Bangonomics and free firewood

After the recent torrential rains work continues to clear up the mess. The roads are in a poor state, with pot-holes everywhere, and some vehicles are better at dealing this than others. Not for me low-profile tyres on expensive alloy wheels; these are far too vulnerable to damage, and low front spoilers are a poor choice when you live up a mountain track. In any case, neither of these features are present in any vehicle I’m likely to own, and here’s why.

I’m a recent convert to what my friend Steve – a former colleague – calls “Bangonomics”. Steve is a down-to-earth Liverpudlian with a rich sense of humour and no time for unnecessary frills. He’s proud of never having paid more than £1000 for any car. Not for him the thrill of that shiny showroom look, nor the pain of that ferocious first-year depreciation. When your “new car” has already seen off its first decade before you even take ownership there are few thrills and few disappointments; these can be saved for more important things in life. Jeremy Clarkson would not agree, of course, and that’s good for BMW, Mercedes and Ferrari, but round here, typical personal transport is more likely to be an elderly Fiat Panda or Punto.

The appalling weather came with an interesting side-effect. One man’s loss is another’s gain, one that rather neatly solves another of life’s more pressing problems, being that of how to keep warm in winter. The rains turned tiny mountain streams into raging torrents that stripped everything along their banks, carrying it downstream and into the sea where the contents were washed up on the beaches. It’s strange to walk on a beach composed largely of driftwood and vegetation but that’s exactly what we have now for mile upon mile.

140127-1The local authorities have a responsibility to clear their beaches of unwanted debris in time for the summer season. They have until Easter to do this – that’s late April this year. The task is Herculean and resources are seriously limited. How do you get rid of it all? It seems the best way is to bulldoze it into heaps and set fire to it; a process that’s already started in Ventimiglia, as you can see. But there are nowhere enough bulldozers as most of these are already fully occupied clearing the mountain roads of mudslides.

There appears to be a byelaw that prohibits the unauthorised removal of anything from a public beach. I thinks this is true in many countries; it’s to prevent people stripping shingle for their driveways or sand for their building projects. But what if the beach is made up of timber, bark and sawdust? Nobody is sure but common sense has fortunately taken over. The local “vigili” – the people who look after forests, most often on the lookout for fire – are now encouraging people to take what they like, and a small chainsaw-equipped army has descended ant-like on the beaches, cutting up and carrying away all the larger lumps of timber. I was pleased to be a volunteer recruit and have so far made two visits, collecting a car-load on each occasion.

140127-2140127-3Which is where I return to bangonomics. Well, would you put several hundredweight of salt-soaked, damp logs in the back of a proud new BMW? Whereas for Little Donkey – my ageing Fiat Punto – this is just another of life’s indignities to be endured as we creak and groan our way back up the mountain again. Most of this wood won’t be ready to burn this winter but after a year of storage it’ll do fine, and of course it cost nothing beyond a bit of petrol for the chainsaw, some more for Little Donkey and quite a lot of exercise for me.

140127-4While on the subject of wood, I find the economics of fuel a little puzzling. Everybody knows how much heating oil and gas have gone up in recent years, and I’m pretty sure wood pellets – the fuel we burn in our main boiler – have just about doubled in price over the past 5 years or so, currently costing €5 for a 15kg bag that lasts something less than a day. Yet when I rang the local woodyard to enquire about cut logs, which the same boiler can also use, I was quoted €15 per quintali (100kg), which is only fractionally more than I paid for the same amount 7 years ago. It’s true that wood requires far more manual effort than any other fuel, and you can’t automate a log-burner, but that degree of price stability is impressive. I think I’ll get a tonne to see us out this season while I focus on cutting next winter’s supply from the olive trees we’re so abundantly blessed with. And the free stuff from the beach is just the icing on the cake.

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