It was a Messy Tuesday. The grate needed cleaning and a fire laying. I could have ignored it, but there is something so particularly dusty and dirty and depressing about a dead fire. It made me think about what it was like for my mum and aunts when they were young women and the only source of heat was a coal fire, all that sweeping and cleaning and chopping.
I am adept at the laying of fires after years of practice; our domestic standard is one match only for the lighting, and definitely no firelighters. But mysterious things happen in the far end of the cellar under the coalhole. We used to have a neat little tool to chop wood, but it has disappeared. Now we have a mighty axe fit to create havoc with careless hands. It's beyond me. I scrabble around picking up leftover splinters of wood and breaking what I can over my bent leg. (Yes, I am that person to be seen poking around in skips looking for old orange boxes, possibly the greenest part of our extravagant domestic heating arrangements)
Coal I can manage a little more easily. Not real coal, not allowed in London, but a manufactured concoction, chunky and black, and reminiscent of Pomfret Cakes. It makes a most satisfying clunk when it rolls down into the scuttle.
These nether regions of the cellar are home to all sorts. Just last week I had to remove all my old baskets when I discovered woodworm in them, a very alarming discovery. This time I found an elegant young slug, which at least explained the curious slime trails I've been seeing. I'm beginning to wonder whether it is only a matter of time before I come across toads lurking on the earth banks, or Mrs Tittlemouse sweeping up the dusty floor.