Stretching out in front of an open fire is such delight | Hannah Jane Parkinson

Like most writers, I have zero practical skills. Except for one: I can lay and light a fire

I almost die every time I see the final scene of Call Me By Your Name (three times and counting): it’s a four-minute fixed camera shot in which the lead character sits in front of a crackling fireplace with tears brimming but not quite escaping, a lip bitten as he silently contemplates his first, and lost, love. Maybe I have made it sound cheesy; it isn’t. It’s as subtly devastating as a handful of soil thrown over a coffin.

This scene would not have worked if, say, it had been the same character staring forlornly out of a window, or stroking a battered photograph kept in a wallet. Fires can be pure poetry.

Each year, when I head north to the family house for Christmas and New Year, the thing I look forward to most is stretching out in front of the fire alongside the cat; his belly hot to the touch, his chin turned upwards. In the curves of the brass fender, the Christmas tree lights reflect in blurs.

Like most writers, I have zero practical skills. Except for one: I can lay and light a fire. This comes from observing my mother doing origami with old newspaper pages, cross-hatching logs and kindling, and picking up and setting down efficiently-sized bits of coal as though they were priceless gems, with a set of delicate tongs.

A year or so ago, in January, a girlfriend and I rented a cottage by the seaside in Deal, Kent. While my partner went to collect a food order, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on the fireplace. When she returned, sodden from the rain and carrying Tupperware filled with chicken tikka masala, the flames were bold red and orange and rippling. We ate, played Scrabble and scratched her Yorkie under its ears.

Now, I live in a flat that has fireplaces in two rooms (it is rented, alas), and I am looking up the telephone numbers of chimney sweeps. There is a local firm that has been run by the same family since 1860. The fireplaces are beautiful things: just one can add 5% to the value of a home. There is a downside, however, and that is the environmental impact of burning coal and contributing to our filthy air (which I have written about previously in these pages). At its most extreme: the pea-souper smog of 1952, which led to the Clean Air Act. Real fires, then, are recommended in moderation.

But fake ones that have to be plugged in and switched on won’t do, either. Or, even worse, digital fires on television screens. I don’t have the same objection to wallpaper of woodlands or plants but, to paraphrase John Waters, if you go home with somebody and they have a DVD of a home fire, don’t sleep with them. Home is where the hearth is.

Contributor

Hannah Jane Parkinson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
From houndstooth trousers to Mr Motivator’s leotards, pattern is always a delight | Hannah Jane Parkinson
I would find it difficult to muddle through life without beautiful, artistic patterns

Hannah Jane Parkinson

19, Jul, 2019 @6:01 AM

Article image
Is your browser window full of open tabs? Time for a digital declutter | Hannah Jane Parkinson
Internet tabs, like gases, expand to fill their container. Close them all and feel the weight of unread content lift

Hannah Jane Parkinson

11, Dec, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Our options for outside entertainment are limited. Time to dust off the board games | Hannah Jane Parkinson
Playing chess or Scrabble with someone in concentrated but comfortable silence is an understated sign of love

Hannah Jane Parkinson

23, Oct, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Just as you resign yourself to a permanent cold, something magical happens
Being sick is the pits, transforming us into pathetic avatars of our usual selves. Which makes recovery one of life’s great pleasures

Hannah Jane Parkinson

27, Jan, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
True pleasure is a play without an interval
Give me, uninterrupted, a new world for the evening, a performance that changes my mood and my mind

Hannah Jane Parkinson

17, Nov, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
There's nothing like the full-body slam-dunk of cold-water swimming | Hannah Jane Parkinson
It’s the sensation of a sedentary life cracking wide open

Hannah Jane Parkinson

19, Jan, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
Why I love the smell of wood | Hannah Jane Parkinson
My grandfather’s shed was filled with its glorious, deep, fresh-cut scent

Hannah Jane Parkinson

03, Mar, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
I crave great big gulps of fresh air – how do I leave this clogged-up city? | Hannah Jane Parkinson
I love the wind whipping up the salty ether of the Cumbrian coast

Hannah Jane Parkinson

10, Nov, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
Choosing the right dressing gown is up there with the big decisions in life | Hannah Jane Parkinson
When most people think of an ‘investment piece’, they mean Mulberry bag, Burberry scarf. I’m thinking: dressing gown

Hannah Jane Parkinson

03, Nov, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
The journey home after a perfect trip away is the best, bittersweetest bit | Hannah Jane Parkinson
A lot of people love getting home and putting the kettle on. But I love what happens before that, the transition

Hannah Jane Parkinson

29, May, 2020 @6:00 AM