Back to the domestic.

October 28, 2009

As a light change from ranting. Today, we will mainly be moaning. Today we will be mainly moaning about my fire. And my house. And other stuff.

Now first, let me say, from March to October, I love my house. I do. It has beautiful high ceilings, its got a beautiful ornate fire place, the rooms are big, I have the most amazing views over the valley. A 19th century railway cottage. In summer, the stone walls mean that the house is always nice and cool, the sense of proportion in the rooms gives a very chilled out feel. The walls are big enough to hold huge canvases without them looking completely out of place. My landlady is my friend, and is very lovely, which is a big bonus. As is the affordable rent.

Then October comes. And its cold. And the lovely, slightly battered, airy house, becomes a cold, draughty, dust covered nightmare.

My plumbing has personality. Battered, not working, badly fitted, personality.  A personality which means that my hot water is ALWAYS scalding. Unless the washing machine kicks in while you are in the shower.  In which case it is freezing. It has a personality which means it is so inefficient, that even at full pelt it kicks out no heat, while running me up a gas bill of £600 last winter THe two huge beautiful full lenght windows in each room, which let in the light so beautifully- also let in the cold.

The huge, useful cellar under the whole of the house, where I do my laundry, mean that the tiled and wooden floors of the first floor, instead of under floor heating, have underfloor COLD. Which stays – cold.

The side door which lets you sit on the step smoking in the summer, allows gales through, in teh winter. And my main source of heat for the downstairs, even with radiators the size of football pitches, is the fire, and to supplement, the cooker.

We are barely into autumn- but we are already in a routine where I have to go to my beautifully ornate, real fire, every teatime, and don my attractive soot covered rubber gloves. Rachel and I wrap up the newspapers which I have been collecting all summer, into knots. I then stick my hand between two ridiculously narrow bars, which allow my delicate wrists through(clearly designed for a pre-pubescent scullery maid), so I can scoop out yesterdays ashes and cinders. By January, I will be doing this first thing every morning.

THe lillipution grate, mean that this has to be done EVERY time I rebuild the fire-because any build up of ash, means no future fire will take. Once I have scooped out the cinders, and the ashes, we start by placing newspaper knots down. THen kindling. Then firelighters. THen, because the stupidly ornate grate will not allow coal through it, we open a trap in the top of fire, through which I can delicately pour coal. Dirty black coal.

THen we hope the fire lights.

THe fire is a heavy cast iron stove, with three narrow doors which run across it. On gives access to the ashes tray. One to the fire itself. One is a trap through which we pour coal.

We keep the top two doors closed, while we pray to god. I bet man didnt realise there would be so much praying involved, when Prometheus turned up. If we open the doors too soon- The room is filled with black smoke. The dilemma between clearing the black smoke, and allowing in the freezingness, is one that is mulled over, throughout the winter months.

If the fire catches, we then wait for oh…40 minutes, and when the heavy cast iron has absorbed enough heat, that it may decide to share it with the rest of us. The fire soars, mainly heating the chimney and the sky above-but offering a little warmth to the mere mortals who pay for the coal. Considering how difficult it is to get heat out of the fucker, it is remarkable how much black dust it leaves, like a wicked snowfall over every single thing downstairs. Including the solid floors, so unless slippers are worn, you not only have black lungs, but black feet. By February, my daughter will delight in showing me her black bogies.

In addition to this, in winter, when it becomes necessary that the fire stay lit- so that we dont er…die of cold. One has to plan ones life, around keeping the fucker lit. One cannot be distracted in town for long, if one needs to keep the fire lit, because one has to go home and stoke it. Knowing that if one forgets, the embers will only be cool enough to restart the fire after about three hours, so the luxury of warmth on the ground floor is one that will have to be postponed till later,while one decamps upstairs.

And by the time we are in the wilds of January/February, one also needs the supplementary power of the cooker- meaning that lots of stews are cooked, which require long periods of the oven being on.

Now dont get me wrong. Sitting in a cozy downstairs, with a roaring fire, and a casserole in the oven, in this beautiful house, is great. But sometimes, I would like a bit of ‘onandoffability’. At this moment in time, I would quite like a Barrats new build. WIth polystyrene walls, and a gas fire with attractive nobbles of glass that glow red and yellow. I do hope that in March I am still keeping this blog, and haven’t died of hypothermia, or a respiratory disease.



  1. But Lisa, most homes in my part of france are ONLY heated by a log burner. I did a winter in a rental with an electric radiator in the bathroom that may as well have been a hot plate, a log burner that was constantly going out in the main room, and a little blow heater to take around everywhere else. Nothing like coming in from the cold on a winter’s night and having to get the fire going whilst still wearing your coat – and finding you can’t. You have my sympathy!

    • Its bad enough I cant keep the downstairs warm without it. I can keep the upstairs barely liveable, using the central heating. If didnt have that, would be on list for a nice shiny box, with efficient heating!

  2. Although I have a lovely big open fire, easy to light,I do do do empathise with your rant re lovely houses full of character that freeze your bones in the autumn/winter. My saviour is the aga which I sit on and probably do lots of damage to my bottom.

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