23 DECEMBER 1972, Page 27

Country Life

Vows can't change nature

Peter Quince

I am about to break a vow, a half-hearted sort of vow, I must plead in self-defence, but still a species of promise. I am going to sink to the level of borrowing a powerdriven saw, an abominable machine, which I had never supposed I would put my hand to. The power-saw's peculiar hatefulness comes partly from the appalling noise it makes, a savage, tearing snarl which destroys the peace of miles around; and it also seems to me to be pernicuous because it makes destruction so seductively easy. I have seen too many people led into crass butchery of trees and hedges by the tempting ease of its operation. Sometimes people equipped with power-saws carry on much as one might expect small boys to do if, by some massive miscalculation, they were turned loose in a garden at the controls of a bulldozer. The last time I saw someone devastating many generations of growth of timber with a few casual and unpremeditated flourishes of his new toy, I swore I would never touch one of the ruinous things. However, as Browning observed, vows can't change nature, even if (as he failed to add) power saws and bulldozers can.

The trouble is that most of the pleasure to be got out of winter in the country, is denied one if there is no fire in the hearth; and that, so far as I am concerned, means a fire of logs. Coal makes an agreeable enough blaze, but it flourishes in a setting different from that available in my own domestic arrangements, where a hearth of extremely elderly and battered brick, together with a grate constructed, possibly in an absent-minded hour by a local blacksmith long ago, provide the means of sustaining what the advertisements call a "living fire." They do the job extremely well, too, offering a variety of consolations to the senses in the form of warmth fragrance, visible activity and pleasing sounds — always, however, subject to one Proviso. This, reasonably enough, is that there should be plenty of logs, of roughly the right thickness and length, available on demand.

Better men than I, as I am well aware, accept this challenge gladly and devote many a virtuous hour to the sawing up of Wood for their winter fires. My own Practice, in those long evenings in the late summer when such work could most usefully and rewardingly be done, is to put the whole matter firmly out of mind. By the time November comes, and the chill in the air is prompting noticeable inroads to be made upon the accumulated stock of logs, it becomes plain that action has to be taken. In my case, this action takes the form of calling upon one of the several local Purveyors of firewood and asking him to de, liver a load of logs of the appropriate dimensions.

In my part of .England these people seem suddenly to be rising in the world At

any rate instead of accepting the order with the customary alacrity, and delivering the goods with the customary zeal, this. year they began to hum and haw, making difficulties about long order-books, and proposing remote delivery dates, for all the world as if they were rich manufacturers plagued by foreign customers begging them to dispatch shipments to remote regions. The old gipsy who has met orders with positively suspicious speed in the past looked down his nose and said he didn't see how he could manage anything before Christmas. The farmer who had always been willing to oblige was apologetic, but explained that the men had been too hard-worked lately to cut any wood for him. And so it went on, everywhere I looked.

In the end I had to explore new territory and found a man on a distinctly nondescript sort of farm who seemed willing to accept the job. Unfortunately he delivered the logs when I was away. It turned out that there had been, as they say, a failure of communication. Instead of the handy chunks of wood I had expected, I discovered one morning a mountain of large portions of tree trunk. A couple of them would probably buckle my ancient grate with their weight; certainly the chance of getting any of them to blaze away in the appropriate seasonable fashion is infinitely remote. Someone will have to cut them up small, and there is no room for hopeful doubt in my mind as to who that someone will be.

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, the berry is on the holly, the carol-singers are at the door; and I have a couple of tons of partially dismantled forest awaiting my strenuous attention. The power-saw, I am afraid, is the only solution.