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Searching for winter warmth

By: Margaret Brown

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WHILE TODAY has been as warm as an English summer: that is – as it used to be 20 years ago – I doubt that our dwindling stock of wood will see us through.

Anything can happen between now and the end of February and probably will: electric fires are a poor substitute for the real thing and the temperature in our present house is often several degrees below that found outdoors. Piped warm air from the wood burner has kept the place aired, but hardly up to the level of proper central heating. With “number two daughter” arriving for a 10-day break, on crutches, as the result of a nasty fall from her pedal cycle, we are praying for plenty of sunshine and no cold northerly winds.

When I was a child living on the outskirts of Birmingham, a cold house was part of life in wintertime and accepted as normal. Icicles were a regular feature, hanging from guttering outside my bedroom window for several days until melted by the sun. There was much snow and the canal, which was in regular use by horse drawn barges, froze thick enough for skating.

Pollution was not a word that sprang to mind in those days: chimney fires were a regular occurrence and great source of entertainment. The unmistakable smell of burning soot was a magnet that brought the neighbourhood out, first to check one’s own home and then to admire the black smoke and showering sparks belching from someone else’s chimney pot.

If the fire engine was needed, it was a case for the magistrate’s court and the guilty householder was prosecuted for failing to have the chimney swept before lighting up. The remedy, if applied at once, was to pour plenty of salt on the flaming coals in the fireplace. Anyone who tried to quench the blaze with water could expect red hot cinders exploding into the room.


Over here we belong to a syndicate that owns a set of sweep’s brushes: these have become difficult to run to earth because, being passed from person to person they are left forgotten in a corner. I have heard that a bunch of heather or cistus, the rope from which is dropped into the room below, does a reasonable job when pulled up and down.

To be successful, one brave soul must climb on the roof to pull, while another does the same down below in syncopation and the wad of twigs must be a tight fit. Having heard of an experienced builder, who was working on his roof, stepped onto the ladder and slipped, I think we shall try to buy another set of brushes and do the job properly.

Watching reports of violent storms, death and severe damage across the British Isles on the television news, I gave thanks for the present calm we are having in the Algarve. With more years behind me than in front and, like older folk do, I look back through rose tinted spectacles and believe that despite a World War and the sadness it entailed, future generations will have greater problems to surmount than those that challenged us. Apart from occasional floods, we never doubted that rivers would remain within their banks and, although erosion was already taking small areas of Britain’s coastline, the sea usually behaved in an orderly manner within certain highs and lows.

However, having said this, floods in January 1953, caused by the combination of a high spring tide and drop in air pressure, decimated a large area of England’s east coast with the loss of over 300 lives. Holland suffered even more severely with 1,800 people losing their lives after 50 dykes were breached.

With the coming of the 21st century it seems that the forces of nature will be mankind’s major adversaries rather than war. Despite many theories explaining global warming, how to slow it down and what will happen in the years ahead, none of the egg-heads appear able to agree about anything.


It will be interesting to see what happens in 2007. Even now, the ground is drying up: a day or two of solid rain would be welcome to help crops along. All in the mind, as it was in the days when glossy catalogues dropped unsolicited through one’s letter box and happy hours were spent planning a dream garden. I have some bulbs bought weeks ago in a supermarket, dormant when sold, but now producing roots inside their packet, searching for a foothold. They were intended to beautify the grave of the late lamented, Fred who met an untimely, but peaceful end: tomorrow they shall be planted.

Next month, if all goes according to plan, we will be adopting a small bitch currently living in Wales, that is about to lose both owner and her security. Having enjoyed the freedom of the last few weeks and having no ties, there has been great thought, but on balance we have decided a house without a dog lacks that vital ‘something’. No-one has asked the dog, but as she has spent more time in kennels than at home recently, maybe we have something to offer in return for her love.