I've just spent a very amusing day in Bristol, selling mistletoe and holly to friendly-trendy people and having mulled cider and a good giggle with friends. It was a lovely day and the rain arrived just after it got dark and sent people home in a very timely fashion. This meant that the stock of greenery disappeared at precisely the moment that the people did and we were able to pack up and go home without feeling naughty.
However, today I discovered a huge disadvantage to living alone. I've only lived alone once in my life, when I lived in a two metre square izbushka (small log hut) in Siberia. It was at the bottom of someone's garden (a bit like my horsebox now) and I overcame the 'alone' bit by rarely being there and kipping in the spare room of my friends, pretty much every night. So really, I have no idea what it's like living on my own.
The weather was mild today. I went out without a proper coat and I was warm all day and well past sunset, until the rain came. The sleeves of my woollen jumper got wet. It was fine. Then in the car on the way back, the HEATED car, I got cold. And I stayed cold. I shivered all the way home and then when I got back to the horsebox, that too was cold.
I have to point out at this stage, that I am pretty hardy. I work outside a lot and I love cold weather. Nothing beats a bright and crispy winter day. Not even a sunny summer one. Seriously. I get grumpy when it's hot (by which I mean above 20C).
No one had been in the box for a good twelve hours. No body heat, no boiling kettle and definitely no log burner. There's only so much heat a lazy tabby can generate. So I arrived home and inside was as nippy as outside, which wasn't actually that cold but I was soggy and shivery. I chopped some wood and I was still chilly. I lit the fire and then I got under the duvet with a glass of red wine and caught up with some reading. Twenty minutes later I was still struggling to maintain a decent temperature but the stove was finally warm enough to be throwing out some heat so I descended to the sofa and was eventually warm.
If I didn't live alone there might have been someone home to heat the horsebox before I returned. If I didn't live alone there might have been someone to snuggle up to to warm me up. If I didn't live alone I wouldn't have to do everything myself.
But then I wouldn't be here on this adventure if I didn't live alone.
Today has served as a timely reminder - I need to figure out some form of sustainable heating before it gets properly cold. I mean below-zero-cold. The wood that I've been using is recycled pine off-cuts from a local woodyard that would otherwise be classed as waste. It lights easily but it doesn't throw out huge amounts of heat and it disappears in a flash. No heading out for twelve hours with a few bits in the burner and returning to glowing embers. Not a chance.
I could use coal. But there's no way I could. It's coal. If we were supposed to be able to use coal then why is I so far underground? But people like it because it generates a lot of heat and lasts for ages. In the short term I can see its advantages. But I still won't use it. I once found some dense charcoal made in Monmouth (7 miles away) that was produced from recycled sawdust. It generated the same amount of heat as anthracite coal. I bought a bag. It was great. I've never found it again.
Occasionally, friends chuckle at me for buying in logs. Why would I pay for wood when I live in a forest? I'll tell you why: the wood I buy is locally and sustainably sourced. The nearest woodland to me is part of a nature reserve. It is stunning and even my dad, who is possibly the most understated person I know, thinks it is utterly beautiful. How can I, given my background as an environmental educator and conservationist, justify collecting wood from a forest that does not include me as part of its sustainability and management plan? Knowing the value that standing deadwood has for threatened species such as the stag beetle, and its habitat value for bats and birds, how can I condone taking it just to keep myself warm?
And yes, I drive a car and I use electricity and I buy food from supermarkets and every now and then I get on a plane and I am fully aware if the impact of these actions. I just don't want to add anything else to the list. So I buy my wood from a local man who owns a wind farm and has a licence from the Forestry Commission to manage a small amount of hardwood forest.
By trial and error I am learning the fine art of managing a log burner. I am also wearing extra jumpers (or skimpy t-shirts according to how skilful I have been!). Hopefully by the time winter sets in in ernest I will have mastered the Art Of The Burner. Until then, sustainable suggestions are welcome.