I suppose the surprise arrival – by post – of a batch of smoked kippers that morning should have triggered the gene in me that I’ve named: How Strange!
I’ve mentioned our love of a kipper breakfast in previous posts. We had recently returned from our annual November visit to see our good friends on the Isle of Man. Part of our trip had been a visit to a pub that offered a ‘kipper tea’, something we all enjoyed. Kippers are polarising; you either love them or hate them. Our friends had decided to follow up our visit by sending us a fresh kipper package from the island – a lovely and much appreciated gesture.
We put most of them in the freezer, but kept out two pairs for later. They made the basis of our evening meal. Then we hunkered down from the gathering winds of storm Arwen… which had begun to throw things around the garden…
I had spent the whole day raking up the last of the leaves on the lawns. Our house has numerous large trees on two sides of the property. It’s strenuous exercise and I was tired by the end of it. The compost heap had swelled to three times its normal size – though that would soon reduce, as the leaves compressed under the weight of two cores from an ash tree we had to have felled due to Ash die-back – that horrible disease that is decimating the ash population in the UK. At least you can use ‘green’ ash in domestic log-burner. The log store at the back of the property was full to overflowing with top-quality fresh wood, and we had selected some to burn that night, by way of a distraction from the coming gales.
Replete with our kipper meal, we settled in front of the freshly-lit wood fire and watched the ash burn brightly and fiercely, filling the living room with a warm glow and the roar of the flames.
With a log-burner, once the fire ‘takes’, you reduce the intake of air so that the wood lasts longer. It was then that things began to go wrong…
No sooner had I done this, than the wind outside began to howl and we noticed that smoke was escaping around the door of the log burner. I jumped up and opened the fire, checking for splinters of wood that were possibly preventing it sealing. Nothing amiss, I closed it again.
This time it was worse. The howling outside increased, but it was essential to open the patio doors to clear the smoke that was now filling the living room to a dangerous degree. Still coughing, I stood outside and just about held the patio door open while the gale tried to wrench off my right arm.
Still the smoke billowed from the log-burner… I knew that something else had to done, or we would shortly be dying of smoke inhalation. I ran upstairs to open the door to the small balcony. Nothing I did seemed to generate enough through-draft to clear the air. It was while upstairs that I realised that this was due to the gale creating a freak down-draught in the dedicated chimney stack for the log-burner. By moderating the fire in reducing the air intake, I had allowed the atmospheric chaos to overcome the established flow of the rising heat.
We were close to calling the Fire Brigade when I persuaded Bernie that we should try one more thing: to remove the burning timbers from the fire and douse them! I had a pair of long fire-proof gloves; not cheap, but worth their weight in gold in an emergency.
Three minutes later, I was reaching into the flames and extracting the burning logs of wood, dumping them into a brass bucket filled with water, then carrying out their hissing remains and leaving them on the wet grass. No-one was injured, or even scalded, but it was a surreal few minutes…
We still had a house full of smoke, but at least it was no longer being added to. I had a hunch that height was the issue. If I could open the right high window, then a sufficient draught would ensue – and slowly clear the smoke.
My study is just about the highest point of the house, and it has a Velux window that rotates vertically. Standing on my chair I opened it to its full extent – and was nearly spun off the chair as a huge up-draught began, dragging the smoke from the rest of the open-plan core of the house.
It took about an hour to clear the air, though the smell of smoke was to last for several days. Thankfully, apart from coughing a lot, neither of us suffered any injury, and the pets seemed unmarked by the episode. The whole thing lasted no longer than half an hour, though it seemed like a lot longer at the time. The problem has not recurred, despite residual high winds after the gales had passed.
The humour of smoked humans; on top of the receipt of the kippers, was not lost on us…
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.