In rural France, where mains gas is just a pipe dream (so to speak) and electricity comes through overhead cables and so is more than usually vulnerable to disruption, whether from a coup de foudre or a particularly oafish tractor driver, the use of wood for cooking and heating is pretty much de rigeur. The practical downside to woodburning stoves, of course, is that you have to have to keep refueling them. In other words, you need logs – and plenty of them.
More than that, the logs have to be stored in a dry place, so an abri de buches is an essential bit of kit. Abris come in many shapes and sizes, from free-standing buildings to simple tarpaulin covers, but we chose a middle path and picked up a flat pack version from a builders’ merchant.
At this point I must explain that, given my monumental ineptitude when it comes to any degree of manual dexterity or the need to follow a schematic set of instructions (don’t even get me started on IKEA), for our purposes self-assembly means that Sugar Magnolia assembles while I stand around offering encouragement and generally getting in the way. Anyway, secure in the knowledge that it had been put together by somebody who actually knew what they were doing, we were soon ready to get some logs to put into our new acquisition.
Conveniently, Tranquility Base has its very own resident wood seller, who keeps his stock in a field about a hundred yards from Brokedown Palace, on the other side of the pond. We wandered up the lane while he was merrily splitting tree trunks, with what looked like a particularly brutal instrument of torture, and ordered a ‘cord’ of logs.
The next morning, in exchange for un cafe and 165 euros, a small mountain of wood was dumped outside our back door. As brute force and ignorance is much more my metier, the task of transferring the logs into the abri fell to me. So, after lunch, I equipped myself with the necessities for the task – a pair of sturdy gloves and a Dead show on the iPod – and set about my manly toil.
A cord, apparently, is about three cubic metres of closely packed logs which, given the dimensions of our abri, should theoretically all have fitted inside. After a couple of hours the abri was packed to where the rafters would have been if it had any, but more than half of the delivery was still lying about in a haphazard and markedly unsheltered manner. Obviously, my definition of closely packed erred on the side of generosity. Fortunately, we had a fallback plan: the rest of the wood was stacked on a tarpaulin and covered with another.
Finally I stood back, wiped my brow and surveyed my work, not without some feeling of achievement. It had proved to be a surprisingly therapeutic – as well as sweaty – experience. While the logs are cut to more or less the same length, their cross sections vary considerably. Consequently, there is a degree of intellectual challenge in stacking the logs so that the pile is neat and stable. The process is rather akin to building a dry stone wall – not that I ever have, I hasten to add (although I do stack a mean dishwasher).
At this point Albert, our nearest neighbour, made an appearance. Of course he had seen our logs being delivered and wished to update himself on progress. He probably also fancied a laugh. “Would you like to see our abri?” we asked: damn’ right he would. He looked at it silently for a few moments then spoke: “C’est bon”.
This was either praise indeed or the height of good manners. Then he indicated that we should follow him. He led us into his garden and made his way to a shed, about the size of a garage; at least ten abris worth. Smiling, he opened the door: it was completely, and I mean completely, full of logs and you would struggle to slide a piece of paper between them. Now that’s an abri, and I know my place.