Winter is breathing down our necks, so it's time to get close to the hearth...
|Juno enjoys the wood burner - which is not a Juno (TM)|
Since earliest recorded history, the hearth has been a focal point of gathering, the preparation and sharing of food, and a source of heat, light and protection. When Prometheus, as the legend goes, planned to steal fire from the Gods he needed a container to pull off this heist, and settled for a glass tube. Presumably humanity discovered the slightly more convenient fireplace shortly afterwards.
The first open fire I ever lived with was a formidable specimen – a baronial hearth fit for hounds the size of horses to sprawl in front of - in the reception hall of a Scottish castle. Commanding views of the eastern Highlands, these towers had long been converted into a Youth Hostel and part of my duties as Assistant Warden was to keep the fire stoked with appropriately-scaled sections of tree trunk. This fireplace was a natural gathering point for Hostellers who delighted in its perfect blend of atmosphere and comfort. International co-operation, new friendships and even brief romances often flourished in its warm, amber glow - until we were joined one night by a brave and presumably flame-resistant bat that suddenly flew down the chimney. Squeals of fright erupted from Mediterranean Lotharios and the rapt objects of their attentions as this small airborne rodent swooped around the panicking hall at head-height, until I managed to encourage it back outside with an energetically undignified display of arm-waving. All in a night’s work for the Scottish Youth Hostel Association.
|We love the smell of woodsmoke in the morning...|
Moving to the country we found ourselves with enough space to have a winter bonfire with a difference. The 1974 horror film The Wicker Man featured an unforgettable climax involving a gigantic man-shaped wooden structure set alight as part of a pagan sacrifice. Deciding to forego the sacrifice part, we wove our own moderately impressive Wicker Man out of several metres of grapevine cuttings, stood him upright on a stout length of timber with a sturdy cross bar to support his ‘shoulders’, and then bolted the whole towering arrangement onto a deeply-buried house pile. Friends arrived, the night was still and clear and a perfect full moon even obliged us by rising just as we set our pagan idol alight. He blazed magnificently until the vine cuttings burnt away and we realised with horror that we were left with a giant burning cross! (see below)
|Honest, Officer, it's not what it looks like!|
|Our Wicker Man (Edward Woodward not included)|