Fire Starter

When we first arrived in Western Australia in 1981, I remember being present at a conversation with my father when someone gestured through the window at the month of September beyond the glass and announced that we would not see rain again until March.

He was right too, and although it is not always the case that we have a dry run – increasing less so, it seems recently – you are pretty much going to get hot and dry in December, hotter and drier in January and then some time in the first week in February, you are going to curse yourself that you had forgotten about these extra 28 days which are generally even hotter but somehow don’t feature as part of the ‘main event’ of summer.

This year has been weird: the winter was very cold and wet and the start to summer was slow. Although the Eastern States are currently enduring a heatwave, Perth has been spared the normal excesses of hot weather and while we have had a few hot days, it has mostly been bearable.

But rain in February? Unthinkable.

As odd as it may seem, some sort of cyclone somewhere meant that yesterday rain was predicted, and given that we are currently in a town with a lot of coastal wind, that inevitably meant that with the rain would come an unseasonable drop in the temperature.

It had started raining when we went to the pub, but we had brought waterproof jackets, hats and umbrellas so felt pretty confident. By the time we were making our way back, though it was feeling pretty damn chilly.

The cottage where we are staying has a wood-burning stove. Normally during February when we are here, it sits neglected in the corner and sulks, but last night as we shrugged off our soaking clothes, it began to look quite attractive.

‘Do you think, ‘ I asked my husband, ‘that we should give it a go?’

‘What, light a fire?’ he asked.

‘Yeah, look,’ I went on, ‘there is paper there in the wood basket and kindling. We can just pop those two smaller logs on. How hard can it be?’

If I thought I needed to coax him into the idea, I was wrong. No sooner had I begun to load the grate with newspaper than he took over.

‘Not in balls,’ he said, ‘like this,’ and began expertly twisting the paper into squat fat lengths, over which he laid the kindling and a couple of white blocks.

‘What are those?’ I asked.

‘Firestarters,’ he replied, ‘I found them in the basket.’

I laid the two modest logs I had found from the collection in the basket onto the pile and held the match. Sure enough orange flames began to lick the paper and wood.

‘It is going to go out, ‘ he announced.

‘No,’ I reassured him, ‘it will be OK. Look, I will just open the door a little and let some oxygen in.’ I held the door to the stove ajar.

‘Stand back,’ he commanded.

‘Jesus, what is that?’ I asked.

‘Lighter fuel,’ he said, ‘Don’t worry.’ And before I could stop him he squirted it onto the flames.

‘I just wanted a tiny fire,’ I said, ‘I didn’t want to burn down the village.’

But the fire was roaring away now, and pumping out a tremendous amount of heat. Quite a lot more heat that I would have thought the two modest pieces of wood I had selected would produced.

I looked into the wood basket. It was empty. The entire pile of wood was on the fire. He must have done it as I reeled back from the initial force of heat.

He got the fire going, alright and when I got up to check it at 3am it was still blazing, long after the rain and the wind had died down.

So basically I learned two things yesterday: firstly, that it can rain in Perth in February, and secondly, that I am married to Carrie.

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