Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Le Dernier Mot - articles by Samantha David


DERNIER MOT - Doing Up the Stove 


      Last winter when I was riddling the stove, there was a huge bang and a cloud of dust from the firebox which, on investigation, turned out to be the brick lining breaking up.  Little bits of it were crumbling apart and falling into the wood ash below.  Not good.

      The Senior Partner was gloomy.  "Zut alors," he said.  "A new stove is going to cost a fortune."

      Marie-France was more pragmatic.  "Ask the chimney sweep to have a look at it," she said.  "I bet he'll know what to do."  Lucky old Marie-France.  Her husband works for the EDF so she gets unlimited free electricity and heats her house with glamorous modern radiators.

      "That's nothing!" said the chimneysweep when he dropped in later that week to inspect the damage.  "You can mend all that with fireproof cement.  Or mastic."

      "Bricks," said the man in Bricotruc.  "Knock the whole lot out and use firebricks to make a new lining.  Here, I'll give you one to get you going."

      I went home with a brick in my handbag and duly gazed at the stove.  The brick was probably about the same size as the biggest of the holes, although it was hard to tell with all the ash and clinker.

      "Attention!" said Bernadette, when I mentioned it to her.  "You can't light a fire for at least two weeks after you use the cement, you know."

      "I don't know why you're making all this fuss," said her husband, blushing furiously.  "It'll be all right til Easter and once you've let it go out you'll have all summer to deal with it.  I'll come and give you a hand if you like."

      "Her husband is perfectly capable of cementing up a stove!" said Bernadette firmly.  "Aren't you, Monsieur?"

      Alarmed and patently unconvinced, the SP nevertheless nodded and smiled at her and I knew that my fate was sealed.  I'd have to do it myself, and in due course that's precisely what happened.  In May I rolled my sleeves up and had a go at mending a wood-burning stove.

      Amazingly, the worst bit was cleaning the wretched thing up.  Having shovelled all the ash out, I brushed the stones but they still weren't clean so I took the Hoover to it.  This was a mistake because I filled the entire vacuum cleaner with wood ash and soot meaning I had to dismantle and clean the entire gubbins and leave all the components out on the terrace for a week to dry.

      But apart from that, it was easy.  Once the stones were clean, I scrubbed them with water and while the whole stove was still nice and wet, I bodged the firebrick into the largest hole and covered all the walls inside the firebox with a good thick layer of fireproof cement.  I promise you, it wasn't any more tricky than icing a cake, and didn't take much longer either.  I used my trusty kitchen palette knife.

      I was thrilled.  In fact, I got so enthusiastic that I used the remaining cement to shore up the railings outside the front door which have wobbled ever since Joris ran into them on his mini-tractor.

      All of which made this winter's ceremonial stove-lighting even more special than usual.  Would the fire take?  Or would the new cement simply crack and fall out?  I lit the touch paper, put the lid on and stood back.  A faint crackling noise, a murmur, a hum, and then a full-scale roar announced that all was well.  The stove was alight, the cooking season was officially open again.

      My pride and joy.   


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