“Winter, 1978. I am seven and I’m standing in a wood. Before me is a man with a beard and a blackened face. Dust has settled around his eyes like eyeliner, giving him the look of a silent film villain. This man isn’t of our time – he is a throwback, a relic, a man versed in a strange alchemy. This is the charcoal burner.”
My charcoal is sold in 3kg bags, enough for three average-sized family barbecues. Inside each bag you will find charcoal made from a mixture of species, most typically: oak, ash, hazel, beech, maple and thorn. This blend heats fast and is ready to cook on almost immediately. It also lights freely – a match and a few twists of newspaper are all you need.
My name is Ben Short. I am a charcoal burner and woodsman, working in the Dorset countryside. This was not always the case. Eight years ago I was an advertising writer plying my trade in London. But the work left me unsatisfied and I no longer wanted to continue in that business.
With that chapter closing, my only wish was to get back to the country. This desire was accompanied by a lurking sense of inadequacy – that while I’d made good in my chosen career, back in the real world, where practical ability mattered, I was useless.
There is a joy to hedge laying and anyone who does it, or watches it being done, is rarely immune – it’s not difficult to see why. A laid hedge, whether it be the impressive staked and bound ‘bullock hedge’ of the Midlands, or the more modest banked and ditched variety of the West Country, is a rural sculpture, a piece of land art.
Unlike other firewood merchants I do not buy my wood in: all of it is garnered from local jobs I’ve done. Some material may come from thinning programmes, other material from trees felled or pollarded during hedge work.
I only deal in seasoned, hardwood logs. This wood I store in cords at my yard, until the time comes when the blanks are split and barn-stored for several months to complete the drying process. This winter (2018-19) I will have three year old beech available, as well as ash, oak and some alder. I deliver free of charge (within 10 miles of Powerstock) using a hi-capacity pick up. It has a load bed of 1.6 cubic metres. This equates to approx 450 logs when full.
The original meaning of ‘copse work’ was the making of coppice products within the wood – stuff like sheep hurdles, cleft ash gates, clogs and chair legs. I’ve appropriated the term for use in a wider sense – to describe the practice of woodland husbandry, the nurturing and harvesting of a particular wood.
The following extracts are samples of my writing.
They are taken from several sources – published editorial, notebook jottings and from a manuscript for a book I’m writing.
I’ve previously contributed to The Countryman and have also been published online by nature writing specialist, Little Toller Books.
I am available for editorial commissions – when not dodging smoke.
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