Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Why I love the first few fires of January

By Frances Burscough

I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay ... Well maybe not quite a lumberjack per se, but I have been chopping up a tree for the last couple of days. Well maybe not actually chopping as such, but I have been snipping the branches off the now-defunct Christmas tree with a pair of secateurs and piling it up for firewood, like the true alpha female hunter/gatherer that I am.

This is the one thing I look forward to most in the first week of January, when life returns to normal and all that's left of the festive spirit are the strawberry Quality Streets that no-one wants to eat and all the chunky Christmas bills that no-one wants to open. Instead of dragging the dried-up skeletal carcass of the fir tree to the tip like most people do, my kids and I have our own tradition to brighten up this dismal time of year. 'Twas about 15 years ago on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6.

I'd always been taught when I was growing up that this specific date was a distinct deadline for Christmas decorations and to keep them around for even a day longer was bad luck. So on that particular day as I unhooked each delicate glass bauble and unthreaded every string of tinsel, a cascade of pine needles was showering down and turning my carpet into a forest floor.

So I casually swept them up onto a dustpan and tossed them into the fireplace on top of the ashes from last night's turf. At first they smouldered and smoked for a few minutes, but then all it took was for one pine needle to catch alight then the whole grate burst into flame, crackling and hissing in a sudden but magnificently impromptu pyrotechnic display.

The boys whooped with delight and the dogs barked in terror, but for me I'd had an epiphany of my own. After four long weeks in a warm, dry, centrally heated living room, the Christmas tree branches were as incandescent as a keg of gunpowder and just as spectacular. And, as the pine oil smoke started to infuse into the air it filled the room with an incredible atmospheric aroma, too.

So, since that day, my boys and I have always made a ritual pyre out of the bedraggled tree and we look forward to the event almost as much as decorating the tree in the first place.

Now, as you can imagine, it does make quite a lot of mess. I'd estimate that there are at least a hundred thousand pine needles on an average six footer and most of these do end up getting scattered across the living room floor on their way to the ground zero of the fireplace. In fact you'll be finding them for months in the crevices between furniture.

It also produces far more ash than a normal fire does and so the grate needs to be brushed out and emptied after every single fire ... and woe betide if there's even a slight breeze or you have to sneeze on your way to the recycling bin, because you'll become liberally coated in the dust of Christmas past - and so will your house too in the process.

But believe me, it is worth it for the magnificence and magic of those crackling January fires.

To celebrate the event I also recite an old poem I found in a treasury, about the best firewoods for burning:

"Beechwood fires are bright and clear

If the logs are kept a year.

Chestnut's only good they say,

If for logs 'tis laid away.

Make a fire of Elder tree,

Death within your house will be.

But ash new or ash old,

Is fit for a queen with crown of gold.

Birch and fir logs burn so fast,

Blaze so bright but do not last.

It is by the Irish said,

Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.

Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,

E'en the very flames are cold.

But ash green or ash brown,

Is fit for a queen with golden crown.

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,

Fills your eyes and makes you choke.

Apple wood will scent your room,

Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom.

Oaken logs, if dry and old,

Keep away the winter's cold.

But ash wet or ash dry,

A king shall warm his slippers by."

It’s a match made in reality TV Heaven

So here we go again, another new year and another new series of Celebrity Big Brother. Yes, It's only a couple of days in and already I'm hooked. But what a lot of people don't realise (yet) is that two of the housemates have a bit of a history together.

Cast your minds back to another tacky reality show that was Celebrity Love Island in 2006... because in it together were none other than Calum Best and Bianca Gascoigne. Of course they were back then a match made in heaven - both young and beautiful, both the offspring of world-class footballers who fell on hard times; both desperate to make a name for themselves other than by cashing in on their dads' fame. Heck, they were meant to be. And so it was that they did indeed find love on that island and were such a success at it that they went on to win the series, too. I remember watching it and imagining that they'd be together forever, such was the bond of their new-found love. However, somewhere along the way they broke up and went off in opposite directions of the reality TV world. So will they cash it all in again and get back together for a second spin of the wheel? Who knows? Who goes? You decide.

This week I'll ...

Mostly be drooling over my absolute and utter favourite heart-throb Tom Hardy as he appears in the new lavish costume drama Taboo, starting tonight on BBC1. Directed by a dream team of Ridley Scott and Stephen Knight, (the genius behind Peaky Blinders) it's about a shipping empire in 19th century London. I'm hoping it's as good as that other shipping saga The Onedin Line from the 1970s, but with added sex, violence and adult themes. Woo-hoo and ship ahoy, cap'n! With my beloved Tom in it though, it really can't go wrong. As of tonight, my social diary is cancelled.

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