Since moving into our house and taking on its collection of handsome fireplaces, I have been waiting for an evening that calls for a fire glowing in the grate. Seeing as we already had the Christmas pudding swelling in the darkness of the cellar, I thought I’d prepare the chimney for he of the big beard and belly. 20 kilos of soot later, I no longer needed to worry whether it had been worth the job: thanks, Aardvark Sweeps. Now it was just a question of mastering the ignition (without resorting to those horrible, white bricks which stick under your nails as you break them into chemical-soaked pieces before inadvertently wiping this over your child the next time you pick them up….) A top tip from my mum-in-law is to keep all the peel from clementines and similar – rather abundant at this time of year in a house like ours where a pack of easy peelers is in every shopping basket. You see, dried peel makes a very sparky firelighter – something to do with the oils I guess. Roll a couple of these into a sheet of newspaper, along with some dried herbs such as rosemary or sage, a dry pinecone and perhaps a cinnamon stick for good festive measure, and you have an aromatic incendiary full of natural, flammable oils. Twist the ends of the paper closed, like a Christmas Cracker. Add good dry kindling wood on top in a sort of teepee shape and get it all properly going before adding lumps of smokeless coal or logs. Always USE a FIRESCREEN (these babies will spit and pop).