A tree in the garden has turned such a deep shade of scarlet, it looks as if it’s on fire. I picture huddling around as the weather gets colder, an environmentally-friendly living fire pit. Its neighbours are also tinged with russet and pink, as if hoping Hoolet can compete with New England in the fall.

Nearby, the crab apple is so clustered with yellow fruit there are scarcely enough branches to hold them. I dread the morning when I wake to find it snapped beneath their weight. Already it’s tilted at 90 degrees, as if under attack by a hurricane. This tree, if not as old as the cottage, must be at least a hundred. Hoary with lichen, it has survived this plot’s various configurations, as grazing land, barn yard, vegetable plot, cottage garden, and doubtless much else we’ll never know about.

As I lean on the back gate to take in the view, splashes of crimson light up the woods. They’re a lick of lipstick on a hillside the colour of toasted cheese. It’s the time of year when foliage is dazzling, the last hurrah before trees become skeletons, and fallen leaves turn into mush or mulch.

So far the autumn has been balmy, although that hasn’t stopped harvest mice invading a friend’s scullery in search of warmth and snacks. There have been other unwelcome intrusions too. A recent stormy spell was followed by a bloom of damp on two of our bedroom walls. As I write, the roofer has just arrived and set up his ladder, searching for a puncture in the flashing. He likes a challenge, and these stubbornly porous walls are certainly putting his deductive powers to the test. We thought he’d fixed the problem a couple of years ago, but it seems 48 hours of horizontal rain has outwitted us.

The sweep cleaned the bedroom chimney a few days ago, along with two others downstairs. He suggested putting a cowl on it, to prevent rain falling into the grate and birds building nests. When I asked if that was something he could do, he was reluctant, not liking the height of our gable. He recalled going up the Euromast tower in Rotterdam when he was younger. As the glass lift reached the top, over 100 metres from the ground, he kept his eyes shut, unnerved by the glass floor and the drop beneath his feet. I can’t stand on the top rung of a ladder without holding onto the wall, so I know how he feels. Thankfully the roofer, who is as happy in the realm of birds as on the golf course, will be doing that for us too.

Sweeps are working flat-out this month, as people start looking forward to roaring fires. Ours left the house backwards, rolling up his dust sheets as he exited through the front door on his knees. He left not a single smut of soot.

The rising price of fuel is a worry for everyone, and there’s a sense of trepidation as oil tanks are filled and logs stacked. How much will the next delivery cost, assuming it even arrives? Now that our garden shed has been stuffed with lawn mower, bike and tools, we have turned the summer house into a log store overspill.

With one wall insulated by rough-hewn ash, the place smells deliciously like a sauna. I suppose if there is a severe shortage of timber this winter the summerhouse itself could be sacrificed, plank by plank. It’s more the scenario for an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story than the Scottish borders, but these are no ordinary times.

In light of the present petrol and gas crisis – among other major issues - the bigger question of how we sustainably heat our houses long-term will have to wait. For the moment, the cost of keeping warm is uppermost in most people’s minds. I think of those nitwits in the Westminster government who regularly discuss scrapping pensioners’ winter fuel allowance, without a notion of the months of sodden cold those in the north must endure. When I first discovered our car has heated seats, I suggested that if ever we run out of oil, we can turn on the ignition and warm ourselves up. But it felt in bad taste after hearing about families who, unable to heat the house, have to take the children out for a drive because the car is the only warm place they can offer.

Hardship on that scale is desperate. Being on the bread line is both frightening and degrading, whether it’s in town or country. Yet although rural deprivation is estimated to account for only 16% of Scottish poverty, it comes with uniquely difficult problems. These include greater distances to travel for work and services, poor or non-existent public transport, lack of childcare, and the impact of social exclusion and invisibility. The effect of low incomes on children and young people who live in rural areas is insidious, blighting their prospects before they’ve had a chance to get going. For the elderly, whether it’s loneliness, malnutrition or underheated homes, the consequences can be deadly.

And yet people criticise the Insulate movement. If ever they’d spent the first three months of the year in a freezing, damp, draughty house, whose ill-fitting windows and doors allow all the heat to escape, they might view them with more sympathy. Cold can be crippling, mentally and physically. Telling people to do star jumps or put on another jumper doesn’t begin to address the root of the problem. Whatever your age, there’s nothing idyllic or romantic about living in the countryside when the elements are your enemy. No wonder some retreat to bed early or clutch hot water bottles all day long.

Many pets enjoy better conditions, as friends discovered when they booked their dog into kennels for a few nights. Among other luxuries provided, they were told, were underfloor heating and television in each kennel. Television? A neighbour suggested this probably meant CCTV, not Strictly Come Dancing, which reassured them the world had not gone completely mad.

Back in Hoolet Cottage, the roofer has already strapped his ladder back on his van and headed for his next job. To his amazement, he quickly found and patched up the source of both leaks. He’s not called Sherlock Holmes without reason.

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