It’s nearly 8 o’ clock. I have a lovely hot fire crackling beside me. It reminds me of something lovely that Roger Deakin once wrote:
“I really do want people to come home to a real fire. A nation without the flames of fire in the hearth, and birds singing outside the open window, has lost its soul. To have an ancient carboniferous fire brought to life at the centre of your home, its flames budding and shooting up like young trees, is a work of magic.”
Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, p. 155
Our wood burning stove is right in the middle of the boat. It heats up the surrounding air like an agar oven. The other night, just as we prepared to go to bed Gideon and I were suddenly worried that something had caught on fire. There was a peculiar smell in the air. It didn’t smell like wood smoke… There were still some coals smouldering in the grate, but it seemed surprising that the smell was so distinctive and acute.
Gideon scampered outside in his underwear to check that the chimney wasn’t on fire. Silly us. It turned out that it was the coals after all. Gideon had loaded the hearth up with them. The smell they produce after a while is very different to the smell of wood smoke. It is deeper, richer, more oaken.
Jobo said that during the winter he has become so expert as setting up fires that he could make up exactly the right sort of fire in the morning to last the rest of the day – even if he left the boat. That way, when he returns, the boat is snug and warm in the evening for his arrival.
The wood and coal in the intensity of their heat have broken down into a kind of piping hot orange stew. Their skin is petrified by the heat and brakes off in scales or crusts of heat. They have become like crackling spines. When I nudge them with my brass poker the scaly crust breaks apart tenderly or yawns open like segments of an orange. I think of the recipe I wrote up for the charity earlier, or perhaps that marvellous description of summer heat in Bruno Scholtz’s lovely collection Cinnamon Shops.
A cold wind has blown through England over the past few days. Gideon has left to go to Sheffield so I have no company to keep me warm in the evenings. I spend most of my time reading and writing, and occasionally watching something online. I have been watching Kenneth Clarke’s ‘Civilisation’ series recently. That, and with Harry, Jeremy Brett’s wonderful adaptation of Conan Doyle’s novels.