The flue season
We’ve had a late cold snap and the house is cold. The front door is about a centimetre shorter than it should be, so I bought a sausage dog-shaped draught stopper complete with dog’s head and ears and a tail at the other end. This has become Tane’s pet. Whenever he comes in, he hugs the dog. Both the dog thing and Tane’s reaction to it increase the warmth in the house.
I try to keep warm by gardening – outside, of course. That way I appreciate the welcoming roar of the heat pump when I come back in. I could just light a fire, but I’m trying to get rid of the fireplace in my study – we’ve run out of winter wood and, when there isn’t a fire blazing, the fireplace is just a hole in the wall. During heavy rain, coal dust and flecks of brick and splashes of rain speckle the hearth.
The initial plan was to make my study into a cosy evening retreat where people could go to think deep thoughts about the meaning of life, instead of folding the laundry and unblocking the sink. So a brickie came to quote for sealing the fireplace. He came on the one day I wasn’t there. I bought a small fire to fit into the fireplace, but that requires an electrician as well as the brickie. The electrician told me I’d have to remove the shelving unit beside the fireplace in order to put in the new socket.
Then a nephew arrived and told me the whole fire surround should come out and be replaced by one he has in his shed. “But it’s not the same size. It’ll have to be cut down to fit.” Suddenly my vision of a warm den seemed too hard to achieve.
Instead I read a book to Tane on our flame-coloured couch. It’s a train book and we examined pictures of men shovelling coal into the firebox to make steam for the pistons to turn the wheels. Just looking at the illustrations kept us warm.
I love the idea of an evening den where you can retreat to think deep thoughts. Have you thought of installing a woodburner in the fireplace? There is nothing like staring at a flaming log to lure your mind into bottomless contemplation, though that may not be adequate compensation for carting wood and cleaning a chimney.
At Double Tops we had two log fires, a kitchen wood stove, one open fireplace and one walled-in fireplace. The fires devoured cords of wood and the chimneys needed regular cleaning plus meticulous maintenance of the bird barricades. The chimneys were irresistible to starlings, who spent the winter plotting how to breach the netting caps so they could build nests in the spring. The only chimney they didn’t attempt to invade was the one belonging to the walled-in fireplace in the spare bedroom.
The spare bedroom chimney housed a beehive. In the daytime the bees worked in the garden and at night they worked in the hive, generating a gentle hum to lull the occasional guest to sleep. The bees lived happily in the chimney for years – until the sad day the varroa mite infiltrated the hive and killed them all.
The vacancy then attracted a pair of paradise ducks. The spring after the death of the bees, a loitering drake appeared on the back lawn. When I spied his wife diving down the chimney, I realised they were nesting. It is difficult to extract a sitting duck from a chimney nest so I left her there and put up with the lawn-loitering drake, without giving any thought to the hatching.
One morning, we woke to the distressed cries of the ducks. Mother stood on the chimney pot; father stood on the lawn; the ducklings were trapped in the chimney. Harry tried to reach the ducklings and couldn’t.
I shed a tear or two, but the poor ducks wept at dawn for a week.