Goodbye, coal and wood

2/22/2020 Cogitation 8

Air pollution, estimated to cause 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, is coming in for mitigation in a crackdown on wood burners. News reports on Friday revealed the UK government is banning the sale of bagged coal and wet (unseasoned) wood for domestic use effective February 2021, with a prohibition on the use of these fuels by 2023.

It’s near unimaginable, the disappearance of glowing hearths. Oh, dry wood will be fine for a time, but the dangers of air pollution remain.

Oliver Duff, editor of on 21 February wrote, “The bad news for the 1.5 million of us who use open hearths or wood burners is the mounting evidence that the pollution they cause can be lethal. Tiny, invisible particles known as PM2.5 (200 times smaller than a grain of sand) are easily inhaled and can enter the bloodstream, lungs and brain. These have been linked to heart disease, cancer, strokes and more recently dementia. . . . Joyless, yes, but in 20 years’ time we will wonder why we carried on inhaling this stuff for so long.”

Who knew? It may take some time to come to terms with the eclipse from time immemorial of open fires fueled by wood or coal.

These warm the heart

Expected and unexpected happenings during our first week in Cornwall warmed our hearts. For instance, we knew Carbis Bay had lost its post office. Did we have to go into St Ives to post a letter? No, we learned that the West Cornwall Mobile Post Office came to the village’s Memorial Hall, Tuesday and Thursday, 9:15-11:45. On Tuesday, we made it, with minutes to spare, gratefully warmed that our letter, with proper postage, was on its way across the pond. This van serves nine communities.

Customer service comes calling to nine communities in a Mobile Post Office.

On Wednesday we took the bus to Penzance and walked to the Tolcarne Inn in Newlyn for lunch. Since it was school half-term, the tables were either filled or reserved. There was a table for two free, but in fairly cramped quarters. A man sitting at a round table in a corner came over and invited us to share his space. His kind gesture and subsequent engaging conversation warmed our day.

The gentleman is a regular at the Tolcarne, stopping in for a glass of wine and chips with dipping sauce, though on Wednesday he had taken a full meal, complete with dessert. He walks to Penzance for groceries (ready-made to heat up for his main evening meal). He has claimed this spot and table at the Tolcarne since his wife died nine years ago. He also joins the Thursday evening crowd for quiz night, not anything competitive, he said, just a jovial time of group fun. The Tolcarne has been a gathering place since 1717.

The Tolcarne Inn in Newlyn, the UK’s major fishing port.
We’re walking beside Mounts Bay from Newlyn to Penzance, the Jubilee Pool jutting into the sea, touched by a rainbow, and on the horizon, rises St Michael’s Mount.

Warmed by people, place, footpaths

We’re warmed by getting reacquainted with people at St Anta & All Saints Church, the folks at the butcher shop in St Ives, staff at the library, anticipated meeting up with friends in the West Cornwall Footpaths Preservation Society, the footpaths ahead once they’ve had a chance to dry out (we’ve stuck mostly to pavements, aka sidewalks, so far), and contact with family and friends at home across the pond.

And who won’t be warmed by the sight of spring flowers, blossoms, and budding trees. Plus a refreshing cup of tea or coffee.

Warmed by posies

A solitary daffodil bends over in wind and rain. Later we passed by again and, so sadly, the flower had been plucked and dropped onto the pavement.
Crocuses, one of the earliest flowers of spring.
A container of primroses at Tregenna Castle, one of our lunch destinations.
That’s a Hebe (hi bi) bush, friend Margaret told us.
Primroses greet us from dry stone hedges and cultivated beds,

Storm Dennis brings devastation

The UK has been pounded by two storms a week apart and continuing rain and wind. The flooding has devastated whole communities, covered farm land, snarled travel, endangered human life. To the question, “How long will it take to recover?” one can pose the corresponding question, “How long is a string?” The area where we are is fine.

The images below come from the evening news. It’s hard to say anything helpful in response to such catastrophic and widespread devastation. People have lost their home, their business, their assurance of quick or lasting recovery.

That’s a gas fireplace on the left in our flat.

One thing is reassuring, that is seeing how communities are coming together to help each other. That’s a big part of the equation, as is the response of the local councils and national government. Short and long range, the climate crisis hits individuals, families, communities, nations, the globe, between the eyes. Really, what stares us in the face is the urgent question of what it means to be human. Only bold and decisive measures will keep the globe below the recommended temperature rise of 1.5C by 2100.

Encouragingly, climate change is a matter the UK is actively addressing.

A recent news report notes that for the country to reach zero carbon emission by 2050, the future of motoring will shift radically. Whether it will be 2035 or 2030, those are projected dates when motorists will be able to buy only electric and hydrogen cars and vans. No longer will new petrol, diesel, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles be manufactured and registered.

The implications of the climate crisis are gutting. Solutions lie within reach, politically and philosophically, as posed earlier, in attitudes and actions that warm to a new frontier of what it means to be human. We will reach safe harbours through personal actions, community initiatives, and leaders who step up to the challenges of governing public life.

The week’s gallery

This Memorial to Fishermen Lost at Sea, in Newlyn, by Tom Leaper, was dedicated in 2007.
Just happened to be passing by.
Looking west over St Ives. St Ives and Carbis Bay are on the South West Coast Path.
Carbis Water cascades through Carbis valley and shortly empties into the Atlantic.
Heather bush, awaiting a visitation of bees.
Magnolia tree bursting into bloom.

I’m grateful for my fleece sweater, hooded rain jacket, waterproof shoes, footpaths, dearest life partner, family and friends and acquaintances, good health, pharmacists, heating in good repair, home and home from home, news media, books, choices in food and drink, clean air, fond fireside memories, renewable energy, winter’s lull, spring’s awakening, pocket camera, past and present, butterflies, disaster responders, faith community, surprises, hope. And, below, a bouquet of daffodils in our lounge window.


12 thoughts on “Goodbye, coal and wood

  1. Climate change is certainly something to ponder. Seems impossible to think an open fireplace can be a problem. The one thing I know is that change is a constant in this human journey. And that change is inevitable and also a good thing. Glad to hear you are safe where you live. Oh to live near water, the healing benefits of water. I look forward to more pictures of the flowers blooming because it will be some time before spring flowers bloom here.


    1. Thanks, Kaye, fire, water, air, essential elements to keep us grounded, eh? As are pictures real and imagined. We, too, are disappointed, chagrined in fact, to see the ill-effects of burning coal and unseasoned wood. Manufactured alternatives exist, but they’re not same. An occasional bonfire at the farm, with dry wood, is still to be enjoyed, not? Best!


  2. Sounds like you’ve arrived in time for a few good weeks of Cornish winter (not like Indiana winter, however). Hope you can enjoy the stormy days as well as the ones when you can smell spring coming. That’s what happened when I opened our back door this morning — spring freshness was filling the warm air I encountered. Kudos to the Brits for their progressive actions on climate change!


    1. Thanks, Marlene. We’re faring well from afar. We’re getting more than a fair share of wind and rain, though, with the third disturbance, Storm Jorge, set to arrive the last weekend of February. Not to complain, we are getting out and also doing domestic chores, just like home. Spring smells and sights are a true tonic. Gives me the goal to take a cuppa out on the patio between showers and high winds.


    1. Yes, Phyllis, an electric fireplace will be in our sights down the road. There are alternate manufactured fuels, and the less danger from dry wood, but nothing to completely mitigate the particle dangers. I still will find pleasure in the occasional burning of a backyard fire pit. And memories of ghost stories told around a camp fire.


  3. Hello John and Marty,
    A most entertaining read. We also enjoyed the many photos. It seems early to have such an abundance of flowers….
    Do take care
    Grace & Don


    1. Good to hear from you, Grace. Cornwall has a type of subtropical climate, well given to growing flowers and vegetable crops, especially cauliflower and potatoes. The rains this year have been devastating all across the country, with major rivers at and beyond record levels, flooding fields and towns. We’re fine where we are, though I’m guessing farmers are having some trouble with planting new crops and also with harvesting cauliflower.


    1. Flowers appear wherever one looks, wild and managed, wonderful sights all. You’d set a proper slow walker’s pace, Frances.


    1. Ha, ha. Natural gas has it limitations, but that’s what we’re cooking with and on occasion turning on in our fireplace. People must be having a hard time finding dry wood since a farmer told us yesterday that it has rained every week since the end of September.


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