When we were building a new kitchen onto the back of our Victorian house a couple of years ago, we planned to build a desk in the old, long-abandoned fireplace. How practical. The narrow alcove could be inexpensively adapted to house a writing surface for typing up recipes, paying bills and scribbling shopping lists. I’m bored just typing that.
One wintery afternoon, as I snaked along Oxford Street on the 73 bus, I realised that that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I wanted a proper fireplace, at waist height, like the ones I’d see in houses in France and Spain, one where we could grill a few steaks or sardines, roast some vegetables, cook a shish kebab or two. At great expense, the old chimney was lined. Supports were sunk into the heat-proof concrete to hold the grills.
If I’m honest, we don’t use it much to cook on. When the wind’s blowing in a certain direction, it smokes like it’s auditioning for a bit part in Shameless, staining the perfect white walls and ceiling with soot and stinging our eyes like a particularly vengeful onion. But I love it. The smell of it, the sight of it, the way it warms by back when I’m at the stove. Most of all, I love its wildly unruly and wilful presence in what would otherwise be a pristine steel and glass cube.
I’m all for recycling and one thing we have a lot of in this house is corks. I tip these into a jar filled with cheap brandy, a few cloves and a stick or two of cinnamon. They make great little firelighters tucked in among the crumpled newspaper and kindling, and they smell wonderful too.