SNAP, crackle and pop – no, not the sound of breakfast, but of the log-burning stove that hides out in our back room, like an outlaw evading justice. Come evening, its leaping flames and molten embers are not just a comfort, but the buffer between us and hypothermia.

There’s one in the front room too. Unlike most fugitives from the law, these sleek metal cubes are impossible to keep entirely under cover. You can’t disguise them with brushwood or kick the ash into the undergrowth. The tell-tale curl of smoke, the giveaway woody fragrance, is like Billy the Kid lighting up a cigar and signalling his position to the sheriff’s men and their bloodhounds.

We have no plan in place for the first sound of sirens. Lying awake in the wee small hours, I anticipate the night-time raid when vigilantes screech up at the door, to drag our stoves off to the scrap heap and give us foil blankets in which to wrap ourselves until the Borders winter is over.

If you live in the countryside, there’s a cruel irony in learning that the age-old custom of burning wood for warmth is falling out of favour. As you look at six-lane highways of nose-to-tail traffic, or city streets clogged with belching buses, or industrialised farms, where fields are sprayed with carcinogenic weedkillers and pesticides, it is hard to credit that the humble log stove is the most evil of them all.

There’s no denying that air pollution in built-up areas is a horrendous health hazard, and must be tackled fast. Nor that it probably has shocked us all to discover how toxic burning wood is, accounting for 38 per cent of the UK’s deadly fine particulate emissions. But if you live, as I do, in a part of the country beyond reach of gas pipes, your options are limited. In these circumstances, a stove is not a lifestyle choice, it is a necessity. One neighbour, tired of lugging logs, had her stove removed, and now relies on electric storage heaters. Boy, does she regret it. These days her bills are horrifying. By the same token, if we relied only on our oil-fuelled central heating, we’d be making Russia and Saudi Arabia richer by the hour.

Surely the issue is not the need or desire for a living fire, but the quality of stove installed? Fuel guzzlers, with high emissions, are the equivalent of diesel engines, and should be phased out or simply banned from sale, as Michael Gove has proposed. Green models, however, can be 89 per cent efficient, or higher. Until all our power comes from renewable sources, then that is demonstrably a responsible way to keep cosy.

The appeal of dancing flames means the log-burning stove has become a middle-class must-have, the new Aga or SUV. I don’t really see the need for any of these in towns or suburbs, but nor do I want to become an eco-judge, mentally rating people’s choices on a environmentally friendly scale. As far as I can see, few of us can claim to be angels when it comes to saving the planet.

The image used to sell these stoves – ultra stylish with pad to match – usually includes spotless cream rugs and householders lounging like lizards in bare feet as they bask in the heat. Trust me, it’s not like that around here. Even with the fire roaring, we are wearing so many clothes we weigh more than the wardrobe.

Nor would a pale carpet be wise. Logs, ash and sparks are messy. The lifestyle that tending a fire entails is not a page from a Scandinavian guide to the cosy delights of hygge, more a chapter from Walden Pond. Logs are delivered on a pallet or in a crate, by crane from the back of a lorry. Once dumped by the garden gate, they must be carried and stacked in a secure, dry place. Not just any logs, either, but kiln-dried (and preferably hardwood), to reduce their moisture content and smoke. Failing which, they require a couple of years in storage before they’re good to use.

At the rear of the house by the wood store is my husband’s playground, with chopping block, saw, axe, and rigger’s gloves. It’s where he dismembers the pallet the wood arrived on for kindling, not to mention any other unwanted piece of unpainted wood that could be burned.

Earlier this week, after calculating how long the supply will last, I ordered more logs. Oil, too, the day after. That’s the thing about not flicking a switch, or paying a monthly direct debit. Fire is the original and most basic way of staying warm. Throwing a log on to the grate is like fishing pounds from your purse: a tangible and measurable outlay. There’s nothing like it for making you thrifty, careful not to squander resources.

A process that gives you splinters and sooty hands is neither chic nor cool. It is the opposite of convenient or casual. Yet when heat fills the room, you really feel you’ve earned it. Is that so terrible?

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