September 24. It’s the autumn equinox, so we take delivery of a thousand kiln-dried logs to get us through the winter.
As the logs tumble out of the trailer onto our drive, we ask how business has been during the pandemic. Never better says the man from Logalog, a Shropshire firm specialising in high quality timber. In March, orders were three times higher than the same time last year. Enquiring on the web confirms this report. ‘Kindwood’, a firm claiming to be ‘the UK’s first and only true sustainable firewood brand’, experienced a 320% rise in sales at the beginning of the lockdown.
It’s an oddly atavistic form of hoarding. It was to be expected that there would be bulk buying of modern essentials such as loo paper and pasta, and later handwash and face-masks. But not firewood, at the end rather than the beginning of winter (I find a report of a similar rise in demand in March in the Stirling Woodyard, Adelaide, Australia, but there at least the obverse seasons made this a more rational behaviour). There is something very primal about stocking up with firewood in the face of a looming national crisis, just as the days are lengthening.
Our heap of logs has then to be transported down the garden and carefully stacked. For this activity I rely on one of my favourite books, Lars Mytting’s Norwegian Wood. Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way. This was a surprise hit when it was published in Britain in 2015. Its title fully reflects the contents. Chopping, and in particular stacking wood are treated as both a science and an art. There are wrong ways and right ways to construct piles that are stable, damp-proof and aesthetically pleasing. Mytting writes (p.113):
‘You know exactly where you are with a woodpile. Its share price doesn’t fall on the stock market. It won’t rust. It won’t sue for divorce. It just stands there and does one thing: It waits for winter.’
Or a pandemic.
Amongst the information the book conveys is the existence of a Norwegian law which requires every house over a certain size to possess a source of heating independent of the electricity supply. This makes a lot of sense. Most forms of domestic warming depend on the national grid, either directly or in order to pump the water through a central heating system. In an arctic winter, if the electricity supply fails, families can freeze to death. Hence the importance of a log-stack (and a wood-burning stove, upon which Mytting is also a source of encyclopaedic advice).
Almost unnoticed in the catalogue of government incompetence, the British long-term energy strategy collapsed last week. Hitachi pulled out of building a nuclear power station in Wylfa, north Wales, calling into question the planned Sizewell C project. The only plant actually under construction, Hinkley Point C, is over time and over budget. The official policy is to rely on nuclear power to fill the gaps in renewable energy generated by the sun, wind or waves. If that strategy is correct, the consequence of the serial failings in implementing the nuclear programme will be that sooner or later in the UK, the lights will start to go out, and the central heating boilers cease to function.
Better stock up on logs. But do make sure they are stacked properly.