I dimly remember a time when the subject of keeping a house warm would have left me cold. In a previous existence, my brother-in law would visit in the depths of winter and complain about how chilly the place was. The problem was not our thermostat, however, but that he chose to sit in a bay window overlooking the Firth of Forth, through which the wind would find him in his short-sleeved shirt.

Here in the heart of the Borders, I look back on that flat with nostalgia. Aside from the occasional draught which we could dodge by retreating to the back room, it was wonderfully toasty. This was in large part thanks to generous neighbours above and below whose central heating kept us permanently cocooned.

In the country, as I quickly learned, in winter there are two main subjects of conversation: weather and warmth, but the greater of these is warmth. Hoolet, like many villages around here, has no gas supply, so central heating runs either by electricity or oil. The topic of electricity bills leads to much sucking in of breath, although there was one couple whose house somehow escaped the notice of the electricity board.

Only when they sold up and the new owners found they weren’t being charged did it become clear why there had always been such a blazing array of Christmas lights in this particular garden. Rumour has it that, years earlier, a woman in this area greased a palm and had her meter diverted to a lamp-post. It took a while before the extraordinarily high reading was finally noticed and an investigation began. Soon she was tracked down, along with her cannabis plants.

The day is approaching when we’ll all have to switch to renewables, but in the meantime our radiators drink oil. Every few days I check the gauge on the tank in the garden, half-closing my eyes as I pull out the pin and watch it drop one inch, then two. Since it can take over a week between ordering and getting a refill, you have to estimate how long it will last. If nothing else, becoming aware of every drop of oil you use does mean that, while it’s the least environmentally friendly of fuels, it is never squandered. One friend is so thrifty her grandchildren have renamed her house The Baltic.

Long before, and after, they became fashionable, everyone around here wears a gilet. People only come to their doors in a tee-shirt if they’ve been interrupted in the process of layering. I was watching a western the other night and saw a tobacco-spitting rancher on his porch, rifle under his stained armpit. What caught my attention was his long-johns, the sort that reach from ankle to chin to wrist, with buttons down the front. They’re exactly what I need.

Other than the relief of seeing the orange lights of the oil tanker arriving in the pitch black of a winter’s morning, there is nothing interesting about oil. Our other source of heat, however, is wood-burning stoves, and on this subject I could win Mastermind. We have two, which possibly saved my husband’s life. When the Beast From the East descended on Hoolet, he was left with a gaping hole in the kitchen wall where the boiler had been taken out moments before the blizzard started. The heating engineers fled to get over Soutra Hill before they were snowed in, and his ordeal began: two log fires and two hot water bottles to get him through five days until the roads reopened. When he went into the kitchen to cook dinner, he had to wear hat and gloves as well as his puffa jacket.

There is nothing more comforting in the cold than a roaring fire. In rural parts this is not a lifestyle choice but an absolute necessity. Of an evening we get through about five logs, which is enough to keep a large room really cosy. When we started out, we were so ignorant we’d never even heard the phrase “kiln dried” and – I’m going beetroot just thinking about it – we bought logs in bags from B&Q. Now, having found a good supplier, and with our own woodstore, the first thing we notice as we drive around the area is other people’s woodpiles.

Some are works of art, high as a gable end and stacked so expertly they’re as solid as drystane dykes. A few keep them in a ramshackle heap, out in the open, where they soak up the rain. Quite apart from the level of emissions wet wood produces, which is why it’s high on the government’s hit-list, it is far less efficient, generating less warmth and more smoke. But if you’re patient, green wood dries out – I’ve heard you should wait two years for anything you’ve cut down yourself. My father would have scoffed at that, as he’d bring the car to a sudden halt, nip out and drag a huge storm-tossed branch into the boot – “tidying up the countryside” as he put it. Back home, he stoked the flames so high we had to push the furniture back against the walls and open the living room door.

The other day we had a delivery of ash, dumped in front of the house in a crate big enough to hold a wild boar. As the lumberjack was in bed barking like a sea-lion, it fell to me to deal with it. I was well on my way when Lazarus rose from the duvet to check on the proceedings and pointed out that I was laying them sideways rather than end-on. As the sun disappeared and clouds gathered I started again. By this time a neighbour had spotted me, and helped me finish the job.

The sense of satisfaction in having it all safely stored, shortly before snowfall, was incalculable. That’s the thing about wood. The connection between you and the trees you’re burning creates a new respect and understanding. For a start, freshly chopped logs give off a delicious scent. And each one is different – whorled, fissured, misshapen, or neatly wedged like a giant slice of cake. If you chose to count the rings you’d see how many years had gone into making a blaze that lasts only a few hours.