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）
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？
- 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。
- 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。