Sunday, April 3, 2011

Woodstoves or, as they prefer to be known, the Household Gods

The first whiff of Spring is in the air.

Here in rural Brittany it usually takes the form of pig manure.

At last my woodstoves lie dark and unlit for a couple of days at a time, and I wonder whether I am able to consider my relationship with them dispassionately.

I doubt it.

The power balance is too skewed in their favour.

My mixed feelings date back to the late nineteen sixties when I remember the installation of electric fires and central heating in our Croydon terrace, and my mother’s delight: no mess; no more scrunching up bits of newspaper and folding them into little nuggets; an end to putting sheets of paper over the fireplace and lying on the floor, blowing desperately to get the fire going.

Winter in Brittany, forty years later, and my childhood is revisited. Conversation generally turns around wood and wood stove lore, especially with new acquaintances. Is your stove well enough sealed to last the night when damped down, thus avoiding the chilly early morning hunt for kindling? Is your chimney on the correct side of the house, and the right length, to avoid wind problems and smoking “blow back”, which causes the hapless, choking householders to race to open windows and doors, rather counteracting any eventual warming effect?

And then, of course, there is your wood supply. The size of a man’s wood pile in Brittany seems to equate with the number of camels he might have in a warmer climate, when it comes to social status. Our neighbour Monsieur M has an enormous stack, carefully organised into different sizes with a precision rarely seen apart from households with obsessive compulsory disorders, or the early retired. There are still many things that can go wrong, even if you do have enough wood. It might not be dry enough, which can aggravate the smoking problem. Or the log might be just too big to close the lid, which you find out after you have put it in the stove which is going at full pelt. So then you have to take it out again, while it is burning, and find somewhere safe to put it…

Oh yes, and kindling. Somehow there never seems to be enough kindling. And for some reason I tend to select the logs with knots that bounce the axe off at odd angles when I try to chop them. I still have all my fingers and toes but there have been a few close shaves.

We have two woodstoves in our house, both with very different characters.

There is the moody big boy in the living room, which is a turbo charged model DEOM PM4. “Turbo” means that there are two holes in the top, one attached to an internal tube, and when you open them both, the effect is a vastly amplified version of the paper over the fireplace. It is possible for the unwary to set fire to chimney, roof and anything else attached to them, if the wood is of unexpectedly good quality and you have the temerity to go off and do something upstairs in the office for five minutes. The exit pipe becomes red hot, and then the smell of the metal alerts the household. Of course, if the wood is a bit damp and not touching in exactly the right way, or not quite the right size, the fire will go out even if the turbo is on maximum

The greedy little old Rosieres 10276 in the kitchen has an oven built in. My sweet husband likes to make bread in it. There is a washing line to dry clothes over it, which works fine when he is making bread. I like that smell in my clothes. Beef Bourguignon is less attractive as a perfume.

When it gets very cold we keep the two going at once. The kitchen woodstove is quite small, so, frequently, the wood doesn’t fit. Because it is small it has the most rapacious appetite for wood and you feel like Casey Jones endlessly stoking the boiler, since it can only be left for 15 minutes at a time when it is fully open. Also, it won’t overnight because it won’t damp down sufficiently to exclude enough air.

Wood stoves demand more attention than children and dogs put together, but it is wonderfully comforting when the house is toasty warm and they are roaring away at full blast.

Summer arrives, and Brittany becomes glorious, a lush green paradise.

In dark corners the wood stoves wait patiently for the seasons to change and their time to come once more…


Lucy said...

Wonderful, and so true; the only subject more likely to get a conversation stoked is sceptic tanks.

I used to love doing the paper thing as a kid, especially when it caught light and went flaming up the chimney.

Zhoen said...

Whole lotta work. I remember having to rattle the handle on the coal stove, shake the ash down. Then shovel in more coal.

Anne said...

Oh, do I ever relate to this. We have been struggling with a chimney that's too short and wood that's too green all winter. Now spring is supposed to be coming, and there are flowers all over the place, but unfortunately the temperature is hovering around 38 F. and we still need the stove. Without it the electric heaters rumble all day with their constant annoying buzz.

DuchessOmnium said...

I don't miss heaving 25 kg bags from the roof of the boat, but I do miss the cosiness of my fire. It only went out a handful of times all this winter.

Rosie said...

ladies, there arent many other household objects that require the same fussing over them...

Emilie said...

Hello ! I'm the grandchild's inventor of the DEOM's woodstove...

His name is André DEOM and I'm pretty sure that he will be very glad to read your article... (my english is so bad, sorry for that). We come from the south of Belgium. Where I live, there are so many woods and winter is hard too. My Grandfather was inspired by the work of joiner for the creation of the woodstove. (God bless them).

Nowadays, my brother has refreshed the concept, in order to make it more "design". He has changed the grid.

So, that's my story... and I would share it with you because it was a pleasure to find out yours. (I really like your dog).

Best wishes for X-mas. ( sorry for my engilsh, again. and oh yes! : sorry for my government)

Rosie said...

Hi Emilie, how exciting to be contacted by the offspring of the man who dreamed the whole thing up. I have to tell you, speaking as a person who loathes wood stoves, yours is the most efficient one we have ever that has to be good publicity for you!