My Stories: Driftwood Toast

In a previous story I told you about an experience with large waves at Hornsea. I also told you, in another story, about my Dad’s less than stereotypical approach to cars. This story brings those two threads together again.

When I was younger we lived in a house that still had an open fire. This type of fire were, at that time, being replaced with gas stoves across the UK. There’s something magical about a proper fire though. There are environmental concerns also, but there’s something primal about our connection with fire.

In this particular house the open fire wasn’t the main form of heating we had, as I remember, central heating. This left the open fire for special occasions and when it was very cold. The only thing I remember being burnt on the fire were logs. The logs were stored outside in a semi-neat pile at the back of the concrete garage. The logs got to the pile in one of two ways; they were extracted from people’s gardens (with their permission of course, another story for another day) or they were picked up as driftwood on the beach. I don’t know whether he did but I can’t imagine my Dad ever buying logs.

Collecting driftwood was something we would do on winter weekends. Summer weekends were spent at the allotment, but once the weather had changed it was time to walk the beaches and bring back whatever we found. This was mostly an opportunistic activity, we weren’t at the beach to fill a quota of wood, we were going to see what we could see.

On these adventures the car always had a trusty bow-saw deposited in the boot and we would go combing.

In the particular area of the east coast of England where I was raised there are miles and miles of beaches, the North sea is also a significant shipping route and the two together made for lots of discoveries. There were five of us on these excursions and we could carry pretty much anything we found. I have in my mind carrying a large log on our shoulders, my Dad, my brother and me. In my imagination this piece of wood is a broad tree-trunk and over 2 metres long. As I think about it now, I’m not sure how that worked because we would have been radically different heights, so perhaps that’s not quite how it was.

Having recovered our spoils we would stand at the back of the car sawing up pieces of wood so that they would fit in the boot. These eccentricities always gained us a certain amount of attention from others on the beach, some of it admiring, some more scornful.

Once back at home the bounty would be cut up into fire sized logs and placed onto the log-pile to dry.

Once the days work had been completed, but only on certain occasions, one of my parents (my Dad mostly I think) would lay the fire and we’d all sit around and watch it burn. We knew which of the logs were driftwood because they would burn in different colours, magical greens and blues, because of the sea-salt in them. Sometimes the fire would struggle to get going and my Dad would place a piece of newspaper over the fireplace, covering the fire, to get the draw going. He’d do this with his forehead on the newspaper against the top of the fireplace and his arms outstretched to the sides to spread the newspaper out. My Mum never seemed happy about this course of actions. I remember being fascinated by the way the flames would start to grow and and eventually roar as the air swept passed them up the chimney.

Normally the time would come for toast, or crumpets, which we would toast over the firewood with a long brass toasting fork. We would argue about who’s turn it was to go first because we were so eager for that unique flavour of wood-fire toasted bread, melted butter and home-made jam.

I still love to sit and watch an open fire.

For those of you who can’t imagine me as a small person I thought I would include a picture that I recently came across. I’m the one with the arms crossed (not looking at my sister):

Chastney Family

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