allowed to use it because the wife doesn't want the front room to get sooty). From now on, the weekends are spent stacking wood into neat piles, squirreling away kindling, filling the log basket and stocking up with Zip.
When I first moved to the Cotswolds in the early 90s, I bought and restored a tumbledown barn that was more aircraft hangar than blank canvas. It needed everything done to it and that included the provision of heat. My wife worried about the boiler and the positioning of various radiators while I pondered on which stonemason I would entrust with the making of a personalised stone fire surround. I spent days sourcing a cast-iron fire back, bid at auction for antique fire dogs and commissioned a club fender where I could sit and stare aimlessly at the flames. For I, like every other bloke with a soppy streak, had moved to the country primarily to hear the crackle of burning wood, to poke and bellow dying embers and, in particular, to stand with my back to the glowing heat warming my bottom and being master of all that I surveyed.
Sadly my grate of burning timber doesn't work very well. It looks good and it burns away merrily but it does not throw out much heat. Furthermore it is not a cheap amusement. In medieval England peasants were allowed as much deadwood as they wanted from the royal forests as long as they could reach it 'by hook or by crook'. I, on the other hand, pay a crook to bring me a lot of damp wood that oozes tar. I use four loads of logs between now and the May Bank Holiday (after that the firelighters spend their summer beneath the barbecue). Each load costs around 80 with a further tenner shelled out for it to be stacked. I then supplement the wood with coal from the BP garage (at four quid a bag). The chimney needs to be swept twice a year and I like to buy the fire a small present every year (last year, for example, I bought it a postmodern poker from a knick knack shop in Cirencester).
The annual cost is almost 500 and that is in addition to the bill for my central heating, which is turned on whenever it gets cold enough to wear a sweater. This may sound like burning money, but a Cotswold house without a fire is like a boy scout without a penknife or a newsreader without a laptop - completely pointless. It is, however, an aesthetic rather than a practical pleasure. It is I like to think more of a moving work of art than a source of heat. And I happily admit that once October arrives, I do stand with my back to it with my legs astride warming my bottom. And while some may think of this as pompous posing it makes me feel not only master of my Cotswold universe but, as I smell the kerosene on the inside of my wrist, an old fashioned romantic to boot.