It pains me to think that I should agree with George Osborne about anything – he’s the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a chill conservative – but he recently referred to the green lobby as “Taliban” and I have just experienced firewood fundamentalism.
I live in Battersea.
One of the reasons for moving here was because I could afford it but, apart from a tiny garden and a greengrocer round the corner,
I wanted and got an open fire.
And as a fire sign (Aries), it’s the cheapest therapy I know.
I found tree fellers whose side-line is selling firewood and a nicer echo of times gone by you would be hard pressed to find. Two brothers inherited their father’s business, somebody’s wife takes the telephone orders, and one son helps with deliveries. They hump it in, I arrange the woodpile on a palette, they bringing kindling and they introduced me to pimps, revealed by the Dictionary of Historical Slang to be “a small faggot used for lighting the fire, London and south counties from 1720”.
Later on I had the great pleasure of making an American visitor choke when I told him that in my house, we burn pimps and yes, I do realise that this remark is deeply politically incorrect but as we are currently reviewing 40 years of the exploitation of young people and the disabled, cries for help ignored by public bodies (see Savile, the BBC, hospitals, police etc.), maybe I’ll get away with it.
Once I had faced down the horrid builder (a bully not a cowboy) and found a sweep, the fire became a lifeline. As energy costs go up and I get older and colder, I lit a fire.
My friends collected corks (wonderful firelighters) and cones, the greengrocer gave me Christmas tree bottoms. It got me through the coldest winter. The sounds of it cheered me. The smells reminded me of childhood. I loved to watch the pictures in it. It’s no good grimacing over the mess – I have gloves, brushes, the wood ash goes on the garden, you want a fire, you clean it up.
There seemed to be a vogue for wood burning stoves, I could perfectly understand that, and I thought this form of warmth and entertainment was one of the great good points about my cherished flat.
A neighbour told me that, as of 4 November 2012, wood burning is forbidden in the fireplace, subject to a £1,000 fine.
Had I looked at the council magazine? I usually do but I hadn’t got round to it. I did. I rang the number indicated and spoke to a pleasant man who told me who to write to, though he was plainly taken aback.
Air purification is a wholly praiseworthy aim.
I wrote and pointed out that I hadn’t heard of the proposed ban, where had it been publicised?
What about the money I spent on fuel?
What about energy costs and living on a pension?
I got back the party line, a comprehensive list of media exposition – all of which I missed, no word of sympathy, moral rectitude and the offer of smokeless fuel familiarisation which pushes smokeless fuel, a smoke free fireplace and so on, all at more cost.
If you say smokeless fuel to me, I think of those lumps of sullen pretend coal that never really lit. And margarine.
After years of lecturing us about butter and fortunes made of ersatz spread, we come back to cutting your butter consumption down but not out, and accept no manufactured substitute.
Wood is wood. Even the council admit that the percentage of air affected by domestic wood burning on a cold day is well under 20 per cent.
So, what now?
Another neighbour says he has just built a wood store and he doesn’t believe they can police the ban. So he will carry on burning wood.
But he has the means, and probably the luck.
I burned as much as I could through the last days of its legality, feeling disappointed.
I bought a bag of smokeless fule I could carry – three hours for just under £7.00
If I buy more cheaply there is a minimum amount delivered, it will crowd the garden and it’s not slightly.
Opting for a fire like opting for smoking. Every person their own poison.
Mine is just denied.
A Labour Party activist came to the door collecting signatures to keep the local fire station open.
“You don’t vote for us” he said.
I told him about the ordinance forbidding me to have a fire.
He thought for a minute.
“It’s unenforceable” he said. “You burn your fire. If you get into difficulties, I will help you – and you will vote for us.”