Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Hate My Stove

Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Hate My Stove

Article excerpt

My trendy wood-burning stove is leaving me cold, wheezy, red-eyed and exhausted

One of my earliest memories is seeing my father in the early morning raking out the ashes of our coal fire. I was interested in the blue veins around his ankles and bare white heels as he strained forwards with his short shovel. After the ashes he carefully placed balls of newspaper, which he called 'spills', and built a tent of small kindling logs over them. I was careful not to speak as he was always in a furious temper while he was doing it. Fifty years on, I have discovered why.

I recently moved house and inherited from the previous owner a wood-burning stove, which takes up a large amount of space in my small living room, and a lot of time and energy from me. According to Radio 4, wood-burning stoves are now a mark of worldly success, having overtaken the Aga as a status symbol for the middle classes. Arbiters of taste such as Lily Allen and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall rave about them, so I was lucky, I felt at first, to find one already installed. New they cost £2,000 or more, and 180,000 UK homes had a stove installed last year; sales were five times higher than in 2007. People are obviously desperate to go back in time.

It bothers me that since I moved in with this stove I am often cold, sometimes wet, tired and frequently covered in ash. My cat does not sit happily in front of it, yellow eyes gleaming, as she might before a real open fire. She is wise enough to stay in the bedroom submerged in the winter duvet.

I may have stumbled, thanks to the wood-burner, upon a major difference between the sexes: men are happy to forage for their fuel but most women are not. The friends who say they really love a good wood-burner are usually men. They enjoy discussing how to manage them, keep the fire going by using petrol-laced fire-lighters, pushing a lever to the right and releasing a valve at a particular moment. They seem primordially fascinated by pyrotechnics and see controlling fire as a real skill.

Perhaps my problem is that I live alone, and wood-burners are a two-person job; one to make the tea and rabbit stew, while the other goes out to get the wood every few hours. I used to enjoy westerns and tales of frontier life, fancying myself dressed in skins and snow-shoes, but as I get older I find I am not really a backwoods type. …

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