Monday 19 November 2007

An earthly paradise?

I live alone on a windswept hilltop in Northumberland, five miles from the nearest shop and pub. The views are good, the air is fresh and, er, that’s about it.

View from my back door on a snowy February morning (though we tell the tourists this is August to put them off).

View from my house on a misty May morning.

Reactions to my lifestyle choice tend to be sharply polarized between those who imagine that it is an earthly paradise (which tends to be the view of those with unhappy marriages, troublesome children and /or noisy neighbours) and those who think it sounds like a living hell. Today, when darkness has never really lifted, I am inclining towards the latter camp. Frankly, I’d much rather be in The Ivy in London. So would my Border terrier but, on the other hand, I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t let him in.

A bloke with a trailer came round last week and delivered £70-worth of logs. I’m getting through them at the rate of two baskets full a day. Or, to put it another way, I reckon they’re already about half gone. If I didn’t get a nostalgic kick out of wood smoke, and the self-satisfaction of helping to Save the Planet by using a “renewable” for heating, I’d plug in an electric fire instead. Or burn coal, if only I could lay my hands on some of decent quality. Until the 1980s, they used to mine the finest house coal in Britain about a dozen miles away, at Shilbottle. Now it’s shipped in from Russia, Colombia or somewhere even more exotic. It certainly looks like coal, and has superficial similarities with the real thing in being black and dirty. But it differs markedly from the domestic product in generating little heat and massive amounts of clogging, white ash. Are there no limits to the superiority of England? It turns out that we must even have had better quality forests 300 million years ago.

I wonder if there is a black (no, don’t laugh) market in British coal? Are there furtive, fag-smoking pushers on street corners who, in return for a wad of used notes, could help you lay your hands on a bag of cobbles or nutty slack? Are there connoisseurs who laid down a few hundredweight of the output from now vanished mines? Like the malts from closed distilleries, they would probably have turned out to be a rather good investment.

If there is anyone out there with a good line in house coal, feel free to bombard me with e-mails about it. They would stand a much greater chance of arousing my interest than the ones I normally receive, about penis enlargements and Viagra.

Oh God, I really must be getting old.

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