方禮倫:Logs for the Fire 一蘆篝火,一縷鄉愁

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English winters feel long and cold. A gas burner, installed a decade ago, heats radiators around our house. It comes on for a few hours in the morning, ensuring we have hot water for the day. It helps making getting out of bed a little easier, and warms our cloths, which we hang on the bedroom radiators the night before.(註 1)

A wood-burner keeps us warm during the day. Our house shrinks as the weather cools, and the family congregates around a large inglenook fireplace in the dining room. A sofa and two arm chairs form a small living space. Together with a few thick jumpers this is a more economical way to stay warm than keeping the central heating on all day.(註 2)

So between November and March we start each morning by lighting the fire. We surround a fire-starter with kindling and two small logs. When lit the kindling soon catches fire, which in turn set fire to the logs. It takes about half an hour for the fire to get going. When fired up we add smokeless coal, which burns hotter and provides a steady heat. This forms a good bed of burning embers for more logs to be added.

There is something very satisfying about a fire. It flickers and crackles as if alive. The subtle fragrance of birch compliments the warmth. And to sustain a good fire, like all the best things in life, it needs to be tendered.(註 3)

As well as adding more coal and logs, the fire must be managed. Air flow is controlled by vents on the burner. When these vents are open more oxygen feeds the flames. When closed, the logs burn more slowly. The fire devours four to five logs an hour.

Not only does the burner generated heat, but as hot air passes up the chimney it warms up the brick spine of the house. Stone walls are slow to warm, but retain heat well. The house warms from within.(註 4)

A delivery of firewood arrived today. A car towing a cart full of logs pulled into our driveway, and made it’s way slowly up the hill towards the house.

We get our wood from a family-run farm in a neighbouring village. Most firewood is imported from Eastern Europe, and kiln dried, which adds considerably to its carbon footprint. However the farm uses only local hardwood, and their logs are seasoned naturally in the sun and wind.

The “boss” is a scruffy little Yorkshire terrier. When we first received an order the boss had a great time scouting out the grounds. Finding a back door open, he ran into the house for a thorough inspection. We found him in he kitchen enjoying the smells. We clearly passed. Just our sort of professionalism, and just our sort of business.

But much to our disappointment the boss did not come today.

“I brought the wife instead”, the farmer bellowed as he alighted from his vehicle.

I helped the farmer back the cart towards a storehouse. “Quite concerning, what’s happening in Hong Kong,” he said. I replied that it is.

“I didn’t tell you before, but my first wife was half-Chinese. She was Eurasian. We met in Hong Kong.”(註 5)

I was surprised by the connection. But also disappointed by my surprise.

In three years in the UK I have come to appreciate just how connected my former and current homes are — how many people in Britain, from merchant sailors in Birkenhead to the retired diplomat who check my ticket on a heritage railway in Dorset, have a connection with Hong Kong. I have had a lifetime of Hong Kong uncles telling me of provincial the English are, and of how “they all think we speak Japanese in Hong Kong”. Perhaps at one time they did. But as Hong Kongers we should know that people and places change. Prejudice fades slowly.

I did not ask the farmer about his time in Hong Kong, nor what had happened to his Hong Kong wife. From the tone of his voice, I gathered she had passed away. Perhaps I’ll learn a little more next winter, when more logs are needed, and the cart return.

Until then, I’ll take pleasure in the sense of not knowing. It’s a helpful reminder of how little we do know. It is also a reminder how much more there is to know, and how many more surprises still await us.(註 6)

陶傑點評

在英國如何渡過寒冷的冬天?香港人有很多 BBQ 的經驗,但有沒有想過,BBQ 要成功,必須懂得生火,而此技能更是人生必須的知識?可不可以將在香港圍爐生火的經驗,轉而在英國造一個自然的火爐,與你渡過冬天?

作者這篇小品,講英國冬天生活的一些情趣細節,是很親切而實際的體驗。若在英國住下來,就會發現許多生活的細節,與自然連結,其中許多生趣,正是所謂「生活質素」所在,供慢慢發掘,漸漸享受小家庭圍爐取暖之珍貴。

1.

  • 英國的傢具通常設有中央熱水爐系統,連接洗手間和天花板上的一個鍋爐。熱水爐板在客廳和房間都有,由電力確保熱水定時循環,提供暖能量。但這只是工業革命帶來的好處,若要更進一步,就不能只求諸於水,而是人類原始部落的生火藝術了。

2.

  • 在英國渡過冬天,室內的中央暖水系統要時刻開著,這樣未免虛耗電費。40 年前,英國的經濟狀況還沒有從第二次世界大戰中完全恢復過來,許多公寓裡的中央暖水系統,均由吃角子機來控制。放入幾個 50 便士的硬幣,連結計時器,時限一到,熱水爐即停止運作,人可以在半夜冷醒過來。那時候的留學生多有此經驗。
  • 英國的生活樸實,許多中產家庭會計清楚每一分錢,正是避免浪費。有時寧願多穿幾件毛衣,少開兩小時的中央熱水系統。這樣的生活,香港人若有移民之想,及早了解一下也是好的。

3.

  • 於是作者想到,不如另外利用屋裡的壁爐生火取暖。當然,必須要有一個壁爐和煙囪才有這樣的額外樂趣。

4.

  • 原來在壁爐生火之後,熱氣會在煙囪向上冒升,同時可以增加屋內空心牆壁的熱能,生暖四方。

5.

  • 在學習生火的過程中,作者結識了鄰居。附近有一間專門經營柴薪的家族小生意,作者向他購買乾柴。Log 不是細小的柴枝,而是短截的粗木,可為理想的燃料。

6.

  • 原來英國在尚未脫歐之時,連柴薪也可由東歐入口,這樣能保障英國本國的森林。因為英國陰雨的季節很長,樹木濕潤,未必全都適合燒柴。

然而筆鋒一轉,作者與鄰居和小狗,在閒談之下,竟發現彼此都有一段香港的緣分。初次見面,不適宜仔細談問對方的家庭狀況。但在異鄉,生一蘆篝火,無意中燃點起一縷淡淡的鄉愁。

陶傑英文遊花園

香港和台灣,面臨世紀的變局。海外華人居住西方國家,也數目龐大。如何提升英文程度,克服文化隔閡,加強英文能力,在亂世中至關重要。

許多華人都有合理的職業或專業的英文程度,但如何在原有的中學文法訓練基礎之上,探討高層次的英語文化和表達方式,以備融入英語世界主流社會?

本欄介紹評析欣賞英文的寫作細節,分享經驗,歡迎提出不同的評析角度和心得。

※ 此欄文章為作者觀點,不代表本網立場。 ※
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方禮倫(Evan Fowler ) ,本地出生成長、中英交界的香港人,在劍橋和倫敦大學政經學院畢業。現居英國。 英文怎樣能表達得更好?香港的英文教育,著重文法正確、詞彙廣泛。但除了這兩樣,說好的英文、寫好的英文,還要有某種英語的理性與感性思維。 好的英文必清晰、婉約而有教養,與中文寫作文化略有不同。有時借用英文的文化特色,用於中文,可以別具一格。但若有一日移居英語國家,與以英語為母語的當地人溝通,融入主流社會,摸通英文表達藝術的深層結構,會很有用。 方禮倫的英文筆觸細膩,每週五他會以英文與我們見一次面,講述香港和海外華人關心的事情。除了獨特的觀點,其文筆可供英文寫作學習參考。