I grew up a Yorkshire farmhouse heated by a Rayburn in the kitchen and an open coal fire in the ‘front room’. I dressed in the morning beneath the eiderdown. This ‘make-do’ relationship with cold is deep within me. After years of living in centrally-heated houses, I still sleep with the window open. If I’m cold I put on an extra jumper. I have been known to type in fingerless mittens. My husband and I fight a constant battle over the thermostat: he puts it up five degrees, it turn it down seven.
So, to Spain. I had no idea that lighting a wood burner was any different from laying a fire using coal. Moving into our Spanish house, we delayed the challenge of lighting the wood fire for the first winter. We weren’t there much in the coldest months and so managed with a portable gas fire [the sort on wheels that I also grew up with, ugly but effective]. However our first proper winter in Spain – yes Andalucía is cold, wet, rainy and occasionally snowy – demonstrated that the electric underfloor heating was a) lukewarm, b) used a lot of valuable electricity, and c) took four days to heat up to its maximum heat of 14°C.
Wood became our best friend. Logs changed from a stylish interior prop in a log basket, into a necessity. We piled up logs outside the front door, within easy grasp. When we explained to our neighbour P that the secondary intention of the log pile was to provide lizards with a summer home, he shook his head. With misunderstanding, with wonder, with disbelief. Needing warmth, we faced up to the wood burner. It was an ugly thing, a black fire set into slabs of black marble: a black blob in the centre of the sitting room. Worryingly, there were cracks in the plaster above the [black] mantelpiece which drew my husband’s eyes as he imagined the chimney collapsing and muttered about ‘unlined chimney’ and ‘wasted heat’.
We vowed to make the best of it, the alternative being too expensive and ‘too big to do’. We mastered the art of lighting the fire, bought firelighters in bulk quantities from Mercadona and saved all our newspapers. All the time, we attempted to ignore the blackness of the thing. Then one day, my husband poked at the marble and a slab fell out. Decision made. Now we have an efficient, small log burner. Yes, it is still black. But it throws heat out, uses less logs, and is the shape of a pot-bellied stove.
5 to remember
la cocina – kitchen
la calefacción – central heating
la leña – firewood
el mármol – marble
feo/a – ugly