19 Jan

I have just got back on my boat this week, after being kept off here by the height of the latest river Severn flood. It's a seasonal issue of us - the pontoon rises to keep the boat safe but it means we can't get on to it from the bank - frustrating, as my husband is deprived of his PTSD haven - but we have a lovely, warm home, so we know we're lucky. Last time on the boat was the Saturday before Christmas and to get back on this week was bliss, after battling with padlock on the pontoon gate, which had been under 14ft of water and then froze, but we got it open in the end - WD40 and a flask of hot water does it, experience has taught us!

Ice brings it's own problems for narrowboats.

So it was coats and hats on, gloves too, while we light the multi-fuel stove and waited for it to warm the boat. An hour and it was toasty and it seemed a crime to have to let it go out when we went home! There's a "fashion" at the moment to demonise those of us who use wood burning and multifuel stoves - yes, Greta and co, I am referring to you! It's perceived, by some, as a middle-class fashion accessory for the living room - one we should shun because it's dirty. Don't get me wrong, I know smoke pollutes but people have huddled around a campfire since the stone age - long before we invented the infernal combustion engine (deliberate mistake, before anyone starts), and the like. Stop people block paving their drives for the 3 or 4 cars they have to have, before you ban stoves - block paving causes flash flooding, as it doesn't allow water to drain naturally away through the soil surface and trees and plants are uprooted so people's houses have kerb appeal - I'm not a fan, can you tell? 

For many continuous cruisers on boats, collecting, drying and storing wood is a constant job, and the only way some can afford to heat their boats. The glow of a camp fire is one of the big giveaways for often well hidden, encampments of homeless. Many more people would literally freeze to death if denied access to this most basic of human skills. I know blue-light responders who have had the sad task of discovering some poor soul who's never woken up from a winter night in a tent. They never forget it.

 The military does equip us with the skills to survive in the rough and it's a craft many owe their lives to in times of conflict. Few service leavers thought they'd need the skill to survive on civvy street - but many rely on them. The ability to created fire being one of them. I wish it was a "cleaner" way to keep warm but it is, what it is. I was once berated by a lady - we shall call her - for having a bit of smoke coming out of my chimney. "Do you have children? And grand children?" I asked. "4 children and 11 grandchildren!" she announced proudly. "Well I have neither - so they aren't adding to the pollution and global warming problems with everything they "need". And that's my contribution to helping save the planet, and it's a big one - so leave me alone with my multifuel stove!" I told her. She looked perplexed - just didn't get it - and possibly you won't either, but I hope you will. 

My point is that we all need to stay warm, and while those of us burning the oldest, most natural and sustainable form of heating there is are currently frowned upon, many don't have cars, or central heating. It may be through necessity, but a family which has neither gas nor oil central heating, or is able to run a car, must surely off-set a fair proportion of the carbon debt they have from the burning of wood or coal. I am sure there is a raft of statistics to prove me right or wrong - not going to bore you with them - but surely common sense says there is a balance to be struck somewhere? Because for some poor souls, this cold snap we are having, that pile of blankets piled in a shop door, may be their only shelter this winter and one they won't wake up from and so, to my mind, that natural fire shouldn't be made a crime.

Lizzie Lane - Co-chair, The Forces Veterans Afloat Charitable Trust, 19th January 2024. 

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