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Log burning in an Oxfordshire market town

Esther Lafferty on coming face to face with a seemingly-enormous tree sprawled full length across another family’s garden
Esther Lafferty is the anchor of the hugely successful Oxfordshire Artweeks festival and a keen triathlete.

"Is that an axe to kill a rat or a man?"

I’ve been living in a small Oxfordshire market town for eighteen months now.


Along with proximity to a wonderful delicatessen (The Hare in the Woods which sounds tempting to dogs but is actually packed full of tasty treats for humans, and mustn’t be confused with the neighbouring Green Dog Deli that sells delicious organic nutrition for our canine friends), another highlight of the new house is a giant log burner.

It takes up a good proportion of the floor space in the living room and, appealing to his primeval hunting instinct, is one of The Significant Other’s primary pleasures.

This log burner can also eat a sawmill’s annual output in a heartbeat, generating enough heat that we could dispense with clothes altogether around the house – though while I like to think I’m open-minded, such behaviour would have The Teenaged Children heading for the hills faster than a hot rod and could be distinctly awkward for the extended family at Easter.

I was tucked up by the flickering fire, lightly- clothed and wonderfully naïve one evening recently, when The Significant Other came home with the exciting story of a tree that had fallen down in a colleague’s garden. l didn’t realise the impact this news bulletin was going to have on my weekend.

Instead of a Saturday morning enjoying croissants on a tray with a fresh daffodil (of course we do this every week; don’t you?) I found myself in a checked shirt at dawn, face to face with a seemingly-enormous tree sprawled full length across another family’s garden accompanied by a man (The Significant Other) wielding a chainsaw.

Having believed the features in lifestyle magazines that purport to cover rural style, I hadn’t realised that ear defenders and old leather gloves are actually a key part of living the country dream, though I flatter myself that my raspberry-pink accessories added a touch of flair to the proceedings.

And we were off. As Lumberjack’s Assistant, I was responsible for branch dragging and log removing, lumbering back and forth between the diminishing tree trunk and the car boot. It was like a scene from the Canadian Outback: I half expected a giant grizzly bear to materialise from the hedgerow and a couple of beavers with pearly gnashers would certainly have been useful.

I’m rarely pleased that instead of the electric-blue soft top Audi TT of my lottery-winning dreams, I drive a practical family car with enough boot space to stable a horse or two – a Citroën Berlingo. Fortunately we don’t have a horse or two, so there was plenty of capacity to transport half the great outdoors back home, with my hair full of twigs as if I’d be sprawling in the hay.

Because of their size, the logs required cutting down further, a job I turned down as I value my feet too much. The Significant Other was already well-practiced at log splitting on a smaller scale but these monster cabers required a larger axe if they were ever going to fit into the log burner. And that’s when our rural location came in handy: how else would I have a farm-dwelling best friend whom, when asked to borrow an axe, would reply coolly, ‘Of course. Is that an axe to kill a rat or an axe to kill a man?’ I just hope MI5 weren’t listening to local calls for murderous intent and aren’t now tracking suspicious activity in deepest Oxfordshire with a spy satellite trained on our house.

As spring sidles in and it gets too warm for a raging fire in the living room, The Significant Other won’t let a mere thing like the weather dampen his incendiary ambition. He’s taken the winter cover off the chiminea and is outside dangerously brandishing an iron poker with extremist enthusiasm. I wonder if he can be coaxed inside with a flame-grilled pizza?


- Esther Lafferty


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