Burning boxes and dancing jigs…


I love a fire. I don’t really mind if it isn’t an open fire in the true sense of a fire, a multi fuel stove will do me, just so long as I have the real warmth of flames and I can look at the glow that only a well it fire gives you on a cold winter’s night. I’ve had several fires in my life and now I have another…

Fires have their own personalities. You get to know exactly how to place the kindling, how tight to scrunch up newspapers and when to add the larger logs of wood. If you ignore your fire’s personality you, and it, will never be friends and you’ll probably be cold. My first fire was a multi fuel stove that we had in our home when I was younger. I remember as a teenager chopping kindling whilst my brother did the logs. It is true that wood warms you twice as he always came in sweating! Stacking the logs so that the air could circulate and they didn’t get damp was one job but trying to light wet (ish) wood was always difficult as my dad never did order seasoned wood early enough so we became quite adept at managing a difficult fire. We only had the heating on low –I had ice on the insides of my bedroom window – so it was important to get the fire going as quickly as possible in the morning.

When I lived on the narrowboat I had another multi fuel stove. It was a fire meant for a house not a 6 foot x 52 foot rectangle and we boiled not only the back boiler (that heated the radiator –the boiling hot water overflowed into the engine room) but ourselves too. We had to open all the windows (which didn’t do much; boat windows are small and only the top of ours leaned open) and the doors. I remember we ended up on the jetty as it was just too hot but we soon learned how big a fire to build to suit the heat we needed. I chopped all the wood we needed for the 1st year from fallen trees felled to make the new marina. The second year I’d had enough and used coal, I was gung ho but as this was our only source of heat it was great to have the coal to fall back on.

I swept the chimney from the roof of the boat pushing the brush down through the chimney. I thought I had done a marvellous job until I came back into the boat and saw the soot all over the floor and then the chimney, that should have been attached to the fire, sticking out at an angle pointing towards the door. I had swept the chimney off the fire rendering it completely unusable. This would have be fine in Summer but this was in the middle of winter with snow all around. I had had just broken our only source of heating and the next day the canal froze so there I was in a boat that was stuck ridged in frozen water with snow all around. I have never been so cold sitting on the sofa wrapped up in a duvet watching telly on my own. When people say they are cold I do think –you really have no idea…

Our fire in a house in Lambourn was legendary. Mainly because hubbie nearly set fire to the chimney! He is a borderline pyromaniac and loves a good burn. I gave advice from one fire starter to another but he was convinced that he knew best and if his intention was to make sure that the 40 foot square room he had in his head was warm, then the fire he built would have been perfect but in the small room we were actually in both my brother and myself we once again sweating, the doors were opened as were the windows. He didn’t set fire to the chimney and we did enjoy some ‘normal’ fires once he’d calmed down a bit.

We’ve had other fires but now we have an open fire. A perfect chocolate box inglenook fireplace with a bread oven to the right of it. The beam above I know will be perfect to hang some bunting from at Christmas nestling in between holly sprigs from the garden; I have the picture in my head already. We have had many cardboard boxes to burn so have been setting small fires to get rid of them. This was also to check the fire works –not all do – and have a little fun at the same time. The boys are very interested in building fires and I have enjoyed passing on my top tips for the perfect fire (not inferno) one that warms the room but doesn’t make the inhabitants want to open all the windows and doors. I’ve talked about layering the paper/card, sweeping the ashes, making sure the slated grate is clear so the fire can breathe. I’ve shown them how to watch the fire grow before putting more cardboard on and in the winter this will be wood and they have marvelled at the sight, and sounds, of a real fire. Ollie said he can’t wait for winter as he wants to snuggle up in (my chair) front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate. Ever the romantic like his mother is my son.

Whilst we sat watching the fire Henry found my pear wood recorder. They asked me to play so I did and as the boxes burned I played a jig and they all danced around to the music. I played a slow tune and they all pretend to fall asleep and then I woke them with a fast improvised dance. They all asked if I could play again and I think I will. I enjoyed showing them what I used to do and they loved dancing by the warmth of the fire.

The flames died down and the glow slowly faded and we all just watched as it did. I’m passing on my memories of fires from days past to my boys and adding new touches, the recorder playing, as we go. I wonder if my boys will share their fire lighting skills when they are older with their families’ and tell them how to make sure the grate is free of ash and how the fire needs to breath. I also hope my boys will find themselves snuggled with their families by a fire and tell them of the time they burned boxes and danced whilst their mum played the recorder and I hope they tell their children how much fun they had.

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About littlewhitecottage

Tales from a contemporay cottage.
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2 Responses to Burning boxes and dancing jigs…

  1. Jo Rees says:

    Passing on family traditions is one of the most rewarding things in life & you are doing a grand job…!! Love you blogs… Jo. x

  2. Another lovely blog Emma, Fires are mesmerising just watching the flames dance in the darkness of the night is so relaxing. I have beautiful memories of being in my grandparents house just sitting on the floor infron of the fire watching flames 🙂

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