Saturday, 13 December 2008
mm writes about the bleakness of winter, and the fragility of our over-developed lives. In the wet, cold darkness of the northern, recessional winter we fall prey to primitive fears. If that age-old market-place icon, Woolworths, can sink without much of a trace, so may we all. The gas may flutter in the pipes and die, the electricity snap off in an instant.
Here is my small answer, my measure of highly-prized independence, my puny fist raised in protest against darkness, bleakness, and the appalling behaviour of the gas supplier. My small stove.
It is dirty, it is gritty. It fills the room with a fine coating of ash, and when the wind is in a certain direction (south east), it may belch out clouds of smoke. The wind is seldom in the south east, and so it sits there, quietly glowing, the kettle simmering gently on its flat top.
I love this stove. It's Danish. The Danes really know about winters, and wood, and warmth. The stove burns wood, or smokeless fuel, or both. Its small air-intake dials respond to finger-tip control. It needs care and cleaning, ash-removal and soot-removal. Above all else it needs feeding at regular intervals.
I have wood in all shapes and sizes, from twigs to tree-trunks. I have fir-cones, dried cuttings from the vine, hanks of dried grasses.
During the summer, like the old European widow of folk lore that I am fast becoming, I go out gathering sticks and pine cones. I stack logs in my tidy woodstore. It is so basic, so primitive, so in tune with nature to stock up for the coming months in this way.
As the days grow colder I can warm up by cutting logs. I am hoping for a chain-saw for Christmas, as a concession to my advancing years. The smell, the texture of the logs, the skinned knuckles and aching back are all part of the primitive urge. My relationship with the stove is costly in terms of effort. What is the value of any relationship that does not cost effort?
In return for the effort I have warmth. I have a sense of achievement, and a type of security. I cannot run up huge bills without realising it. If I have fuel, I will use it. When it runs out I will keep warm by acquiring more.
If or when the gas and electricity supplies fail I can boil a kettle, heat soup, make toast.
Some of my friends think I'm mad, or at best eccentric. I rather think I'm not.