A tale of firewood, and a messiah

If you are interested in firewood and log fires read on, otherwise you might be bored stiff, (although a very interesting character puts in an appearance).

Our nearest neighbour called round one evening last week. He’s all alone since his wife died last year, he’s pretty much a broken man. They’d been together 52 years. His wife died last August and quite literally you couldn’t get into the church. This is not an infrequent occurrence around here, everybody knows everybody else, and have done for their entire lives. They all went to school together, ploughed the land together, married each other. Sadly this timeless way of life is passing as the young move out to find work. The blame can be firmly placed at the feet of Mr. Massey and Mr. Ferguson. We tell him to call round for a glass of wine whenever he wants but always says he doesn’t want to disturb us.

This rare visit was yet again purely functional. Just to let me know that one of my trees had fallen into the farmer’s field during the winter storms. He can see it from his house, I can’t from ours. Not surprising really as there are four acres of woodland. He wouldn’t come indoors, where the logburner was doing a good job, but preferred to stand on the doorstep whilst I enquired about how he was coping. We had a good old chat, I really don’t know why he doesn’t pop round sometimes. We talked about his late wife, then his family, then the state of the economy, before moving onto the vexing question of taxes, which seems to be as big an issue to the sadly bereaved as the rest of us.

Tree flattened in the gales - firewood!

Fallen tree – free firewood!

Basically I need to get this inconvenient tree cut up and stacked at the edge of the field before the already-planted crop has too many more sleeps, and my informant offered to bring the firewood up to our house in his tractor and trailer in the Autumn once the crop had been taken. I’ve got a chainsaw, which I have been wielding for over 20 years, on and off, but still regard with extreme apprehension. A couple of days later I moseyed on down the field to find an oak tree neatly plucked out of our boundary by an invisible force and laid out on the neatly ploughed field, which had some green shoots in evidence. Being from Manchester I haven’t got a clue what’s growing there. I do know that the farmer doesn’t want my oak tree interlacing it when he’s trying to collect the crop later on in the year.

Anyway, Oak makes good firewood. It burns better than any other wood, but you need to get it cut and split and then left to dry out for four years. So no panic on that account.

Bit of technology/science here for those who are interested. It takes a massive amount of energy to turn water into steam. Just look at how much coal a steam loco uses. If you try to burn “green” firewood, i.e. freshly-cut firewood that hasn’t dried out, when you set fire to it, 80% of it’s calorific value goes into producing steam … NOT heat. Only 20% of the firewood’s energy goes into producing heat. When firewood is properly dried out virtually 100% of the wood’s calorific value goes into producing lovely heat. For calorific value read MONEY! If you are buying the stuff you might as well burn the money as burn green firewood.

I haven’t actually cut this tree up yet, preferring to sit here and talk about it! And I have yet to photograph it, for your delight and delectation!

The same thing happened last year, in almost the same spot, (must be some sort of natural wind tunnel there) but it was a much bigger tree. Oak again, so that was good. However this time last year I was feeling more than usually apprehensive concerning the chainsaw, so advertised on AngloInfo (a very useful resource for ex-pats), for somebody to cut it up for me, and before too many hours had passed I had a volunteer.

Now if you want interesting this guy was interesting. Very enigmatic. Lived hand to mouth, day-to-day, without a care in the world, as happy as happy is. Bizarrely he reminded me of another figure from history who had denounced all wordly wealth. My enigmatic figure lived in a rusty wreck of a four wheel drive pick-up. Dreadlocks. Never bathed, (except perhaps occasionally during the summer months if he cold find a convenient stream), but had no body odour. He had a laptop. He was built out of steel cable. He ate half a minibel cheese a day, plus a glass of brown sludge he mixed up himself from chinese superfoods. He had an internet business selling the stuff. Don’t ask me how that worked, but he did give me a price list. And he would cut/chop/shift wood at a price I liked. And he could get it extracted thanks to his fourwheel drive capability.

He worked like a robot, (he was on piecework), and having removed the offending tree went on over the ensuing days to cut down and extricate another 12 chords of wood for me (a chord is 3 cubic meters, sorry if you already knew that) from amongst the dead and dying in the woods. Neither of us could condone taking out any good, living trees.

I couldn’t see him sleeping in his pick-up during his employ with me, and I let him have one of the cottages at Poulmarvezen FOC, complete with WIFI, which suited him perfectly while he sought out his future prospects. (You too can stay at Poulmarvezen FOC, complete with WIFI, if you give me some money).

You wouldn’t believe the mix of diesel, petrol and cooking oil he put in the pickup. It still worked. He ploughed up the grass in the (admittedly very wet) back field something ‘orrible, took me ages to put it all back in the Spring. It will never be the same.

Then he was gone. Nothing was missing from the cottage. Don’t be too hard on me its just funny how materialism makes you cynical. But my trust in him wasn’t misplaced. In a strange way we had “gelled”; he said he only worked for people he liked.

There is a footnote. My wife Susan is not in the best of health, and at one point I felt this messiah could cure her with his potions. But then I chickened out on her behalf, and so did she for that matter. We just couldn’t make that leap of faith. Maybe we dodged a bullet. But maybe it was silver. We’ll never know.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to burn any of this stockpile this winter for reasons already extolled, and ended up having to buy some of the stuff. Very annoyingly the chord I bought turned out to be unburnable, too new despite the assurances, and I had to stack it with the rest and set off in search of some truly burnable stuff. Which I did finally source, superb stuff that had been under cover for over 5 years. You can tell it’s good stuff when a log that has half-burned through will collapse into charcoal with a little prodding. If it puts up a fight and remains intact it was too “green” all along. It’s a strange thing to say but green wood burns “black”.

Well, that all happened a year ago, we have kept ourselves warm all winter, Spring is nearly here, and the endless round of lugging 15 tons of firewood around in a log basket (not all at once you understand) is nearly coming to an end.

If you come decide to spend your summer holidays at Poulmarvezen this year you will see a large pile of firewood lurking under some trees at the back of the field behind the longere, chucked in a heap, and not really stacked properly the way the Bretons do to enable it to dry out properly. What do you expect from somebody from Manchester?

Footnote 18th March… in the end I had better things to do and a friend cut up the tree and remove the firewood in double quick time. Perfect day for it, sunny, the field was bone dry, and when he and his wife (in charge of clipping off all the twiggy bits) had finished you couldn’t tell there had been a fallen tree. Thank you Andy & Marilyn.

If you enjoyed this “petite histoire” or if you have had a firewood moment yourself please feel free to contribute. Who knows, this could turn into the world’s biggest collection of firewood stories. I for one have several more.