Smoke gets in your eyes


We were expecting guests for dinner.

“Shall I light the fire?” I asked helpfully as Mrs R messed around in the kitchen cooking for everyone.

‘The Fire’ is a small cast iron wood burner in the living room. For 363 days a year it is dormant and cold to the touch, acting as a useful extra surface for storing newspapers and coffee cups. A couple of times a year we light it to add warmth and atmosphere to the room. Then I moan when I have to clean out the ash a few days later.

I have noticed in the past that the fire is a bit smoky at first when the chimney is cold.

When I tidied the garage I moved the pile of dry logs outside. The woodworm were probably unhappy about this. Since then the logs have been mostly covered in snow, until it melted a few days ago. Now the logs were simply wet.

I laid the fire carefully, congratulating myself on the fact that someone (almost certainly Mrs R) had cleaned out the ash since it was last used a year ago. As I crumpled the newspaper I could feel the cold air rushing down the chimney.

With some newspaper, three firelighters, a handful of dry kindling and a selection of the least wet logs I was ready for ignition.

I opened the bottom vent. I opened the top vent. I struck a match and watched as the newspaper caught fire. Then I shut the stove doors and stood back to warm my hands.

For a couple of minutes all was well. I could see the orange flames flickering through the smoky glass.

Then smoke began  to seep out of the bottom of the door. And out of the edge and top of the door. And out of the joint where the wood burner met the chimney. And out of gaps in the body of the stove that I never knew existed.

The wood burner began to look like something that the SAS might throw into a room to disorient terrorists. Smoke gushed out at all sides.

I peered up out of the window. The top of the chimney appeared to be as smoke free as a London pub.

“Never mind,” I thought, “I’ll open the windows to let the smoke out, as soon as the fire warms up it will start drawing up the flue.”

There are three windows in the living room. One is a warped sash window which opens partially in dry weather. One is a picturesque bow window, which has been painted shut for some years (I see that as a security measure). The third window is actually a french window or ‘door’. Earlier this year I fitted a new lock to this one and put the key in a safe place.

“Where is the key to the french window?” I asked, bursting into the kitchen whilst trying not to look like a man in a hurry.

“I’ve no idea,” said Mrs R briskly. “You put it in a ‘safe place’”.

I rushed around the house looking in all the safe places. I found a lot of keys. When I took my handful of keys back into the living room I could not see the other wall. Or the light. Or the floor. The thick air smelt strongly of oily firelighters, burnt newspaper and warm wet logs.

I coughed, entered the room and shut the door behind me. I didn’t want the smoke detector to go off in the hall and alert Mrs R to the unfolding environmental catastrophe in her favourite room.

Then I dropped to the floor on my belly and wriggled the length of the room like a commando with insufficient training.

One by one I tried the nineteen different keys in the lock at the bottom of the window, with my nose and mouth pressed to the narrow gap beneath. Naturally it was the very last key that fitted.

I stood up and flung the door open. Smoke billowed out. Almost immediately the fire burst into roaring life in the grate and a fine plume of grey woodsmoke rose from the chimney. The room began to clear.

I sauntered into the kitchen. “I’ve managed to get the fire going,” I announced. “Bit smoky, I think the logs are damp.”


One Response to “Smoke gets in your eyes”

  1. 1 Andrew

    We have a small vent in the floor beside the open fire … the thoery being that the fire will draw its air from there and not try to suck the warm air out of the room.

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