Friday, 2 December 2016

Interiors: How to light a fire

The temperature has properly dropped here in the UK and we've woken to frost most mornings this week. Time to get warm. A few weeks back, I called a number in the Yellow Pages (okay, I googled it) and found a chimney sweep. The idea of such an old fashioned trade is a bit like catnip to me and sure enough the brilliant chimney sweep who came to our home was a lovely man in his eighties.

He kindly prompted the kids to head into the garden and look up. They couldn't believe it when they saw the bristly black brush emerge from the chimney – proper Mary Poppins stuff.

Since then, we've gone to town with our open hearth, ordering up logs and smokeless coal (these people are great if you want firewood delivery in Bristol). The fire itself draws so well! And it's an easy one to light.

Beautiful, too, with this fireguard, heatproof gloves and firelighter box from Cox & Cox.

To lay the perfect fire, you will need:

Kindling, and plenty of it
Fuel suitable for the kind of 'zone' in which you live; we use logs of varying sizes and smokeless coal
If you're unlucky: firelighters

Step one:
Sweep out the ashes of any previous fire.
Fold a sheet of newspaper in half along the diagonal. Fold up from the fold about 5cm and keep folding until you can fold no more; you should have a long, thin strip.
Wind the strip around your hand and tuck in the end, leaving you with a neat coil of paper.

Step two:
Bundle as many of these coils into the grate as will easily fit.
Begin stacking up kindling sticks along the back of the grate. I think this was a mistake I used to make, skimping on the kindling. You need a good, thick layer.

Step three:
Carefully light the newspaper coils, as many as you safely can reach with a lighter or matches.

Step four:
While the kindling is lit, find your coal and begin to place smaller pieces on top of the burning paper, making a thin layer over the top. If the kindling dies out, hold a sheet of newspaper (broadsheet, n'est pas) across as much of the grate opening as possible. It should whoosh back to life. If things are really not working, resort to a couple of firelighters, placed at the back alongside the kindling.

Step five:
Once everything's burning and glowing nicely, select a couple of small logs to place front-to-back, leaving a little room between logs and coal if you can. Bundle more coal into the grate.

Step six:
Monitor constantly. Here's where those gloves come in handy! Fiddle about if things aren't looking too promising: move the good patches around, redistributing heat/flames to neglected areas.

Step seven:
When your fire is established, keep a close eye on it, adding more fuel all the time.

I should probably add some kind of disclaimer here about not being responsible if you don't have the right kind of fireplace or haven't had your chimney swept. I hope it goes without saying that fire is dangerous and that fires should be covered with appropriate guards, not left unattended, and fully extinguished before you go to bed.

But what I want to write is how mesmerising a fire can be, how restorative, how magical (particularly on a blowy/rainy/stormy, dark night). As a child, I had a 1950s book that featured a poem or story about flames. I can't recall much of it, I'm sad to say, but I do remember the illustration of flames with little faces and words describing their lick, unpredictability, and total attraction. One of winter's very finest rituals, perhaps with a crumpet or marshmallow toasting gently on the flames.

If you have a tip or trick to ensure the perfect fire, leave it in the comments below.

Disclosure: We worked with Cox & Cox on this post who supplied us with the fire guard, gloves and firelighter box
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