When we moved into this house, a late Victorian semi, we had the fireplace in the living room opened up and the chimney swept. During the winter months one of the few consolations when it is dark and cold outside is to be able to light a real ‘living’ fire and sit mesmerised in its glow.

The builder who did the work at the time couldn’t fully understand the attraction. He had probably ‘modernised’ many houses by ripping out fireplaces. ‘You can always put in a gas coal-effect fire later’ he reassured us, assuming that we would soon grow tired of the work and mess involved with a real fire.

We don’t mind emptying the ash pan, and fetching more coal from the bunker outside (not coal really, but smokeless briquettes) and neither do we mind sweeping a little dust from the hearth. However, the worst part of the whole business is lighting the fire. Ray Mears might be able to get his campfire going with a flint and some dry moss (and perhaps a cigarette lighter when the cameras aren’t rolling) but I find it a bit hit and miss. Crumpled newspaper goes in first, then a few kindling sticks on top of a smelly firelighter. Put the ‘coal’ on top (without knocking the sticks off the firelighter) then light the paper. If you get it right, the crumpled newspaper burns and in turn lights the firelighter, then the sticks, then the solid fuel.

Sometimes the paper burns out before the flame reaches the firelighter. Or there isn’t enough wood and, after an encouraging first few minutes, it all goes dark and cold. So then you have to try and get some more wood and another firelighter under the pile of fuel and start again. It’s partly my ineptitude, I admit. But also this stuff is much harder to get going than actual coal. It doesn’t burn as prettily either, but coal isn’t legal around here as we live in a ‘smoke control area’ under the Clean Air Act 1993 which states

Dark smoke shall not be emitted from a chimney of any building, and if, on any day, dark smoke is so emitted, the occupier of the building shall be guilty of an offence.

It’s also more expensive than coal too, and with higher oil prices (an ingredient, apparently) we are paying about £18 per 50kg sack, delivered. All this I could live with however, if I could light it more easily.

So I thought about the gas poker we used years ago in another house. It was nothing more than a flattened pipe with holes, connected by a flexible tube to a gas tap adjacent to the fireplace. Jab that under the coal and let the gas burn for a few minutes, and you had a roaring fire. They are still available, apparently and inexpensive, but we would have to pay quite a lot to have a gas tap installed.

Then I saw an advert for the ‘Grenadier’ electric fire lighter which sits on a flimsy looking stand blowing hot air. They have been going for years but Jamie Oliver say he likes them so sales have probably rocketed. Not cheap, however at £116.95 plus £9.75 delivery.

The internet then came up with another make of electric fire lighter, called the Looftlighter and Swedish in origin. This one is hand-held – more like a stubby light sabre in brushed aluminium – and kicks out 2kW as against the Grenadier’s 1100W. I bought one from Eve’s Orchard for a mere £37.95 including overnight delivery. Great product, great service.

I lit a fire this evening without wood, smelly firelighters or newspaper. Unlike the Grenadier, you have to hold the unit, close to the coal and keep the button pressed. At first I thought it wasn’t going to work. Then a few sparks appeared and before long a fierce white flame was being fanned by these high-tech bellows. Once I removed the Looftlighter, the flame all but disappeared but the super-heated coal continued glowing and eventually the glow spread to the rest.

One idiosyncrasy is the inclusion of a bottle opener in the design of the stand! This presumably reflects the fact that the Looftlighter is primarily intended for barbecue lighting. But in reality who is going to open bottles with a bulky, hot fire lighter? And on the subject of safety I think the Grenadier’s removable key would be a good idea, or at least some method of child-proofing. Also, when I unplugged it, I got a tiny shock from one of the plug terminals.

Overall I am delighted with the Looftlighter* and would definitely recommend Eve’s Orchard.

*See this post for an update.

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