The first 3.00 am fire
It’s always a sign that winter is really imminent. I woke this morning at 3.00 am, as I often do, a range of thoughts and ideas, plans and worries pushing sleep away. Most mornings when this happens I turn on a podcast on the phone, not really to listen but just to let the familiar words drift me back to sleep. My favourite is Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion Lake Wobegon series, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is also troubled with the 3.00 am blues. His gentle humour, interspersed with homespun philosophy, stories and songs is a real joy and unlike many of the other podcasts I listen to, he never asks for a subscription or a donation. I spin through the many saved episodes by chance and stop at one and let the machine play. I have listened so often to him in the night I can almost recite the words and phrases and I drift back into sleep for a couple of hours.
Not so the other night, the coldest of the year so far. The cold hung in the air and invaded the duvet. Even the dogs were huddled up with me sharing its scant protection. There was nothing for it but to light a fire. I have the process down to a split second. My good friend Ralph has given me a number of lcd lights with sensors so as soon as I step out of bed one or other comes on to light the process. First the kettle goes on. I have the time it takes to boil to clear out the ashes into an old baking tin I use for the purpose, pop a firelighter in, a few morning sticks, a small log or two and a couple of smokeless fuel chunks. The fire is lit as the kettle clicks and I pour the first tea of the day and am back in bed to enjoy the gradual infusion of warmth, tea and podcast lulling me back to sleep. It’s a challenge to have it done by the time the kettle boils and a joy as the warmth fills the small space and quickly makes it cosy and comforting.
The last two weekends have been really good. The first one took me to Ironbridge and a wooded overflow carpark for Blists Hill Victorian town. Quite by chance, despite being surrounded by trees I had a good satellite tv signal and a great path for the dogs through the woods, following an old railway track which had been used formerly to take coal down to the river to Coalport from a number of mines in the area. The famous iron bridge which gave Ironbridge its name was built by Abraham Darby in 1779 and was the first iron bridge in the world and gave the place its reputation as the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The town itself is charming and mainly a tourist attraction but has a great pork pie shop, but the smallest coffee cups ever, so be warned if, like me, you like a large coffee.
The second weekend I had planned to go to Derbyshire, but a two hour jam on the M6 changed my plans and I stayed again in the Nature reserve at Stafford, meeting up again with several of the dog walkers from last time. I am almost a regular there now and they made me feel very welcome. It is great not to have any comments or mutterings from passers-by about being an itinerant. Times have changed or maybe it’s the Stafford people used over the ages to travellers stopping off on their way south or north.
And so to Christmas. This year only two bookings, but that’s OK with me. It can be very cold on the stage at this time of year. The first next weekend - a three day Victorian Christmas Festival at the historic dockyard in Portsmouth which I have done for a number of years and then a new booking in Chatham town centre which I think may be the more challenging as they were unable to site me right in the town centre and instead I’m close to the bus station. I have a feeling it will not be a great location. Councils are throwing money at town centres, especially at Christmas, to try to stop people going to out of town malls but I am afraid it’s a losing battle. We shall see.
Meanwhile, all the best from a road near you,